Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The 1994 Election: Conclusions and Implications for 2006

This is the third of three posts about the 1994 election.

Part One: Two Primaries, One Upset

Part Two: A Wild Race to November


Rowland had managed to capitalize just enough on the general discontentedness and Republican-leaning mood of the country to eke out a victory. His narrow win was good news for state Republicans, as they found themselves in possession of the Senate for the first time in almost a decade. It also gave Rowland something to work with, although he didn’t accomplish much with it. Curry, whose lack of a clear message was probably fatal, would never quite disappear, although his appeal was substantially diminished. He’d return to challenge Rowland again in 2002, only to lose by a much wider margin. Curry’s central idea of property tax reform was, unfortunately for him, ahead of its time.

Groark’s failure to capture at least 20% of the electorate meant that A Connecticut Party, which had consisted of essentially her and Lowell Weicker, lost its major-party status. It vanished from Connecticut afterwards, and with it any hopes of a viable third party in the state.

The Democrats soon found themselves back in possession of the entire General Assembly, but were never able to mount a serious challenge to the governor. Rowland’s incumbency over the next two elections gave him an overpowering fundraising advantage, which no candidate could touch. Granted, his opponents were the hapless Barbara Kennelly and Bill Curry (again), but his fundraising acumen probably scared away better competition like Blumenthal and others. The Democratic Party seemed to flourish, but wilted when exposed to competition and never found any clear mission or focus throughout the Rowland years.

This is the legacy of 1994: a bloated, unfocused Democratic party, a Republican lock on the executive branch and a return to strict two-party politics.

Implications for 2006

Democrats believed for years that their loss in 1994 stemmed from the division caused by Larson’s defeat in the primary. This was a mistake. Larson was an unfocused, aloof candidate opposed by a driven one with a vast grassroots network, and it’s unlikely that he would have done any better than Curry against Rowland. However, in 1998 and 2002, potential gubernatorial primary challengers were warned off by the Democratic establishment, and urged to withdraw for the sake of party unity. The candidates that emerged, Kennelly and Curry, were sub-par. The looming Democratic primary between Dan Malloy and John DeStefano, may divide the party but may also produce the candidate best equipped to take on Rell in the general election.

As for Rell herself, she may find herself running the kind of campaign Eunice Groark would have if she had had money and the backing of a major party. Groark could at times be incredibly patronizing and dismissive of her opposition, while also appearing to be entirely above the fray. She had a reputation for honesty, civility, and pragmatism, which Rell shares. Expect to see clever ads in the spirit of Groark’s ad portraying the major parties as kids hitting each other with Nerf hammers, that mock her opposition while portraying her as a “responsible adult.”

However, we shouldn’t expect the 2006 campaign to be dominated by a single issue as the 1994 campaign was dominated by the income tax. Bill Curry’s property tax reform will likely find its way into the debate, as will discussions about jobs, schools and roads. Missing will be the widespread voter discontent that characterized the period from 1990-1994, but a strong Democratic showing nationally may yet affect the race, as the Republican Revolution of 1994 helped to put Rowland in office.

Rowland himself still hovers over this race. His record as governor, and his downfall, have left an indelible mark on Connecticut. That, if for no other reason, is why 1994 is such a crucial moment in our history.

Part One: Two Primaries, One Upset

Part Two: A Wild Race to November


Daly, Matthew. “Scott Vows ‘Crusade’ for Governor.” Hartford Courant 8 September, 1994. p. A3.

Grant, Steve. “Curry’s Message Still Unclear.” Hartford Courant 28 October, 1994. p. A16.

Jacklin, Michelle. “Curry’s Troops Capitalized on Larson’s Miscalculations.” Hartford Courant 15 September, 1994. p. A1.

Jacklin, Michelle. “Skepticism Fuels a Volatile Season.” Hartford Courant 6 November, 1994. p. A1.

Judson, George. “Six Major-Party Candidates Compete in an Open Race to Succeed Weicker.” New York Times 1 July, 1994. Section 1, p. 24.

Rabinovitz, Jonathan. “Connecticut G.O.P. Nominee Defends His New Positions.” New York Times 18 October, 1994. Section A, p. 1.

Rabinovitz, Jonathan. “Senate Leader Loses Governor Race to Comptroller in an Upset.” New York Times 13 September, 1994. Section B, p. 6.

Williams, Larry. “Behind in Polls, Groark Campaign Shifts Gears.” Hartford Courant 18 October, 1994. p. A1.


Guy that never posts said...

Nice thoughtful analysis

Chris MC said...

Boy that took some doing. Nice post GC.

I think you're assessment of Blumenthal being intimidated by Rowland's financial resources is wrong, however.

His interest in the Governor's chair just isn't very high. Blumenthal, I believe, would contest (and win) an open Senate seat. Money wouldn't be a disadvantage for him.

Anonymous said...

Curry lost to Rowland because people guessed, probably rightly, that a Curry administration would be more expensive than a Rowland administration.

Curry's property tax reform plan was never more than a pea in a walnut shell game. The only way to reduce spending is to reduce taxes; this creates deficits and serves a a break on spending. Curry's propertay tax reform plan had no spending cut componant. Neither was there any asurance that the property tax reduction, made possible by by the state assuming a greater portion of spending, would have been returned to taxpayers. The net tax burden on Connecticut taxpayers would not have changed under the Curry plan; payments would have shifted from municipalities to state government -- that's all.

My guess is that voters were shrewed enough to sense all this. Perhaps DeStefano and Malloy will be able to offer genuine tax relief. If so, they will have a leg up in the campaign.

Surely, some Democrat politician should have discovererd by not the connection between high net taxes and Connecticut's last place finish in job production.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how Tom Scott disappeared after 1994

Anonymous said...

The Democrats did not dominate the General Assembly in 1994, Republicans took the Senate 19-17, the main reasons being good candidates (Munns, Neilsen, and Rennie) and at least 8 democrat incumbents not running......

Anonymous said...

Rowland left his mark all right and it is high taxes and an incredable debt balance that he brokered year after year with the Democrats in the state legislature.

Property tax reform is something that is clearly needed but the governor needs to do that after he takes office. It's too complex of an issue to run on the process. Clinton raised taxes ala Robert Rubin after criticizing his incumbent opponent for doing just that and went on to get reelceted because his tax increases worked although many argue they were buoyed by the dotcom bubble.

Franks said...

Throughout this history, the major Democratic figures Dodd, Lieberman and Blumenthal had all dismissed options to run for Governor for various reasons. It makes the future speculation that Dodd or Lieberman are presidential candidates so much hipe, given the sucesses of former Governors, the losses of Senators and their opting out these elections.

Groark's involvement gave Rowland the 1994 election, thereafter his personality, the advantages of office, a good economy, a cooperative General Assembly and overly well funded campaigns secured victory in the other races.

In 2006, Rowland's resignation will prompt Rell's run on her own for the first time, she's different, but not hardened by loss to make difficult decisons (Moody's actions should be that test!), and she was implicated in some of the mistakes of Rowland's era.

Anonymous said...

1994 does have a lot of important lessons for 2006.

One parallel is that Joe Lieberman is at the top of the Democratic ticket again this year. In 1994, he hurt the under-ticket by accepting the dual endorsement of the A Connecticut Party, which gave Groark some coattails to grab onto, and this year, he will hurt the under-ticket by his extreme views on the Iraq war and "security" issues.

An important factor to remember in terms of why Curry beat Larson and why his race in 1994 was so close is that Curry had previously run -- and won -- a tough statewide race for Comptroller, knocking out an incumbent Democrat to take that office. Larson had been sitting in a comfortable, easy-win State Senate district, and had no experience with tough races. The same was true of Kennelly in 2002, and I think it's why she lost. The candidates best suited for winning (or at least placing well in) "unwinnable" races are those that have run tough races before, because they understand what it takes. They understand the guerilla warfare that is required of an underdog candidate.

Unfortunately, I don't see either DeStefano or Malloy having that attribute right now -- but a hard-fought primary will certainly prime one of them to take on a strong Rell in November.

Mr. Reality said...

Do Democrats really believe in property tax reform or do they just like using that slogan because they think it will help them politically? The Democrats have been in power in the General Assembly for how long?

Can someone please articulte the Democrats property tax reform package? After all these years I still have no idea as to how this could be done. Has this ever been offered as legislation? I give credit to the first person who can do so. It has to be real and substantive not just "tax the millionaires" (if that's part of it fine but there has to be more than just generalities).

You can give a municipality all the aid in the world, but if they don't control their spending it will do no good, they'll get themsleves right back into trouble. Remember the income tax? The state got all that revenue and quickly spent it all. How does the state prevent towns from overspending if the state can't stop itself?

Anonymous said...

The towns are less likely by miles to overspend the way the state did under Rowland if you look at and think about the politcal dynamics.
Town government is much closer to the people and infinitely more accountable than state gocernment.
The GOP who have opposed property tax reform are somewaht patronizing of the local governments and voters amazingly enough on this one.

Mr. Reality said...

So explain to me what the Democrats proprerty tax plan is. I am listening. But since there is no plan you can't tell me can you?