Speaker of the state House Chris Donovan should have received by Monday a call from John Olsen, President of the AFL-CIO, beseeching the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House in the 5th District to withdraw from the race.
Not a few members of Mr. Donovan’s campaign staff have been arrested by the FBI; other of Mr. Donovan’s political associates are even now being wrestled to the ground by FBI agents and prosecutors intent on uncovering what they know and when they knew it about fraudulent campaign contributions.
Mr. Olsen regards most of this as an inconvenient interruption, his principal aim being to elect as many Democrats friendly to union interests as possible. Mr. Donovan’s character in this regard was spotless. He was himself a union organizer and, during his tenure as Speaker, could be relied upon to place union interests above those of his party and state. Despite claims from Mr. Olsen to the contrary, the broad interests of the state of Connecticut and those of the AFL-CIO do not always coincide.
Men and women closely associated with unions could always rely upon Mr. Donovan to bring home the political bacon. In the course of his career as Speaker, Mr. Donovan pushed for a hike in the minimum wage and an increase in marginal tax rates on Connecticut’s millionaires, some of them the very hedge fund operators to whom Governor Dannel Malloy has just given a few million dollars in tax credits and loans to prevent them from leeching into New Jersey.
If there is a union interest Mr. Donovan did not support during his time as a bill broker in the General Assembly, Mr. Olsen would be hard pressed to cite it. Ray Soucy, a former union official with the state’s correctional institution, since identified as a co-conspirator in the campaign-finance scandal surrounding Mr. Donovan, traded on the Speaker’s brokering talents and ended up as a wired FBI plant sent into the Donovan campaign to gather prosecutable evidence that just may implicate Mr. Donovan himself. No one knows what songs the FBI’s canaries are singing: Prosecutors are notoriously mum about such things.
Mr. Donovan was inattentive to criminal activity occurring under his nose, Mr. Olsen has said, because he was preoccupied with a complex teacher reform bill: “He was instrumental in negotiating a reform bill that benefited teachers, municipalities, the state and students. If Mr. Donovan was inattentive, it was because he was spending too much time crafting legislation and not paying attention to the inner workings of his congressional campaign, according to a report in the MeridenRecord Journal. “He did it out of loyalty to his district and constituents,” Olsen said.
The union chief thinks the FBI eventually will clear Mr. Donovan of any wrongdoing, though he seems to be unwilling to bet the farm on it, and his message to Mr. Donovan seems cheery enough: “There are great opportunities for Chris Donovan. I think Chris Donovan has a distinguished career. I think he has a future.”
But the future does not beckon Mr. Donovan at the moment.
Present circumstances call for a cold, calculated view of realistic probabilities. In a Democratic primary, Elizabeth Esty prevailed over Mr. Donovan by an impressive margin. And although the wife of Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), seems to be, improbably, a throwback to days of yore when the Democratic Party had not yet been swallowed whole by the union python, it may be possible for union leaders such as Mr. Olsen to muscle her in the direction Mr. Donovan undoubtedly would have taken had he not been so preoccupied with boosting the prospects of teachers.
The Democrats in Connecticut, fast becoming a one party state controlled by unions, presently hold all the U.S. Congressional seats in the state’s Washington delegation; they control the governor’s office and both houses of the General Assembly. Would it not be a tragedy of epic proportions should Republicans reclaim the U.S. Senate seat now held by the retiring Joe Lieberman, a moderate Democrat turned Independent?
Mr. Olsen thinks so, which is why he has been flirting with Mrs. Esty – that most improbable political animal, a moderate Democrat in the manner of former Governor Ella Grasso -- while giving a regretful thumbs down to the distracted Mr. Donovan. When the AFL-CIO finally lukewarmly endorsed Mrs. Esty on Wednesday, only the hardest bitten progressives were surprised. To Mr. Donovan, Mr. Olsen might well have said in the accents of Don Lucchesi: “It’s not personal. It’s business.”