Connecticut has had three “heroic” governors within the past four gubernatorial election cycles. Lowell Weicker was the first. His legacy is inseparable from his income tax, and it was his income tax. In a rare moment of humor, Weicker suggested that the tax should be named after his lieutenant governor, Eunice Groark, who broke a tie in the state Senate, assuring the passage of the income tax bill through the General Assembly sausage-making process. Groark declined the honor.
His was a campaign risen from the dead, after conservatives in his state, notable among them William F. Buckley Jr., indirectly supported the candidacy of then state Atty. Gen. Joe Lieberman to run against Weicker for the U.S. Senate. Weicker had been on the outs with his own state party for years. At one point he mused, “Why doesn’t someone take over the (state) party? It’s so small,” and, to Weicker’s way of thinking, dispensable and insignificant. Weicker’s senatorial run was indistinguishable from that of U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and, during his last years in office, his Americans for Democratic Action rating was higher than Dodd’s. Weicker supported the presidential candidacies of both New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, also a Democrat.
Following his senatorial defeat, Weicker, like Achilles, retired to his tent. Then, running in a three-way race for governor on a throw-away party ticket, he returned with a vengeance. Having signaled in unambiguous terms in his campaign that he would not look favorably on an income tax -- please don’t pour gas taxes on the state’s simmering recession -- he proceeded as governor to ram an income tax bill through Connecticut’s cowardly, spending-addicted General Assembly, thus saving state government the necessity of prudent and necessary cost saving measures.
Connecticut ran a surplus for a few years, after which spending increased threefold by the time Gov. Dannel Malloy had been sworn into office. Weicker declined to run for a second term as governor for reasons that were obvious to anyone who did not regard his signal achievement, the income tax, as heroic. He was given a “Profile in Courage” award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for having exhibited moral fortitude in forcing an income tax upon his state.
Weicker was followed in office by Gov. John Rowland, who gave indications during his own campaign that, were Connecticut citizens brilliant enough to vote Rowland in, he would abolish the new income tax. This did not happen, though Rowland, attempting to cut costs, did exhibit some courage in laying off state workers when he could not reach an accommodation with union leaders on work and benefit contracts. Rowland went to prison for corruption. Sometime later, Connecticut’s left leaning Supreme Court reversed Rowland's executive action, for which the Court has yet to receive a “Profile in Courage Award” from the JFK Library.
Governor Jodi Rell -- denounced by the state’s media as a do-nothing, caretaker Governor, the Snow White of Connecticut -- replaced Rowland and created no public disturbances. She was followed in office by the least popular Connecticut Governor in modern times, Dannel Malloy, who hiked Weicker’s income tax twice, both the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history. The heroic Malloy was, like the heroic Weicker, full of bluster; both led the state into recessionary thickets and deepening debt.
Such are the heroic strongmen governors of Connecticut, full of sound and fury, signatories of the state’s downward spiral – little more than blustering, politically privileged egotists, men who took the easy road usually followed by timid cowards and responsibility shirkers.
Connecticut likely will not survive such heroes in the future. The path upward in Connecticut is tediously straight and simple: 1) Reduce the costs of state labor permanently by eliminating state union contract negotiations and allowing salaries and benefits to be set by statute ; 2) restore the dignity and recover the constitutional prerogatives of Connecticut’s law-making body from "heroic" chief executives and unelected autocratic appellate court justices; 3) institute term limits that will have the beneficial effect of restoring some of the power state political parties lost through enfeebling campaign finance reform laws; 4) privatize all possible governmental functions; 5) cut state regulations on business to the bone; 6) throw off wealth inhibitors – costly regulations and revenue enhancers -- and begin a movement from income to consumption taxes; 6) deep six all attempts to retain and attract businesses through polite chief executive bribery; 7) institute a flat or fair tax that will make everyone in the state investors in Connecticut’s recovery; and always 8) beware of Trojan governors bearing gifts.
What Connecticut needs at this most critical juncture is a courageous governor and workmen-like legislators who recognize the limits of political power and who are resolved to restore in the Constitution State an ordered republic without which the state cannot recover its political place in the sun and advance the public good.
Don Pesci (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist who lives in Vernon, Conn.