Monday, March 31, 2014

Social Issues And The Coming Campaign

A few weeks ago, Governor Dannel Malloy said that people in Connecticut would have to wait until May to discover whether he would run again as governor. He then surprised everyone by tossing his hat into the ring during a recent bond hearing meeting. In fact, the campaign had begun much earlier; the cake was baked even though it lacked the cherry on top. Before his official declaration, Mr. Malloy had said he was much too busy running the state to engage prematurely in a political campaign. He told one reporter that it would be inopportune for him to engage in a political campaign before Republican gubernatorial aspirants had an opportunity to beat up on each other? The pretense was a great tease, strategically necessary but still an obvious imposture.

The Republican gubernatorial field has now been fully fleshed out. Martha Dean, who previously had engaged in campaigns for the Attorney General, was a little late, but she got in before the door closed.

Many commentators feel that Ms. Dean and Joe Visconti, who once ran against Democratic fixture John Larson for the U.S. House, are second tier candidates in a crowded Republican field that includes Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows Mr. Foley leading the pack by wide margins when matched against Mr. Malloy.

Questions concerning campaign sustainability have arisen in connection with the candidacies of Ms. Dean and Mr. Visconti.

Mr. Visconti has vowed not to disappear. Ms. Dean said she might maintain her campaign beyond the nominating convention depending upon her support. Essentially, both have said, “We’ll see.”

Their campaign boats have been pushed from shore by three groups: Tea Party folk, gun owners and constitutionalists. In addition, they may expect to receive support from libertarians, who are chiefly interested in individual rights, and some establishment conservatives, who are interested chiefly in economic issues. Among all these groups, there are overlapping political interests. If it were possible to speak of them together as an alliance of interests, they very easily could decide a gubernatorial election in Connecticut. But, of course, there is an uneasy alliance among these separate groups. The trick is to bring them together somehow.

Democratic campaigns generally are better organized -- for obvious reasons. Democrats have conducted more successful campaigns than Republicans and now are strategically placed on what may be called “the political heights”: The governor’s office, both Houses of the General Assembly, all the constitutional offices and the entire U.S. Congressional delegation have been moved into the Democratic column. In addition, Connecticut’s media is temperamentally allied with the Democrat’s progressive putsch.

For all practical purposes, Connecticut has now become a one party state. In the past, the Connecticut Republican Party had relied upon so called “moderates’ to attain a place at the political table. But in recent years, Republican moderates have been replaced by Democratic progressives. When then U.S. Congressman Chris Shays lost his race to U.S. Representative Jim Himes, he was the last remaining Republican moderate in New England – which suggests that the moderate Republican message is no longer persuasive. In the U.S. House, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons also lost office. Moderate Republican campaigns were centered upon economic issues alone; which is to say, moderate Republicans ceded half their campaign ground to their opponents before a single shot in the campaign had been fired.  Mitt Romney surrendered a good deal of ground in his presidential campaign against President Barack Obama. This has not been a winning strategy. It did not take Dannel Malloy, the first Democratic governor elected since Governor Bill O’Neill, to absorb the message that Republicans were of no account. His first budget was constructed without any Republican input.

The steady, long term retreat on so called “social issues” has weakened Republican campaigns.

Retreat is defeat. Nationally – and especially after the Obama-Romney campaign – Republicans seem no longer inclined to allow progressive Democrats to define social issues. But it would appear that the glad tidings have not yet reached Connecticut, once the land of steady habits, many of which have been radically altered by an aggressive progressive juggernaut. Connecticut Republicans have permitted extremist progressives to define social issues in a very narrow way that suits their political objectives.

But in fact politics – most especially bill writing – is inescapably tied to “social issues” in the broadest sense. There is not a single piece of legislation written in Connecticut, or in the nation either, that has no social repercussions. All bills shape the social sphere; and if they did not, they would be redundant. Why is abortion and not the economy a “social issue?” In Connecticut, “socially moderate” Republicans have simply abandoned the field to progressives. This is a defeatist strategy. If you’ve surrendered half the political battlefield to the opposition, why should you be surprised when the war turns in their favor?  Abortion on demand during the late stages of pregnancy, except to save the life of the mother, is an extreme position. It is not at all unreasonable for politicians to insist that abortion facilities should have on hand a doctor who has admitting privileges in nearby hospitals; neither is it an extreme imposition for the state to require that abortion facilities meet the requirements for Ambulatory Surgical Centers. Surely a “moderate” position on abortion would fall short of infanticide? Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose seat upon his retirement was taken by Hillary Clinton, said he could not support partial birth abortion because it seemed to him a form of infanticide.

And Mr. Moynihan also had some ideas, considered politically risky at the time, concerning the effect that the disappearance of the father from the black family would have on social dislocations and urban poverty.

Mr. Moynihan was a prophet unloved in his own party – but, for all that, a superb social analyst.  Most fair-minded people would call him a “moderate” Democrat. His kind has completely vanished in Connecticut. It is now considered the greatest impertinence to talk sensibly about the effects that progressive programs have had on the marginally poor in cities, and those who do make a correlation between social programs and the disappearing traditional black family are shouted down as obscurantists at best, racists at worst. These are the “social issues” moderate Republicans have abandoned to Democrats, along with issues of public safety. Is public safety a social issue?

In urban areas in Connecticut, where Mr. Moynihan’s prophecies have gone unheeded and come true, mothers and children sometime worry about the public safety, the quality of education in cities, and the difference that life without a father can make on young boys – all social issues. In Chicago, where unemployment among African American boys is ninety-two percent, the city is considering an increase in the minimum wage from $8.25 to $15.00 an hour. It is not likely that unemployed African American boys in Chicago seriously suppose that artificial increases in the price of labor will increase their employment rate. In the long run, the absence of jobs may be a worse social curse than poverty. People can elevate themselves from poverty by getting jobs, keeping them, improving themselves by degrees through education, delaying childbirth until they are married, staying married; that is the usual route out of poverty.

 But what if there are no jobs?  What then? What if most urban  schools are underperforming? What then? What if marriage as a live option has all but disappeared in cities among African Americans? Then what? These are the prevailing conditions in many cities in Connecticut. What if, further, much of what a progressive government has done to ameliorate conditions brought on by poverty has only worsened the problems? What then? It was possible nearly fifty years ago, in the age of Moynihan, to ask such questions and expect a reasoned debate on social issues.

But not now. Audacious questioners are shunned, most especially by the establishment media. This is the social fire that has singed the pants of Republicans. Such topics are whispered in private. They flee the field, and leave the poor and dispossessed to progressive Democrats. The Republican Party is a ghostly presence in Connecticut’s largest cities. Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are one-party cities and have been such for decades. Are the poor less poor in one party cities? And why should anyone suppose that a one party state would be more successful than major cities run for decades by single parties?

Democrats in the General Assembly just voted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. The governor – and President Barrack Obama, who has been fulsome in his praise of Mr. Malloy's energetic embrace of Mr. Obama’s failed programs -- argues that the wage increase will trickle down to businesses in the state because those making a minimum wage will spend the increase immediately, thus stimulating Connecticut’s economy.

We don’t know exactly how many people in Connecticut make minimum wage, or who they are. The rhetoric coming from Malloyalists suggests the governor thinks most of them are women. An increase in the minimum wage therefore will help to mitigate the baleful effects of the Republican Party’s alleged “War On Women.”

Now, let’s just pause here to examine these few propositions. First, the “War On Women” is little more than Orwellian Newspeak. Much of the data suggests that an increase in the minimum wage adversely affects African American teenagers in cities, yet no Republican in Connecticut running for governor has yet said that by supporting an increase in the minimum wage Mr. Malloy and the mostly white Democratic caucus in the General Assembly have declared war on urban African American boys. The majority of working women in Connecticut draw salaries above the minimum wage. As such, they are in the same economic boat as most working men in the state. Does Mr. Malloy believe that these women – all victims, like men, of the largest tax increase in state history – would be conducting “a war on women” should they, on sound economic grounds alone, resist the Malloyalist urge to buy votes by artificially increasing the price of labor?

The most efficient way to stimulate the economy is through payroll tax reductions. A tax reduction, because it leaves the salaried worker with more of his own money, has the same simulative effect as a state mandated salary increase. Why then does Mr. Malloy suppose that only some increases in disposable income are returned to the economy as economic stimulators? Mr. Malloy has given millions of dollars in tax receipts taken from middle class workers to multi-billion dollar companies. He has given low interest loans and tax rebates to companies he feels might bolt Connecticut without such tax relief, a grudging admission that companies flee both the regulatory state and high taxes.  And it has been Mr. Malloy’s tax increases on nail salon owners, among other female entrepreneurs, that has made it possible for him to generously dispense tax funds to companies he believes are worthy “investments.” Investing money in companies is essentially a stock marketing function best done by people whose business it is to pick winners and losers in a competitive marketplace. Sometimes they make good choices, and sometimes not. But the money they invest does not come from nail salon owners they have taxed for the purpose of crafting tax reductions, rebates and low interest loans for non-profit entities such as Jackson Laboratories.

These are all social issues; they all effect the future social, political and economic configuration of Connecticut. And the state will not be directed towards a more just and equitable path if the Republican Party lacks the courage to confront Democrats on pressing social issues of the day.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Connecticut’s Media-Progressive Complex: Or -- It’s The Spending, Not The Taxes, Stupid

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party, now in the ascendency in Connecticut, has been trying to “reform” the tax system ever since it was last reformed in 1991 by then Governor Lowell Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax.

In the course of its story, CTMirror quotes William Cibes, identified as “state budget director under Weicker and also co-chairman of the finance committee in 1989-90,” on property taxes. Mr. Cibes recently testified before the General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, which in the next few weeks will endorse a measure “that could launch a top-to-bottom analysis of how Connecticut taps taxpayers’ wallets.” Mr. Cibes testified that “high property taxes are a major reason why Connecticut’s tax system is broken. So property tax relief would lessen the economic burden on businesses, municipalities and individuals… Property taxes are relatively stable. But when a state relies excessively on property taxes to fund important services like education, infrastructure and public safety, businesses and individuals are punished.

Mr. Cibes’ statement was remarkably similar to an earlier Op-Ed piece printed in CTMirror written by John A. Elsesser, the town manager of Coventry: “The good thing about property taxes is that they are relatively stable. As part of an overall revenue structure, which is relatively balanced among taxes on property, sales and income, they make sense. But when a state relies excessively on local property taxes to fund governmental services, as does Connecticut, it’s reasonable to begin working to fix what House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has termed a ‘broken’ tax system.”

Mr. Cibes and Mr. Weicker were both prime movers in the effort to adopt an income tax. While campaigning for governor, former Republican U.S. Senator Weicker, running within a party of his own making, had eschewed an income tax as a means of liquidating a Democratic generated billion dollar deficit. Adopting an income tax, gubernatorial campaigner Weicker said, would be “like pouring gasoline on a fire.” Mr. Cibes had run for governor on an income tax platform, but he and his platform were decisively rejected at the time by 65% of Democrats.

While Connecticut’s income tax was muscled through the General Assembly by Governor Weicker, the income tax idea and its implementation originated with Mr. Cibes, whom Mr. Weicker tapped to head the state’s Office of Policy Management. Declining to run for a second term as governor, a grateful Weicker, before leaving office, created a plush featherbed for Mr. Cibes, appointing him the first Chancellor of Connecticut’s new Connecticut State University System. Like old soldiers, old political operatives never die, but neither do they fade away. They become associated with lobbying firms or pad their retirements with pensions drawn from tax dollars.

It should surprise no one, least of all the editors of CTMirror, that Mr. Cibes continues to insist that Connecticut is undertaxed. Mr. Cibes certainly is within easy reach of the reporters and editors of CTMirror. Mr. Weicker’s former OPM chief was one of the co-founders of CTMirror and serves on its board of directors, as does Stanley Twardy, former Chief of Staff for Mr. Weicker. According to a report in Raising Hale, CTMirror is published by Connecticut News Project. A review of political contributions by board members of CTMirror shows that eight of the ten board members have made donations to political candidates totaling more than $125,000, seventy five percent of which enriched Democrats.

The Weicker-Cibes income tax of 1991 dropped the sales tax rate from 8% to 6% and the corporate tax rate from 13.8% to 11.5%. A Rainy Day tax fund, since depleted by spendthrifts in the General Assembly, was also introduced, along with a largely irrelevant constitutional expenditure cap. Through inadvertence or design, the Democrat dominated General Assembly never quite got around to implementing the constitutional cap and, following the passage of the Weicker-Cibes income tax, spending in the state tripled within the space of three governors, two of whom were Republicans.

Mr. Cibes’ pitch on the necessity of tax increases sounds wearily familiar, especially coming on the heels of Governor Dannel Malloy’s massive tax increase, the largest in state history, which out-revenued even the Weicker-Cibes income tax.

Commending a plan put forward by “Better Choices For Connecticut”, progressive tax grabbers, Mr. Cibes argued a few years ago in his pitch for higher taxes that Connecticut could not possibly offset its deficit through spending reductions alone, and he called for a “fair share’ sacrifice on the part of taxpayers and tax gobblers, a motif candidate for governor Dannel Malloy deployed effectively in his campaign.

The revenue proposals promoted by “Better Choices For Connecticut” and embraced by Mr. Cibes included an increase in the income tax for “those who can best afford it,” likely anyone making more than $250,000 per year, an increase in corporate taxes and an increase in the sales tax. The corrective measures promoted by Mr. Cibes insert progressive features into the Weicker-Cibes income tax, considered by some when it was passed as insufficiently progressive. At the time of passage, Mr. Cibes had told the New York Times that the architecture of the tax made it more progressive than it seemed. But progressives believe you can never have enough of a good thing.

Once the new revenue proposals are imposed on the Weicker-Cibes income tax, Connecticut will have adopted the same tax scheme Mr. Cibes promoted when he ran for governor way back in 1991. Property tax relief is little more than a convenient cover that will allow progressive Democrats to boost taxes when, after the upcoming elections, the state once again finds itself confronting a $2 billion deficit brought on by exorbitant spending. And the reporters and editors at CTMirror are too bright not to have noticed the obvious sham. One can only conclude that in failing to report sufficiently on one of its board of directors, CTMirror did not wish to place before its readers such inconvenient truths as might disturb Mr. Cibes and others who financially support the Connecticut News Project.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dean Enters The Gubernatorial Race

Attorney Martha Dean – Colin McEnroe calls her “old blue eyes”  – is the equivalent in Connecticut of Sarah Palin nationally, the woman from the wrong side of the political tracks who those fighting the “war against women” love to denigrate. The abhorrence is palpable, and possibly a bit misogynistic. Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green, recently departed to Vermont, way back in June 2010 referred to Ms. Dean as “a heat-seeking Republican missile” and “the blonde gunslinger.” Captivated by the color of her eyes, Mr. Green referred with disdain to the “cyborg-like quality to Dean's tractor-beam blue eyes.” The “blonde gunslinger,” it is well known, regards the U.S. Constitution with some reverence, and this appears to have excited Mr. Green’s barely concealed contempt.

The difference between Mrs. Palin and Ms. Dean is that Ms. Dean is brighter, a more accomplished rhetorician, and, according to Mr. McEnroe, a trifle dangerous: “… I know it’s not a good day when you find out you gotta run against Martha.

Ms. Dean had barely announced her run for governor whenshe was set upon by the usual crowd. Isn't this the Martha Dean who serves as a lawyer to the sort of gun groups Governor Dannel Malloy and Connecticut’s gun-phobic General Assembly had chased out of state to South Carolina? Yup, she’s the one. Isn’t she the bible thumping, constitution hugging lady who ran on her Facebook page a clip affirming that Adam Lanza’s murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary school was a hoax?

No, not really. The clip did appear on Ms. Dean’s Facebook page. It served principally as an example of what may happen in the sometimes wacky conspiratorial theory community when releasable information is withheld by investigators for more than a year after the commission of a mass murder.

Some of the conspiracy theories might easily have been disproved by the early release of known data that would not have compromised a seeming endless criminal investigation. For instance, one of the conspiratorial theories involved the presence of a second shooter – actually a man discovered running near the crime scene and detained for questioning by police, who knew moments after questioning him that he was not a participant in the crime.

Another theory revolved around the notion that the rifle used by Adam Lanza was not an AR15. A grainy shot showed police removing what was misidentified as an AR15 from the trunk of a car; the rifle was a shotgun Mr. Lanza brought with him to the slaughter. Information of this kind could have been released immediately without damaging a prospective investigation. The lack of accurate data is the breeding ground of conspiracy theories, nearly all of which easily could have been dispelled at news conferences.

No, the murderer was not, as was mistakenly reported, Ryan Lanza. Yes, there was only one shooter. Yes, that shooter was Adam Lanza. Yes, first responders did not immediately enter the school, though they arrived as reports of shots fired were being beamed over police radios, a datum that did not become available for public consumption until the publication of Danbury State Attorney Steven Sedensky’s criminal report,  which was issued a year after the crime.

Facebook is used by most reporters and commentators to file items collected for future reference, or to elicit comments, and the appearance of a report on Facebook certainly does not signify assent to the report.

In an interview with Dennis House on “Face the State” almost immediately after the posting of the video, Ms. Dean said “I do not endorse it” (the video). She said that media misinformation “invited conspiracy theories.” She denounced the possibility that the assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School had not occurred, saying it was “ridiculous to raise the possibility they (the children) weren’t (murdered).” Asked, “Has there been a cover-up?” Ms. Dean replied “I have no reason to believe there was.”

All these direct quotes are readily available to any reporter or commentator with a computer who may be inclined to suggest erroneously in stories or commentary that Ms. Dean herself ever seriously entertained the notion that the assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gun Control, The Malloyalist Molotov Cocktail, Detroit Or Bust

The premise of Connecticut’s new gun control legislation is that crimes committed illegally with guns may be controlled by such measures as requiring once licit gun owners to register their guns. That premise is doubtful, to say the least.

Connecticut’s new gun control legislation felonizes the ownership of a gun that has not been reported to the state police. According to recent stories, the state is awash in new felons, none of whom have committed violent crimes with their weapons. Among the new felons are some who have failed to register their guns from inadvertence, others who have failed to register for reasons of principle, and still others who are determined to treat the new law in the same way as those who drive cars with expired licenses. This last group is willing to spin the roulette wheel, knowing in advance that they are not likely to commit crimes and so come to the notice of an arresting authority.

The number of gun owners in Connecticut who have not registered their guns within the time allotted by the new bill is astonishing. State police, a Hartford paper reported, had received nearly 50,000 applications for assault weapons certificates by the end of 2013, a figure that represents as little as 15 percent of those who own guns classified as “assault weapons” under the new law. The “assault weapons” classification itself has been questioned by gun groups. If an “assault weapon” is any weapon used in an assault, the list of prohibited weapons in the new bill is much too short.

Frankie “The Razor” Resto, recently sentenced following a plea bargain, obtained the weapon he used in a deadly assault in Meriden from an illegal weapons black-market that will survive any law written by Connecticut’s General Assembly proscribing the use of specific guns, especially rifles. Laws proscribing the use rifles are not likely to put much of a dent in the commission of crimes. FBI statistics show that the number of murders committed with rifles in 2011 was 323, while handguns accounted for 12,664 homicides.

Mr. Resto came by his prison title “The Razor” because his assault weapon of choice, when he wished to shake down a drug dealer, was an assault razor. But “The Razor,” once released from prison, easily managed to acquire a gun obtained illegally, as well as hollow nosed bullets, also illegal, to murder Ibraham Ghazal, a store keeper in Median. Mr. Resto, a graduate of prison czar Mike Lawlor’s Orwellian titled Earned Risk Reduction Credits program, agreed to a plea bargain in which five more years might have been added to his sentence of fifty three years because he had used an illegally acquired assault weapon to murder Mr. Ghazal – but the weapons charge was not a part of Mr. Resto’s plea agreement. It is unclear why or at whose insistence the weapons charge was dropped from the final agreement. It is highly curious, however, that a state seemingly interested in protecting its citizens from law abiding gun owners who have no intention of committing violent crimes should have dropped from a plea agreement a weapons charge that could have added five years to the sentence of a violent murderer. A plea agreement that did not expunge the weapons charge might have convinced some recently felonized gun owners that the state of Connecticut truly was interested in prosecuting the illegal, violent and criminal use of guns.

Violent criminals such as Mr. Resto – who burned his mattress while in prison and gave other indications that he was an incorrigible gang-banger upon whom Mr. Lawlor’s ill-conceived get out of jail early program would have no effect at all – can acquire banned weapons as easily as they acquired Mr. Lawlor’s UNEARNED Risk Reduction Credits, which were distributed retroactively to thousands of prisoners. Mr. Lawlor’s program was not vetted by relevant legislative committees. Instead, the former co-chair of the Judiciary Committee attached his program to an omnibus implementer bill at the end of a legislative session. Attempts by Republicans to exempt violent criminals from the program have been rebuffed by Mr. Malloy, Mr. Lawlor and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, most of whom will be claiming implausibly during the upcoming elections that Republicans are waging a fictitious war on women. Mr. Lawlor’s program awards “Risk Reduction Credits” to violent criminals convicted of sexual assault in the first degree, assault on a pregnant woman, kidnapping in the first degree, and other violent crimes committed against women. For whom, it should be asked, do Mr. Lawlor’s credits reduce risks?

These are the festering lilies of the one-party state: A poorly constructed bill is smuggled through the General Assembly by an arrogant and unresponsive former co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee; Mr. Lawlor’s judiciary co-chair in the state senate, Andrew McDonald, is awarded a seat on Connecticut’s Supreme Court (Mr. Lawlor and Mr. McDonald, it may be recalled, were largely responsible for the passage of a bill abolishing Connecticut’s death penalty -- shortly after a mass murder in Cheshire and months before another mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School); productive Connecticut citizens are over taxed by a spendthrift Democratic dominated General Assembly after the first Democratic governor since William O’Neill declines to invite elected Republican leaders to a budget negotiation process conducted largely in secret by Mr. Malloy and tax hungry leaders of SEBAC, a politically connected union group; a criminal report that should have been made available in camera to legislators writing a bill on assault weapons is unaccountably delayed; Freedom of Information regulations are under unremitting attack. And what is done and left undone by Mr. Malloy’s administration, acting always in concert with other Malloyalists in the General Assembly, remains hidden behind an iron wall of secrecy and dissimulation.

A media alive to the baleful effects of the one-party state would allow none of this – ever, ever, ever. But Connecticut’s largely somnolent media awakens only when the Malloyalist Molotov cocktail penetrates their usually safe corner of the political barracks. And so Connecticut progresses ever forward, its progressive pennants flapping in the wind -- Detroit or Bust!

Monday, March 10, 2014

What For, Foley?

Most people in Connecticut who still get their news from newspapers, an ever diminishing number, have never attended a press conference.

Sometimes an unexpected rumpus enlivens the event. At a conference launching a study released by the Connecticut Policy Institute (CPI), one reporter, having been upstaged by a questioner, reminded all present, around thirty curious onlookers, that HE was a member of the press and thereafter left the room huffily, his neck stretched out like a cobra’s.

“Who was that? “asked several people who had not had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.  “I hope he’s alright?”

Tom Foley, a Republican running for governor, was at the event lending unction to the presentation. In brief stories filed the same day, it was noted by virtually every reporter that CPI had been financed by Mr. Foley. This was not news to anyone in the room, including the cobra who departed in a vaporous cloud of righteous indignation, although it may surprise some to learn that apart from providing seed money to CPI in 2011, Mr. Foley has made no further contributions to the organization -- which is financially independent of him.

No matter, the old news dominated most stories. The substance of the presentation was touched upon only fleetingly – which was a pity because the report was carefully researched and contained data that signaled a new turn for some Republican gubernatorial hopefuls.

Most post-event questions centered upon the gubernatorial horse race and possible campaign finance indiscretions. Since Mr. Foley had fathered CPI, had he perhaps crossed some line of demarcation relating to campaign finance laws?

In every news report – Connecticut Commentary examined five -- a new “W” was added to the usual five reportorial “W’s” --   Who, What, Where, When, and Why. The sixth “W” was “What for?”

Many reporters thought they knew what the presentation was for: It was to promote Mr. Foley’s gubernatorial campaign and, in their dispatches, some aggrieved left of center reporters proceeded to give Mr. Foley “What For.”

The comprehensive eighty three page report covered four areas:  Jobs, Crime, Housing and Education.

Under the heading “Urban Jobs Policy,” the report, which was developed over a period of six months and relied heavily on data gathered from Connecticut businesses, teachers, relevant experts in various fields, law enforcement officials and others, made six proposals: 1) Urban tax breaks awarded proportionally to the number of jobs created should be made available to more employers; 2) specific urban areas should be exempted from municipal regulations, which in turn should be replaced with a model municipal code enforced by the state; 3) customized workforce training programs should be made available to any employers willing to locate in a Connecticut city; 4) Tweed or Sikorsky airport should be expanded to provide more convenient access to the New Haven/Bridgeport area; 5) urban areas should be made more livable and enticing through the improvement of parks, waterfronts and other public spaces; and 6) regional small business incubators should be created for every major urban area in Connecticut.

The most intriguing policy prescription for reducing urban crime involved the adoption of a recidivism reduction program that relies on “Swift, Certain, and Short” punishment meted out to probation or parole violators. The program, hugely successful in reducing recidivism in Hawaii by 55 percent, immediately re-incarcerates for no longer than four days all probation and parole violators.

The section of the CPI report dealing with proposals to close Connecticut’s achievement gap through public school choice alone runs to twenty pages

Unfortunately, the substance of the report took up only a few sentences in hybrid stories that focused on the political ramifications of CPI’s “Urban Policy Project.” The truncated “Who, What, When, Where and Why” were entirely subordinated to the expansive “What For.”

It was V. I. Lenin, a superb journalist and pamphleteer, who said that if you label a program or person effectively, you don’t have to argue with it or him. In filing their stories, most left of center reporters in the state relied on the assumption that if they could tie the CPI report to Tom Foley, they needn’t disclose or discuss its substance.

Questioned by reporters, James Hallinan, a Democratic Party spokesman who had attended the presentation, said that, although he hadn’t had time to read the report, he was certain it was a political gimmick.

“This is purely political,” said the Malloy flack, “and I think he made that clear.”  It was not exactly clear who had made it clear that the report was purely a political document.

“Come now,” one reporter replied, “You were in the room, you heard the presentation. There are some pretty good ideas in there. You must have some response to it.”

 “No,” said the laconic Mr. Hallinan, “Not yet.”

Asked about the political ramifications of the report he had presented, Ben Zimmer remarked, “In Connecticut and across the country, too often when we’re thinking about policy, it becomes submerged into the lens of politics.”

In some other room in the Legislative Office Building, a labeler was busily preparing labels -- and press releases.

The report, which contains usable ideas that very well might appear in Republican campaigns, is available at the CPI site.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Towards A TR Conservative Republican Party

Many people may be surprised to hear that President Teddy Roosevelt, the Bull Moose megaphone and the first serious presidential progressive, was a Republican.

It is Teddy that prevents the term “Republican activist” from becoming an oxymoron. There is no question that TR –- some call him the good Roosevelt -- was what we should call “an activist.”

In the post-Ronald Reagan period -- the present era of a boisterous modern progressive party led nationally by President Barack Obama and here in Connecticut by the ubiquitous Governor Dannel Malloy -- some Republicans are beginning to ask dangerous questions: For instance, what would the policies of an activist Republican look like? Is it possible to imagine an activist conservative government that would carry us far from the modern progressive and destructive bonfire?

One of the most enticing features of modern progressivism is that it gives politicians something to do. Of course, they always go overboard, carrying most of us with them. A government that sets a minimum wage is an over-reaching government that has stopped governing. And the problem with over-reaching is simply this: If a U.S. Senator were to fancy himself a sort of populist consumer protection agent determined to guard his constituents from the ravages of sugary breakfast cereals, that senator would not have sufficient time or inclination to devote himself to the proper responsibilities of his office – say, developing a strategy to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from swallowing large parts of Eastern Europe and re-assembling the Soviet Union. This is what modern progressivism does: It burns down your house and then forces rug makers to sell you a carpet at a reduced price.

The conservative who chastises U.S. Senator Busybody for neglecting his constitutional responsibilities ought not to be shouted down as someone who hates government, when in fact he may be someone who appreciates much better than Senator Busybody the necessary and indispensable responsibilities of a responsible senator. But, more often than not, he is shouted down – as someone who believes cities should be allowed to rot while he twiddles his thumbs and repeats conservative nostrums concerning the dangers of an immodest omni-incompetent government.

Suppose a conservative TR, a Jack Kemp sort of guy, should come along in Connecticut and propose an “extreme” solution that would lead cities out of their jobless doldrums by means of a proposal to place business tax reduction zones in large poverty infested urban areas. If you’re a business in Hartford or New Haven or Bridgeport, for instance, you might be able to take advantage of a reverse progressive business tax that diminishes in proportion to a diminishing jobless rate in the targeted cities. Suppose reverse progressive tax reductions were applied to married couples in poverty stricken cities, individual tax reductions being greater in mom and pop households. Such a scheme might well reverse the plague of fatherless households in major urban centers. Would this not be a noble effort in reducing poverty in cities where fatherhood has become a distant memory?

One wonders how a modern TR would sell such ideas in Connecticut. He almost certainly would be instantly confronted by a governmental apparatus allied with powerful interest groups and a left of center media more intent on expanding transfer payments than lifting the poor from poverty. For every dollar Connecticut taxpayers send to Washington – a laundromat for dollars that otherwise would be invested in job production at home – Connecticut receives back about sixty-eight cents in services and rhetorical baloney. The percentage is probably similar in the case of tax money collected by the state and distributed by the General Assembly: For every dollar appropriated to alleviate poverty, a large bite is consumed by the state’s caritas apparatus. And since the advent of Mr. Malloy as governor, a portion of tax money collected is delivered, more or less as a pay-off, to multi-million dollar companies that have threatened to leave the state for greener pastures elsewhere; such tax consuming companies will be generous to the Democratic machine come election day.

Very likely any effective effort to ameliorate the condition of the poor in cities by making them independent of government succor would be a battle to the death. But then, if we could summon TR from the dust that is the final condition of all men and women – there are no rich or poor corpses – he would find a way. And that way would be shouted from bully pulpits in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, whose recently elected mayor, Toni Harp, has just imposed more taxes on Mike Stratton, a New Haven alderman allied with a breakaway group of city lawmakers known as the People’s Caucus.

Mr. Stratton, a heretical Democrat in New Haven’s one-party town, was on the verge of proposing spending cuts and operational cut backs.

When Mr. Stratton rose in opposition to the tax increase levied by the wife of New Haven’s most notorious tax scofflaw, lately deceased, he was told – politely, to be sure – shut up and go away.

Revolutions begin this way.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Two Young Republicans

First a disclaimer: Nothing in this piece should be taken as a formal endorsement of the candidates mentioned below. In more than thirty years of column writing, the author has never made a formal endorsement, and it would be a pity to ruin a perfect record.

That said, it’s almost impossible to avoid noticing that the Republican Party in Connecticut has been crowded lately with young blood, not to mention the women upon whom Republicans are supposed to have declared war. This is partly the result of the Republican Party’s years in the wilderness.

Once a politician wins an election, he becomes the incumbent, and incumbents have insuperable advantages over challengers.

Except in times of extreme stress, most people vote on auto-pilot. It is well known that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by a ratio of two to one. Unaffiliateds outnumber both Republicans and Democrats. It is therefore no surprise that Democrats enjoy a majority in the General Assembly. All the state’s Constitutional offices are held by Democrats. Connecticut’s U.S. Congressional delegation is uniformly Democratic, and with the election of Dannel Malloy as governor, Democrats now command the heights.  So then, most incumbents in Connecticut’s new one-party state during the next few elections will be Democrats, a great advantage for the party of stasis.

 It is the Republican Party that, at least in Connecticut, is the party of change.

Change comes hard. No great struggle is needed to float with the current.  As G. K. Chesterton once said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” The political current in Connecticut has a decided Democratic undertow. Still, it is much more invigorating to go against the current, a struggle that often appeals to the dauntless young.

It is possible that Republican challengers are young because the incumbent herd – both Republicans and Democrats – has grown old in office. Time thins old herds. A stressful time also thins the incumbent herd, and we are living, as the Chinese philosopher says, in interesting times, “interesting” being the opposite of placid and peaceful, a period in our state in which voting on auto-pilot may be fatal for Mother Connecticut. The expression “May you live in interesting times” is thought to be a Chinese curse.

I’ve listed below only two young Republicans, both of whom I met recently at an event, the first annual “Women on Fire” awards dinner, which featured as keynote speaker Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, who delivered an alarmingly apposite address. During the event, awards were presented to Pat Longo, the energetic Republican National Committeewoman, and Crystal Wright, a glorious black conservative explosion. The “Woman on Fire” event was organized by Regina Roundtree, a young Republican who also wants watching. Ms. Roundtree is the head of Connecticut Black Republicans and Conservatives (CTBrac).

Penny Bacchiochi has represented the 52nd House District, Somers and Stafford, in the General Assembly since 2002.  Energetic, very bright, well prepared politically, Ms. Bacchiochi this year is running for Lieutenant Governor on the Republican ticket. She is firmly grounded in education and social work and has held the Republican Caucus Chair position since 2009. Ms. Bacchiochi does effortlessly what so many other politicians do ineptly: She translates her own varied experience into pragmatic political programs. Experience is, after all, the wisest teacher. Ms. Bacchiochi believes in a politics of limits and has more than a nodding acquaintance with constitutional prescriptions. She will fight in the trenches with a bayonet in her teeth for an enduring principle. So did Cardinal John Henry Newman, but Newman also said, “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

Tim Herbst, now running for State Treasurer, is made of the same mettle. These are not young people who, having wandered into the woods to find themselves, have gotten hopelessly lost in briars and tangles. Mr. Herbst knows his own mind, has more than a functional understanding of politics, is fully capable of charting a course that will steer Connecticut away from its present treacherous path and, much to his credit, has never contributed a single penny in campaign contributions to the author of Dodd Frank, a mischievous entanglement that will pull Connecticut and the rest of the nation into the weeds and frustrate the free flow of information and creativity that lies at the center of wealth creation.

Immediately upon taking office as First Selectman of Trumbull, Mr. Herbst took ownership of his town’s problems. Coming into office, Mr. Herbst knew full well he could expect little help from either the federal government, deeply in debt and far removed from Trumbull’s needs, or state government, which had simply passed onto the towns costs associated with unfunded mandates and a highly politicized administration. In the meantime, inflation, contractual obligations, bonded indebtedness and maintenance and operational costs all were banging on Trumbull’s doors.

Right from the get-go, Mr. Herbst said, “I learned an important lesson: We can depend on no one but ourselves, and we must empower ourselves to take action.”

Mr. Herbst took action. He fulfilled a campaign pledge by identifying $1 million in operational savings during his first 100 days in office, turned a budget deficit into a surplus, decreased property taxes 3.5 percent, raised pension funding to adequate levels and negotiated labor agreements that reduced the number of pension eligible town employees. As a result of his exertions, Fitch, Moody and S&P, the nation’s principal rating services, all lauded Trumbull’s improved financial position.

Most recently, Fitch lowered to “AA -- Outlook Negative ”Connecticut GO Bonds, those bonds to which the full faith and credit of the state are pledged for payment of principal and interest.

More than thoughtful political behavior, entropy seems to decide the direction of states. Republicans were in the majority in Connecticut’s state senate for only two of the last twenty years; and, during the same time period, Democrats were in the majority in the state House for all twenty years. One cannot expect beneficial change to arise from a party so entrenched, and it is by no means certain that voters in Connecticut will be turned any time soon from their enabling entropy by anything less crippling than a disabling crisis.