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.