Monday, February 13, 2006

Candidate Profiles: Derek Donnelly

Democrat for State Representative--61st House District

(part of an occasional series)

Before my meeting with Democratic 61st House District candidate Derek Donnelly (left), I spent some time wondering what, exactly, a man who ran for State Representative at 25—especially one challenging a longtime incumbent—would be like. Donnelly, when he appeared, didn’t disappoint: he’s a big, gregarious guy with a seemingly limitless supply of energy and drive.

Donnelly has been around politics all his life. His mother is a deputy registrar of voters in Suffield, and his father is on the zoning board. He didn’t get on his current political path until college, however. He was a member of the VROTC, and was looking to officially join up when he fell sick during a trip to London. He decided to wait a semester, after which he was told that they had run out of commissions (something, he tells me, that doesn’t happen today). After that, he says, his sense of duty prompted him to look for other ways to serve his country. This eventually led him to politics where, as a student at James Madison University in Virginia, he interned on Capitol Hill, volunteered for Mark Warner, worked for former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and then ran an unsuccessful but engaging municipal campaign in his college town. After Donnelly graduated college in 2002, he began going to UCONN Law School part time, and working for other politicians. He eventually ended up working for Joe Lieberman’s presidential campaign, and then for Eddie Perez in Hartford as a legislative aide.

He was encouraged to get involved locally, which led him back to Suffield, where he has been active in Democratic politics. In 2003, he began to be mentioned in conversations about the 61st House seat, held by Republican Ruth C. Fahrbach and encompassing all of Suffield, and parts of East Granby and Windsor. He recalls that the conversations centered on the fact that “…it stinks that no one runs against Fahrbach,” which up to that point had been essentially true. Fahrbach has held her seat since 1980, but has rarely had a serious challenger. Donnelly decided against running in 2004, mainly because he “wanted to gain more perspective,” and he wanted to graduate law school first (he’ll do that this spring). Fahrbach won in 2004 without a Democratic opponent (a Working Families candidate won 9% of the vote). Donnelly decided he was ready for 2006, and has been planning his run, with the support of the Suffield Democratic Town Committee, since last August. He formed an exploratory committee, which has so far raised over $9,000 (remarkable considering the average State Rep. challenger in 2004 raised only $6,000 total), and is planning on forming a campaign committee this week. He will officially announce his candidacy in April.

Donnelly isn’t daunted by running in a heavily Republican district, and strongly believes that he can win. For one thing, he says, Suffield (where the majority of the district is) has changed a lot in recent years. The population has exploded, and younger families who might be more receptive to a Democratic candidacy are moving in. As proof, he cites the race for first selectman in 2005, which the Democratic candidate lost by only 150 votes (Donnelly himself was elected an alternate for the board of finance). He also points to Windsor, which trends Democratic, and the fact that the portion of East Granby in his district is very small—he’ll be able to meet almost everyone there. He says that the campaign will be a lot of hard work, but he believes that he’ll win in the end.

Donnelly takes a pragmatic approach to issues. He says he’ll work for property tax reform if elected, and believes that the elimination of the car tax as proposed by the governor is a “good start.” He believes that regionalization of some services, such as human resources boards, can also help towns to save money, thereby lessening the tax burden on citizens. He says he doesn’t want to see an end to municipal control, but that cooperation between towns will help keep taxes at manageable levels. He also very much favors reforming the probate court system, a “pre-1965” institution in which he sees a lot of conflicts of interest and inefficiency. The Connecticut state government, he says with a smile, has a lot of problems with efficiency. He believes that campaign finance reform is also a good start, but that loopholes need to be done away with.

He stresses the fact that, as a first-year legislator, he won’t be able to fix everything. He also understands the reluctance of the legislature to make big changes, and says that he will focus on “small steps to change, if we’re not going to do big things.”

Perhaps Donnelly’s biggest issue is Fahrbach herself, and what she represents. Fahrbach, he says, is “ineffective.” She “doesn’t introduce bills,” or at least doesn’t see the few bills she does introduce passed. She is, he says, famous for knitting on the House floor. He cites the fact that Fahrbach is on the powerful appropriations committee, but that Suffield, the major town in her district, is 168th out of 169 towns in municipal aid. “Suffield,” he says, “Doesn’t have a legislator who is there.”

Donnelly is planning an aggressive, youth-oriented campaign. He has gone to colleges to talk with students there and recruit volunteers, and is planning on establishing a significant web presence. His main site will be interesting and interactive, he promises, and he will make use of a campaign blog to give campaign updates and answer questions. He will also explore nontraditional tools such as MySpace and Friendster to reach out to younger voters. He wants to take cues from the success of Howard Dean, and establish an email list. He is planning on having his website up by March.

Derek Donnelly is an energetic, focused and extremely knowledgeable young man who seems determined to succeed in his race. It’s refreshing.

Donnelly’s website will be at and he can be contacted at electdonnelly[at]


Anonymous said...

Finally, some signs of a bench in the CT Democratic Party!!!

stomv said...

At the risk of derailing the discussion on Donnelly...

Why is removing the property tax on automobiles a good thing?

Consider the following:
1. Cars pollute, result in sprawl, and demand oil. I'm not arguing that we should all get rid of our cars, but I think it's fair to point out that they result in detramental externalities at the local, state, and national level.
2. The poorest are less likely to have a car, less likely to have two cars in the same family, and less likely to have more than one car per driver in the household. Therefore, they pay far less of the tax.
3. The richest are certain to have a car, almost certain to have two cars in the same family, and often have more than one car per driver in the household. Therefore, they pay far more of the tax.

So, why remove the tax? If you want to argue for lower taxes, why not argue against all taxes or some other specific tax? Why is it trendy to press for the elimination of this particular tax?

the wandererrr said...

I'll take the bait:
1. raise the gas tax and add tolls in the right places, which are based on usage and therefore somewaht proportional to the environmanetal damagesh but get rid of the car tax.
2&3. the 'poor card' just doesn't play with the numbers becasue of the diffeential in the mill rate among municipalities see my post on yesterday's snow day
4(mine). consider that getting rid of it will save money in other ways for the government not to mention aggravation by citizens many of whom are poor.

DeanFan84 said...

If I wanted to vote for a Republican, I would. Really, I would.

Truly incredible that he can roll-over so quickly on Rell's election year gimmick. While we are at it, why not get rid of all property taxes???

And to attack a woman for knitting on the House floor? Bad form, indeed.

Suffield would be foolish to exchange a seasoned representative in favor of Donnelly.

Proud Moderate Dem said...

DeanFan, what about party loyalty????

Anonymous said...

Whatta weirdo.

DeanFan84 said...

Party loyalty? We don't need another seat to pass our Statehouse agenda, and the kid is a long-shot out of the gate.

Second, if he signs on to Rell's gimmick as part of his campaign, he deserves the freeze-out. I mean we can work together against THEM, or individuals can go their own selfish way.... It sounds to me like this rookie wants to run on the Rell ticket.

Next thing you know, Mr. Donnelly will be another "moderate" stooge apologizing for those of us "liberal" Democrats who upped the minimum wage, gave gays the right to a civil union, want health care for every kid in CT, and aren't for elective wars, (particularly when they are unwinnable.)

What is the moderate Dem agenda, anyway?

Proud Moderate Dem said...

DeanFan, this flies right in the face of your party loyalty doctrine. at times, seems like your lack of politcal knowledge is only exceeded by your hypocracy.

DeanFan84 said...

P.S. I'm just re-acting,-- very much off the cuff. Derek would probably be a much better Representative than the woman in there now. I hope we wins.

However each and every Dem should wait for cues from Party leadership before making any comments in reference to Rell's gimmick. She is counting on our political weakness in her attempt to score election-year points.

Also, my mother knits. All the time....

Finally, if you read between the lines, you'll see Mr. Donnelly's pedigree. Warner, Lieberman, Perez...

And folks, the DLC'ers are the ones working to bring back Hillary! (Hint: to some Dems it's all about the $$$$.)

A Different Anonymous (No! Really!) said...

I wish to Christ she'd knit you a gag.

Anon and on said...

Ooooh, I love this hot "Dem on Dem" action. Keep it up guys!

Anonymous said...

Ok, new (sort of) topic.
Paul Bass is reporting first major difference between Malloy and Destafano.

He quotes Malloy as supporting repeal of the estate tax.

If true, this is a problem for Malloy. At least it is for this supporter. I don't mind the "DLC" label as such, but repeal of the estate tax does make one recall the Democrats for the Leisure Class nickname.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, DeanFan has indentified himself as the son of Madame DeFarge.

Anonymous said...

Gotta luv the libs: From the NH Independent: "Gov. Jodi Rell's proposal to hand the ultra-rich $120 million by eliminating the estate tax." How do you hand it to them, when it was there's to begin with? Oh that's right, everything belongs to the State, and the governing elite will decide how much you get to keep!

Blue in CD2 said...

In that NH Independant article, i see no quote from Mayor Malloy that he would repeal the Estate Tax.

Does anyone see anything in that article that says otherwise?

Anonymous said...

Well, I'd love to be wrong, but here is the quote from the article:

He wants to make sure that people start businesses in Connecticut in order to create jobs. He said it is "proven" that lowering or wiping out estate taxes convinces wealthy people to choose to live in a state -- and start businesses.

"When you turn 50 like I have, and you're a serial entrepreneur, you start your business where there are competitive advantages," Malloy said.

DeanFan84 said...

I just called Malloy's office, and was told point blank that Dan has not put forward a position on the estate tax yet. 1-877-DAN-IN06.

Did Paul Bass jump the gun? I don't know. here's a link to Paul's story.

I do hope the Dems don't make the mistake of everyone latching on to separate portions of Rell's SOTS proposals. The only way we come out losers is if we act apart, instead of together behind Dem leadership.

Dems need a summit meeting and a plan of our own. I don't know how it works, but I would hope both Malloy and DeStefano could be in attendance.

There is actually great opportunity here. If Rell wants 2006 to be about Tax Fairness, and Reform, let's, "Bring it On!"

Our Dem legislature has been greenighted to do something positive for CT.

Anonymous said...

you are a greedy bugger, aren't you.

If the America we've lived in for the past forty years (with its tax code) is so gosh-darned awful, why don't you move to another country?

Anonymous said...

(same one as before)

Thank you Deanfan for the good fact-checking. Like I said, hoped to be wrong.

Proud Moderate Dem said...

at the risk of re-railing the donnelly discussion, i agree with genghis that it is refreshing to see a young dem willing, ready and able to campaign hard and make a run at an incumbent Repub. wish we had more candidates like derek.

Gabe said...

Thanks for the re-rail. I've met him a few times at the law school and, for what its worth, he is a nice guy and seems very passionate about getting to work on campaigning and legislating.

I'm not a huge fan of his previous employers either, but, DF, I'm not sure what the problem is. We have a Dem challenging an R that has been safe for years and he is young and energetic. Win-win, no?

DeanFan84 said...


If you read what I wrote, my big complaint is Derek Donnelly's readiness to embrace Rell's election-year tax gimmick.

That's first and foremost. And trust me, if we, as Dems, let Rell get away with her scheme, kiss goodbye to any hope of Malloy or DeStefano winning the governorship.

Other than that, there wasn't much there to impress me, and I fear, coming from his heritage, he will be yet another "Democrat" who is scared to stand up for the Democratic message.

Anonymous said...

Chris Bowers over at MyDD has a great piece entitled, Defanging Our Arlen Specter.

Here is the beginning, but folks should read the entire piece:
"What sort of problem are we facing in Connecticut? Here are some selections from just the last two months. In one of the bluest states in the nation, we are dealing with a "Democrat" who loves Sean Hannity, who was the first person to applaud Bush during the SOTU, and whose loyalty to his party extends so far that he has said he will leave the party if he loses a primary.

Lieberman publicly trashes Democrats like Murtha who propose withdrawal plans, while in the same breath he defends Bush. Republican lobbyists are lining up behind Lieberman. Lieberman has endorsed McCain for President, and trashed Barack Obama. And like I said, that was all just in the last two months. And that was a partial selection."

Proud Moderate Dem said...

DeanFan, i think what mr donnely said was that the car tax is a good place to start and i took that to be, it's a good place to start the debate. and i agree, she has thrown property tax out there as an issue. and i am thankful she has. the Dems have long claimed this is an issue we should address and that we have the answers for it. so it's out there, let's start the debate with the car tax and go from there. nothing gets soved from simply throwing grenades from the sidelines. dont think mr donnelly is scared of standing up for the democratic message as he is 25 yrs old and running against a long time incumbent in a R leaning district. how many times have you put yourself out there and run for something?

Anonymous said...

Go Dukes!

Gabe said...

I read what you wrote, thanks for the snark, I'm just not sure how it hurts to start the intra-party bloodletting over Rell's gimmick with a 25 year old running for his first office in an R leaning district.

I'm the first one to jump all over Lieberman, but its because he is in a blue state. This kid is in a district that has been red for 20 years - I'm willing to cut him a little slack, at least until his website gets up.

DeanFan84 said...

Sorry guys--

You are right. I finally admitted I'd be happy if Derek won. It's just hard to get behind the DLC brand when they are jumping on the Rell band-wagon regarding her election year gimmicks.

Do you think we could get a clarification from Donnelly as to where he stands on the car tax repeal?

And he ought not pick on a woman for knitting...

Gabe said...

I'll ask him if I see him at school and report back.

As for the knitting, I don't think it was the activity as much as the venue.

My wife croches (sp?) and I don't think anyone has a problem with that, but if she did it in her class room, the people who put her in that classroom might have a problem with it.

Derek Donnelly said...

I want to thank GC for the opportunity to talk to him, for the terrific profile, and for the excellent work he does on this site. I hear more and more people reference this site and his work truly is a public service. It is also an incredibly necessary and important service, as we see local coverage in major newspapers declining,

This was, in many ways, the unofficial start to my campaign, and as an avid reader of this site, I am grateful for having the opportunity to do it here. That said, I feel as though it would be inappropriate for me to utilize this forum to discuss my positions. So, if you have any questions or would like some clarification, please feel free to e-mail me at

Thank you all very much for the tremendous response – on CTLP, in person and via e-mail. Again thanks to GC and to all of you for taking an active interest in this process. When reading and commenting, remember the words of Robert F. Kennedy: “The sharpest criticism often goes hand-in-hand with the deepest idealism and love of country.”

I hope to keep you all updated in the future. More to come on my Web site (, which I hope will be up in the next 30 days.

DeanFan84 said...


Do you support Jodi Rell's "tax cuts", and do you join Joe Lieberman in his support of the Bush/Neo-Con War? Must the Troops Stay?

Also, which CT Dems do you admire, and why? If you made it to the Statehouse, who would you emulate?

How do you feel about Civil Unions? Are you okay with Gay Marriage? Dan Malloy impressed the heck out of me when he said, "Yes, next question?"

Noteworthy is the fact that on the points DeanFan and the DLC disagree, at least Malloy had the gumption to put himself forward, in a direct and honest manner. Frankly, if Dan is our nominee, I'll give him money, even if I don't see 100% eye-to-eye with him. The man has integrity.

P.S. Are you a Hillary backer? I'm a reluctant Warner guy... (anybody but Hillary..)

AVI0404 said...

DF - are you putting the kid on trial?

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember about 8 years ago another young, energetic Democrat challenging an entrenched incumbent Republican in a race everyone said he couldn't win.

Derek might do well to check in with Chris Murphy and see how he pulled off his big upset victory in 1998.

Anonymous said...

Why a reluctant Warner guy, DF? He is truly MODERATE and is not Republican-lite.

DeanFan84 said...

No, I'm not putting Donnelly on trial. The point I tried to make is that there are two kind of candidates to run in fringe districts. Those that echo the Dem message, and those that reinforce Republican frames. One type of candidacy helps all Dem races, the other hurts. If Donnelly is proud of what Dems are accomplishing, great. If he is going to try to sneak in by echoing Rell,-- yeck.

Regarding Warner, I am reluctant b/c of his association with the DLC. I hope he is in it to win it, and won't take marching orders from the Clinton crowd.

And of course, my heart belongs to Feingold.

Proud Moderate Dem said...

DeanFan, as we are both warner people, seems to me that if warner was in it to win it, he may want to take some advice from the last dem to become president.

DeanFan84 said...

Yeah PMD, but Bill is in it for Hill, and if you'll notice, we've lost everything since Bill rode Perot to an upset win.