Ned Lamont

Chris Powell: Looking for a freedom-of-information hero in Conn.

News_photographers_and_reporters_wait_outside_Jacqueline_Kennedy_Onassis'_apartment.jpg

At its annual meeting the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information usually presents an award to a public official who has performed outstanding service to the right to know in the past year. But no such award was presented at the annual meeting a few weeks ago, for the council could not find such a hero.

As reported comprehensively last Sunday by Gabriella DeBenedictis in the Waterbury Republican-American, freedom of information is under attack in Connecticut. Bad as the previous administration was on this issue, Gov. Ned Lamont's administration may be worse, perhaps because the majorities of his party, the Democratic Party, have increased in the General Assembly.

The governor and legislature have just created an agency to disburse as much as $300 million to public education programs, at least $100 million of it state government money, while exempting the agency from freedom-of-information and ethics laws. The agency was prompted by a gift of $100 million from billionaire fund manager Ray Dalio and his wife, Barbara, a sum that has been matched by state appropriation. Another $100 million may be raised for the agency from other rich people. Apparently the Dalios requested the exemption from the FOI and ethics laws, though until now rich people in Connecticut somehow have managed to give money away without impairing open government.

With state officials on its board, the agency may operate as a slush fund for political patronage. Not surprisingly, the agency and its exemptions from accountability were enacted as part of the state budget bill without a public hearing.

A few weeks ago the governor signed and the legislature approved a new contract with the state police union that prohibits public access to complaints against troopers if the police administration finds the complaints false or unverifiable. This will facilitate whitewashes and cover-ups. For years a similar provision in the contract for the state university professors union has obstructed journalistic investigation of sexual harassment and other misconduct.

Approving the concealment provision in the state police contract, the governor and legislature signified that they haven't paid attention to the scandals with the professors or else that they place the interest of unionized government employees above the public interest.

Such provisions are possible only because state law authorizes state employee union contracts to supersede freedom-of-information law. Legislative leaders this year refused even to hold a hearing on repealing the supersedence law. Again legislators served the unions instead of the public.

The governor and legislature this year also enacted a law allowing secret arrests in domestic violence cases when both parties are charged. This will facilitate politics and influence peddling during secret resolution of the charges before they reach court and the defendants are identified. Public officials seeking to conceal their own misconduct will find this especially useful.

This year the legislature also failed to pass a bill proposed by state Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, to prohibit towns from charging $20 to people who want to make their own scans of public documents, avoiding photocopying charges. Town clerks want the extra revenue. They might as well charge admission to Town Hall.

Will Connecticut have a hero of freedom of information next year? It depends on whether more elected officials realize that good government might be good politics too.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: No state is big enough to hold back a big business

Headquarters of United Technologies Pratt & Whitney unit, in East Hartford, Conn.

Headquarters of United Technologies Pratt & Whitney unit, in East Hartford, Conn.

Connecticut has been more surprised than it should have been by the announcement from United Technologies Corp. that upon its merger with Raytheon Co. it will move its headquarters from Farmington to Raytheon's outside Boston, in Waltham.

As much as some politicians feared and others hoped that the move was prompted by the state's awful economic conditions, it wasn't. Rather the move was just another natural step in the evolution of a company that began a century ago as the Pratt & Whitney machine tool shop in Hartford.

The tool shop became a manufacturer of aircraft engines, merged with the predecessor of Boeing to become United Aircraft and Transport Corp., started making airplanes as well as their engines, was broken up by New Deal-era antitrust legislation, kept growing anyway, and became a conglomerate -- United Technologies -- that was heavily dependent on government contracts. As such UTC came to need political support outside Connecticut, so it diversified operations into other states and even other countries.

As a result UTC's employment in Connecticut, around 19,000, has declined to a fraction of what it was a few decades ago, and state government could have done little to prevent it. For these days no conglomerates and big government contractors are going to stick to one state. It's not just their need for national political influence for securing federal government business. It's also to avoid becoming hostage to any one predatory state government.

So Connecticut's economic future does not depend on the big companies already here. For the same reasons motivating UTC, they are more likely to expand out of state. Instead Connecticut's economic future depends on growth by smaller companies already here and entry here by companies elsewhere.

But good luck drawing or keeping anyone here while the most important thing state government has to offer anyone is the duty to share the burden of $70 billion or so in unfunded state and municipal employee retirement obligations -- that is, the duty to pay more in taxes every year [ITALICS] forever [END ITALICS] to sustain a pension-and-benefit society.

xxx

SLUSH FUND MAY EXPLAIN IT: Maybe there's a good case for giving an exemption from state freedom-of-information and ethics laws to the Partnership for Connecticut, the entity just created by billionaires Ray and Barbara Dalio and state government in the name of improving public education. The Dalios are donating $100 million, state government is appropriating an equal amount, and more donations will be sought from other wealthy people.

But if there is a good case for the exemption, nobody is making it.

Spokeswomen for Governor Lamont and the Dalios insist that the partnership should be exempt from the accountability laws because it's not really a state agency. But it was created and funded by the new state budget, a majority of its board will be state officials, and it will dispense public money to public schools. Private entities don't need any provision in the state budget exempting them from FOI and ethics laws, since those laws apply only to government agencies.

So the budget writers thought the partnership would be considered a state agency subject to the accountability laws unless another law asserted, against the evidence, that it wasn’t a state agency.

Why did the budget bestow such an exemption and exactly who asked for it and why? The spokeswomen for the governor and the Dalios were asked about this more than a week ago but have declined to provide an answer. So here's a guess: The partnership will make a great slush fund.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Don Pesci: On the trail of the Connecticut toll campaign

440px-Table-of-tolls-College-Road-London-SE21-Tollgate.jpg

Tolling in Connecticut is what the advertising men would call a tough sell, and it helps in circumstances such as these to bring in some political spin doctors to assist in the delivery.

Many people in Connecticut, almost certainly a majority, do not want tolls. On May 9, No Tolls Connecticut delivered to the governor’s office a “No Tolls” petition signed by 100,000 people.


Candidate for governor Ned Lamont said during his campaign he would favor tolls only if people outside the state, truck drivers mostly, would be depositing their mites in Connecticut’s revenue collection basket. He said this several times while the TV cameras were rolling.

Later Lamont changed his mind, always the prerogative of pretty women and ambitious politicians. But Lamont’s reversal – which came shortly after he had won his gubernatorial campaign – could not be justified as a “misspeak.” He could have used the services of a good narrative builder right there, but Roy Occhiogrosso, former Gov. Dan Malloy’s flack catcher and narrative builder, perhaps was busy hauling in the dollars from his other clients.

According to Occhiogrosso’s Global Strategy Group bio, “Roy returned to GSG – where he was a partner from 2003 to 2010 – in 2013, after serving for two years as senior adviser and chief strategist to Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. Roy believes that, at some level, everything is about communications. And that if you communicate proactively and properly – using traditional and new media, and social media, internally and externally – you can win your fights and avoid problems.”

Some elements of Occhiogrosso’s strategy on tolls have been activated by Lamont, and no doubt Occhiogrosso will be able to spin some profit from the toll contretemps. He is not alone in supposing that a well-constructed narrative – the bulk of American politics these days is narration, story building – can overcome not only populist opposition but reality itself.


Joining the tolls-are-good-for-you effort are, according to Jon Lender’s piece in The Hartford Courant, a number of Global Strategy Group strategists. The group has produced a “23-page document, entitled ‘Connecticut Campaign for Transportation, 2019 Legislative session,’” that fell into Lender’s hands, and he publicized the private communique; it’s what good investigative reporters do.


Part of the difficulty with tolling is that nearly everyone in Connecticut understands a toll to be a consumer tax. And, to put it in blunt non-narrative, populist terms, people in the state have had it up to their ears with taxes.

First there was the income tax -- necessary, people were told by political narrators, to bring backward Connecticut into the 21st Century. Prior to the income tax, the state relied on consumption taxes, which were, said the political narrators, regressive.

Then Malloy – and Occhiogrosso – came ambling down the road and increased both income taxes and consumption taxes to pay off debts incurred by General Assembly politicians, mostly Democrats, who had invested not a penny into the state employees’ seriously under-financed pension fund for about 30 years after the fund had been created. Numerous “lockbox” funds then were raided by the same cowardly politicians, the appropriated loot dumped into the General Fund. Naturally, Malloy and company were forced to raise taxes to pay off mounting debt. Malloy was followed by Lamont, a protégé of former Gov. Lowell Weicker, who called Weicker to ask himj how he had managed to get an income tax through a then moderate- Democrat opposition in the General Assembly.


The 24-page secret communique suggests remedies to overcome mounting and entirely predictable opposition to tolls, and there is reason to believe that Lamont already has adopted some suggestions: “To overcome resistance, a strategy would be developed ‘to drive legislative support for a tolling concept that will maximize revenue while holding CT citizens as harmless as possible (example: resident discount)… Convincing the legislature to vote for a comprehensive tolling bill — one that includes trucks and cars, albeit with a substantial discount for CT drivers, won’t be easy.

‘‘Opponents have already framed this in simple terms: ‘it’s another huge tax increase.’ In order to win this fight we’re going to have to first reframe the debate — so that’s about ‘jobs and economic development,’ and not just another tax increase… ‘ Government Relations Tactics’ would include: showing legislators ‘how money earned via tolls can significantly improve their specific districts — driving the correlation between tolls and local improvements to infrastructure; highlighting the ‘vs.’ factor by using ‘polling data to share statewide how CT residents feel when you compare tolls to an increase in gas taxes, property taxes, car taxes, etc.’ and providing ‘legislative leadership the necessary political data to ‘whip’ their caucuses’ into support for tolling.”

Getting an unpopular measure passed through the legislature requires an almost religious faith in the power of deconstructing and reconstructing emotion-based “narratives.” The palpable, ruinous consequences of further tax increases can always be buried in a coffin of fanciful – and costly – propaganda.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Chris Powell: Pot legalization and expanding gambling refute concern for health

520px-Unrolled_joint.jpg
Veikkaus_Keno.jpg


Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and some state legislators are proposing a 75 percent tax on vaping products and a punitive tax on sugary soda on the grounds that they are harmful to health, especially that of young people. Meanwhile the governor and some of the same legislators are advocating legalization of marijuana for recreational use in the hope of raising a lot of tax revenue. They also want to put state government into the sports betting business and expand the state lottery's keno game -- as if marijuana and gambling don't also harm health.

Decades of drug criminalization have shown that contraband laws don't work, and as a practical matter marijuana long has been close to legal in Connecticut anyway, so pervasive that the police and courts stopped taking it seriously long ago. So it is hard to argue too much against legalizing marijuana. But legalizing marijuana is also an argument for leaving vaping and sugary soda alone.

Besides, punitive taxes on vaping products and sugary soda are less likely to discourage their use than to create lucrative black markets in them and make them seem even more fashionable to the young. Further, expecting a revenue bonanza from legalizing and taxing marijuana may be unrealistic, since if the tax is disproportionate, it will create a black market there too, as there already is with cigarettes.

Public health is nice but state government right now much prefers to get its hands on more money. It should drop the pretense.

Advocating tolls on Connecticut's highways, the governor and leading legislators also pretend that they want to improve the state's transportation system. But tolls have nothing to do with transportation, for if left alone, the transportation fund will have plenty of revenue from the gasoline tax and the sales tax on automobiles, which is scheduled to flow entirely to the transportation fund in the next few years.

But the governor proposes to divert auto sales taxes back to the general fund, robbing the transportation fund to cover state government's ordinary operating expenses.

That is, tolls actually will sustain collective bargaining and binding arbitration for state and municipal employees, social promotion in education, welfare policy that only perpetuates poverty, more political corruption in the cities, and the status quo of state and municipal government generally.

So what happened to the Ned Lamont whose campaign commercials declared, "Change starts now"?

xxx

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE ISN'T SO RACIST: Congratulations, Manchester teachers. Your superintendent, Matthew Geary, suspects you're racist because far larger proportions of local black and Hispanic students are being disciplined than white and Asian students.

But those proportions only match the ethnic proportions of poverty and criminal justice everywhere. Blacks and Hispanics tend to be poorer and come from more disadvantaged households and thus more prone to misconduct.

While there is some racism in most large systems, it cannot explain much of the disparities in criminal justice and school discipline, especially now that Connecticut's courts and schools, paranoid about racial and ethnic disparities, strive for less punitive discipline and tolerate more disruption in school and society generally.

Indeed, pinning on racism the disproportions in student discipline just distracts from the real problem. As Ronald Reagan said, the United States had a war on poverty and poverty won. It's still winning because racial and ethnic disparities and welfare policy can't be talked about honestly, and now Manchester's school superintendent has gone over to the other side.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Connecticut.

Don Pesci: Hartford is the canary in the Conn. mineshaft

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

According to a story in a Hartford paper, the city’s mayor, Luke Bronin, a rising star in state politics, “declined to comment on the dispute” between Hartford teachers and their nominal patron, the Hartford Board of Education. The dispute is about contracts and the inability of the people of Hartford to finance years of overspending.


A few months ago, Bronin, unable to meet his contractual obligations, sought a bailout from state taxpayers. Bronin leapt from the Malloy administration frying pan, where he served as then Gov. Dannel Malloy’s chief counsel, directly into the fire as mayor of a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and his former boss was only too happy to bail out his protege by flooding the city with state tax balm.

The Hartford school board is seeking concession from teacher union representatives, and the concessions will, if ever they bear fruit, make future state bailouts less burdensome to an all-Democrat political hegemon that may, under the enlightened administration of newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont, be less inclined to bail out Connecticut cities teetering precariously on the edge of bankruptcy.

The concessions that the Hartford Board of Education wishes to wrest from its teachers' unions are curative, which is to say they will help in overcoming crippling future deficits, while state bailouts are palliative; they simply put off an effective remedy until a more favorable moment – which, of course, never arrives. “Among the concessions sought by the school board,” we are told, “is a reduction in sick days from 20 to 15, two years of pay freezes, followed by a one percent increase in the third year, and a switch from a preferred provider medical plan to a health savings account.” In addition, “the board suggested eliminating a higher tier of pay for workers who have earned a master’s degree plus 60 additional credits, and reducing the number of union officers who are detached, with pay, from day to day district work from three to one.”


All these remedies reduce the municipal cost of labor, and it is the cost of labor that has made beggars of our state’s larger cities.


The state itself should take a lesson from this moment. The cost of labor in state government also produces the same set of seemingly intractable problems. Connecticut’s recurring deficits cannot be traced to an insufficiency of taxes, which have tripled in the course of four governors.


The crunch is coming, and it may arrive on Lamont’s lap during his first term. He would be wise not to pet the tiger. There was plenty of petting during Lamont’s first speech as governor: “I am a strong believer in labor, and now is the time to show that collective bargaining works in tough times, as well as good times. As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank.”


There are more curves in those few sentences than there are in the usual Connecticut cow path. Will Lamont present in his budget a straight path to prosperity – or not. The price of government in Connecticut has become too costly; how will Lamont reduce it so that the expenditures of the father will not be visited upon the sons, “yea even to the third and fourth generation.”


Executive director of AFSCME Council 4 Jody Barr and other labor leaders met with Lamont at the governor’s mansion a week after he had been sworn in as governor, and how did that go? Barr emerged from the meeting hopeful, according to an account by Christine Stuart of CTNewJunkie, “Barr said the governor has invited labor to be part of the process… his members have participated in the transition and are offering up ideas on how to improve state government… He said they will be at the table, but that it won’t a table where they negotiate more concessions… We’re all hopeful he’s going to bridge this fiscal thing,” Barr said. “It gives us hope we can get through it.”


One cannot drive a straight line through such oracular pronouncements.

Sometime in mid-February, Lamont will be presenting his budget to the General Assembly. If the governor’s bargaining session with union heads over contract negotiations were to be concluded BEFORE that date, the twists and turns in Lamont’s pre-contractual pronouncements will have been straightened out before the legislature decides to sign off on a budget document that very well may visit the expenditures of the fathers and mothers upon the sons and daughters of Connecticut, yea even to the third and fourth generation.


It’s perfectly reasonable for a state to give a low approval rating to a governor who deals in such budget necromancy. Dannel Malloy’s approval rating on his retirement from office, we now know, was 20 percent, the second lowest in the nation. Lamont tells us that he doesn't to wish to lose his shot. If so, he'd better shoot straight.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.

Canary.jpg

Chris Powell: Conn. inauguration day needed more than giddy gush

Connecticut’s new governor, Ned Lamont.

Connecticut’s new governor, Ned Lamont.


Democrats were entitled to celebrate on Inauguration Day in Hartford. Going into the recent election their record of eight years in control of state government was so much against them that no one of any standing in the party thought its nomination for governor was worth the trouble. So the nomination was left to two-time loser Ned Lamont on the understanding that he would finance his campaign with his own money, at least sparing the party the expense.

Whereupon, thanks to President Trump and an excess of political neophytes dividing their primary vote, Connecticut's Republicans self-destructed. So the Democrats simply repudiated their record and were rewarded with another term.

The forthcoming patronage and plunder would have intoxicated the Republicans too. But the giddy gush of Inauguration Day was a bit too much, from the invocation exalting political correctness, to the appeals to optimism and believing in the state despite its chronic insolvency and decline, to the new governor's emptily proclaiming to the General Assembly, "Let's fix this damn budget once and for all!"

Three of Lamont's four immediate predecessors as governor, who sat in the front row at the inauguration, might have wondered, "How's that again?" For fixing the budget [ITALICS] even once [END ITALICS] had been nearly impossible for them, and fixing it forever will be impossible as long as Connecticut has more special interests than civic virtue.

Saying he'll welcome "any good idea," Lamont advertises openmindedness and bipartisanship. But there is no shortage of ideas, and the basic ones are contradictory. From the start of the campaign last year right through the inaugural address there has been instead a shortage of people in authority able to distinguish the good ideas from the bad ones in any way that comes close to balancing revenue and expenditures.

People already know the choices and how politically inconvenient they are; that's why candidates avoided them. The optimism and good fellowship touted on Inauguration Day are nice but without a couple of dollars they won't buy anyone a cup of coffee at the Legislative Office Building cafeteria next week unless he has something to offer in return. Politics will devour optimism and good fellowship.

Lamont's gee-whiz manner -- Heaven help him if it is really his nature as well -- seems to have prevented him from saying what Connecticut needed to hear on Inauguration Day.

Becoming chief executive when the very survival of his country was in question, Winston Churchill offered only "blood, toil, tears, and sweat." Even so, he would add: "Do not let us speak of darker days. Let us speak rather of sterner days" -- days in which the country might be saved.

Though his times were not that stern, President Kennedy also famously demanded something of the people: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

But on Inauguration Day the new governor barely managed a scolding: "Please don't tell me you've done your share and it's somebody else's turn. It's all of our turns."

It sounded like the policy of the discredited governor who had just gone out the door, Dannel P. Malloy -- "shared sacrifice" -- that is, raising taxes again to keep government employees happy. But why not? The Democrats are back in charge.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Don Pesci: A measles epidemic of tolling gantries coming in Conn.?

Screen-Shot-2018-11-15-at-5.06.07-PM.png

Hey, working suburban women who voted for the toll guy for governor -- get out your wallets. Multiple reports in Connecticut’s media advise us that Lamont eked out a win over Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski with some encouragement from suburban women, many of whom hold down jobs to which they travel – by car, not by largely empty FastTrack-powered buses.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Elect Ned Lamont was warm on tolls – but the tolls, working suburban women and others were told, would be levied only on out-of-state trucks, a dubious constitutional gambit. Rhode Island, the state from which Lamont lifted the idea, is now embroiled in law suits on the issue.

A little more than a week after the election, it was reported by the indispensable Yankee Institute that a new study commissioned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation calls for 82 tolling gantries on Connecticut highways. A note provided on a map furnished by the study authors reads, comfortingly, “Locations are for preliminary planning purposes only.”

The mapped major transportation arteries are pock-marked with red dots (see map above)— gantry locations that make the state look as if it had come down with an advanced case of measles. In a somewhat sour note, the study remarks that “fairness” in toll collections should be paramount: “Fairness – tolls should be set to ensure collection of revenues from CT as well as out-of-state auto and truck trips.” But fairness, Connecticut’s taxpayers will understand lies, like beauty and truth, in the eye of the beholder.

Speaking of fairness, Yankee notes wryly, “The study was previously kept under wraps by DOT Commissioner James Redeker and was the subject of a complaint to the Freedom of Information Commission by Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. In July, Redeker cited the results of the study in testimony before the state Bond Commission but refused to release the study until today.” Len Suzio is no longer in the Senate, having been purged by politicians he has in the past unmercifully annoyed.

The Connecticut DOT has not yet produced a study showing the number of times tolling limited to a targeted subset has not, sooner or later, trickled down to a much broader base. And in fact, that is the case with nearly all taxes. The federal income tax began as a temporary tax on millionaires levied to pay for Civil War debt during the Lincoln administration. But in the course of time, the reinstituted income tax trickled down to non-millionaire working suburban women whose votes now have hoisted Lamont into a gubernatorial seat to be vacated in January by the most unpopular governor in the United States, Dannel Malloy, the author, along with a now revivified majority in the General Assembly, of two hefty tax increases.

If Connecticut’s onerous progressive tax system – which is the primary cause of budget instability – is ever to be reformed, the state might consider moving to a fair or flat tax in which every citizen in Connecticut pays the same rate and is therefore equally invested in state politics. The very rich, many of whom pay fewer taxes than their secretaries (see Warren Buffett on this), would pay the flat tax rate rather than shelter their assets through legalized chicanery, and the poor could be recompensed after having paid the tax. Collections would be simple, and large legal firms hired by the very rich to avoid paying crippling taxes would move on to more profitable pursuits.

Progressivism is little more than a political lure dangled before a credulous public to persuade them to vote for limitless spending that benefits politicians who shortly devise other means – tolling? – to further empty the pockets of working suburban women and all their other targets. Toll gantries placed approximately every 6.6 miles on interstates 95, 84, 91, 395, 691 and 291 and routes 2, 9, 8 and 15 would allow the state to take a major bite from working suburban women, among others. According to the study, Connecticut could collect more than $1 billion per year from electronic tolls.

If there is anyone in the state who believes that tolling – count the gantries – will be long limited to out-of-state trucks, perhaps his or her voting rights should be taken from them and given to the guy behind the tree. Mocking those who believe the claims of politicians that they will be exempted from paying taxes, the late Louisiana Sen. Russell Long offered the following short pearl of wisdom in verse: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.”

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.


Don Pesci: 'So sorry to have left you a mess'

Autumn in Connecticut?

Autumn in Connecticut?

“Connecticut Gov.-elect Ned Lamont says outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy has ‘done a lot of thinking about transition…’– WTNH News 8After lunch, Governor Malloy and Gov. -Elect ] Lamont have a ‘frank and honest’ conversation with each other. Throughout, Malloy – approval rating 15 -- appears to be carefree, strangely excited. The burden of governing has been lifted from his shoulders. When his term ends, he will kick the dust of Connecticut from his feet, move to Massachusetts and teach courses at his old alma mater, Boston College. Lamont is restrained, his characteristic ebullience gone, now that he faces the reality of governing a state in the dumps.

Malloy: … reason to be depressed. According to one analysis, your margin of victory in the race was larger even than mine during my first campaign. Imagine that. You have in your corner the large cities, most of the state’s media and – big surprise – portions of the state that have always gone Republican. Right now, you are very well positioned. You have the General Assembly laying like a cat in your lap, purring. Why, President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney can hardly contain himself. He no longer will have to deal with Themis Klarides or Len Fasano; tough customers, those two. You can do whatever you want. It’s 2011 all over again. Be happy.

Lamont: I think you know there are problems.

Malloy: Yes, there are always problems.

Lamont: I hope we can speak frankly. Most of it has to do with the legacy you left me. I have fewer weapons in the struggle with SEBAC (union leaders with whom the governor of Connecticut sets the path of future governance) than you did coming into office in 2011. I can’t change your contracts until 2027, and the contracts provide a no-layoff provision and salary increases after a brief freeze. Then there are the recurring deficits and your expressed intention not to raise taxes. People take these silly pledges seriously you know. Perhaps most importantly, I can't shuck my problems off on my predecessor. That would be you.

Malloy: Right. Speaking frankly Ned, those are your problems, or they will become yours in January. I’m sure you’ll think of something. Tolls for trucks in Connecticut is a good baby step. The tolling, and the revenue pouring in from tolling gantries, can always be extended far beyond trucks to all vehicles, and that will provide you with a new revenue resource. Just tell everyone the bridges will collapse without repair, and that you’ll place the new revenue in a lockbox to which, heh, heh (he moves his fingers as if opening a safe) you have the combination. Given the Democratic Party’s mutually beneficial connection with unions, there is no way to discharge deficits without some new and expandable revenue source – hence tolls. You could make a grab for municipal dollars by restructuring property taxes. We’ve talked about this, remember?

Ned: The unions will have to come around.

Malloy: Yes, I’ve I tried that. It’s easier politically to stick to tax increases. Not for me of course. I’m rather hoping that the people at Boston College Law School will be willing, after a time, to forget that they hired as a professor someone whose approval rating among overtaxed Connecticut citizens is 15 percent, according to one dubious poll. I’m relying on history to rectify my standing. But you’ve made no promises during your campaign. Asked whether you intended to raise taxes, you first said ‘Yes’ and later wisely amended your ‘Yes’ to ‘No comment.’ {Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob} Stefanowski had some fun with that in his ads. But, of course, we both know that people generally discount both political ads and promises made in the heat of campaigns. Remember your Bismarck: ‘People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.’ To tell you the truth, I’m glad to be out of it.

Lamont: And so your final advice to me would be what?

Malloy: Do the progressive thing, shut out rump Republicans as I’ve done, and slog through. Remember, there will be a life after politics. As Weicker did and I will do, you may have to move out of state for a bit to reinvent yourself. He went to Washington DC to teach a class in Lowell Weicker, and I’m off to Boston to teach a class in Dannel Malloy. I feel liberated. So sorry to leave you with a mess. One more budget and I’m off the hot seat. Did I tell you I’m working on a book? Personal memoirs have become a form of character restitution, have you noticed? Shall we join the ladies?

Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon, Conn.

E-mail: donpesci@att.net

Chris Powell: Malloy wins third term as Conn. governor!

State seal of Connecticut. Love the grapes! Nutmeg State residents are big wine drinkers.

State seal of Connecticut. Love the grapes! Nutmeg State residents are big wine drinkers.



Maybe it was his only way to win Connecticut's election for governor, but having assured voters during the final weeks of his campaign that no one would have to sacrifice during his administration, either through tax increases or cuts in services, Ned Lamont now can only disappoint people, even as the hungriest ones think that he owes them big-time.

Five days before the election Lamont, the Democratic nominee, told a rally of government employee union members in New Britain, "We're going to be fighting for you for the next four years." Lamont's remark recalled Gov. Dannel Malloy's infamous if honest declaration to a rally of government employee union members at the state Capitol four years ago: "I am your servant."

How will the new servant of the unions deliver to them after first pledging to raise taxes, then pledging not to, and then, hours before the election, dismissing a radio interviewer's question about taxes with a "no comment," as if that answer was not as arrogant as anything ever uttered by his ignorant Republican rival?

But at least Lamont will enjoy a Democratic majority in the General Assembly, as the slowly rising Republican tide of recent years receded just as the party seemed about to seize legislative power. Dissatisfaction with President Trump probably hurt Republican legislative candidates.

The restored Democratic majority in the legislature probably won't object much to raising taxes again, as long as it is done quickly, leaving maximum time before the next election. New tax revenue will help protect the compensation of the Democrats' own campaign workers, like the members of government employee unions who performed sentry duty at polling places for Democratic candidates, doing political work on one their many discretionary paid holidays.

Connecticut's Republicans couldn't have suffered a bigger defeat than this election, since the state had been laid so low by eight years of Democratic administration under Governor Malloy that even Lamont ran against his own party's record. But circumstances turned out to be worse for the Republicans than Malloy's record was for the Democrats.

First was the failure of the Republicans to unite behind a gubernatorial candidate at their convention, resulting in a five-way primary whose winner was a political unknown with only 29 percent of the vote, Bob Stefanowski.

Second was the failure of the Republican bench, the party's leading legislators and mayors, to win nomination for higher office this year. Only one of those leaders did -- state Sen. Joe Markley, of Southington, who ran for lieutenant governor. With that exception everyone on the Republican ticket for statewide and congressional office had little to no name recognition when the campaign started and barely more when it ended.

That Stefanowski came fairly close despite his lack of involvement in the state's public life, his unfamiliarity with state government, and his refusal to articulate a platform beyond reducing taxes suggests that Connecticut was ready for a change of regime if it was offered a more plausible candidate.

But while enactment of the state income tax in 1991 was expected to prompt a political revolution in the legislative election the next year, the political composition of the new General Assembly was exactly the same as the old's. Malloy is leaving office detested but here comes his third term.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn
.

Chris Powell: Lamont's conflicting poses; New Haven a haven for expense-account excess



Pouring more of his personal wealth into his campaign for Connecticut governor, zillionaire Democrat Ned Lamont went on television the other day with a new commercial touting "change." In the ad Lamont says he'll cut property and small-business taxes, reduce medical costs, and demand equal pay for equal work for women.

The latter already has been the law for a long time but Democrats need to nurture resentments to rile up their tribal base. The other objectives proclaimed by Lamont's new commercial will be delusional until state government manages to close the $4 billion deficit projected for the next state budget, and Lamont offers no ideas about that.

Indeed, while Lamont's campaign distributes press releases every day, the projected budget deficit is so large that whoever is elected governor will be lucky just to keep the lights on at the state Capitol for his first few years in office. Any proposals that cost money will be mere posturing and pandering until the deficit is closed.

At the end of his new commercial Lamont declares, "Change starts now." But even as the commercial began airing, Lamont received the endorsement of another state employee union, that of the state police. The unions are not supporting Lamont in pursuit of change but rather in defense of their privileges under the political status quo. The unions are confident that, since they dominate the Democratic Party, which has controlled state government for eight years, as governor Lamont will go easier on them than any other candidate.

Meanwhile, Lamont keeps charging that the election of the Republican candidate, Bob Stefanowski, will destroy all public services, since the Republican's only idea is to eliminate the state income tax and thus forgo half of state government's revenue. In effect, Lamont is arguing that no state and municipal government operations can manage with less money -- that no employees, contractors and welfare recipients can be directed to do more with less. That is, Lamont is arguing that the government and welfare classes must not be disturbed and that change is actually impossible.

So Lamont is presenting himself as the candidate of both change and continuity. This is incoherent. But it may be more than Stefanowski offers.

For at least Lamont is making appearances around the state, issuing statements, and being accessible. As for Stefanowski, other than his ads attacking Lamont as a clone of the ever-unpopular Gov. Dannel Malloy, the Republican is hardly to be seen. The only advantage of this campaign strategy seems to be to prevent the candidate from displaying his unfamiliarity with state government and the state itself. After all, Stefanowski never before has been involved with public life and didn't even vote for the last 16 years.

xxx

A HAVEN FOR EXCESS: Next time New Haven Mayor Toni Harp shows up at the Connecticut Capitol to plead poverty and to clamor for more state money for her city, legislators might ask her about her administration's concealment of its travel expenses, as reported this week by the New Haven Independent.

Officials with city credit cards, the Independent found, have not disclosed to the Board of Alders their cross-country flights, hotel stays, and luxurious meals on city business. Trips to meetings of the U.S. Conference of Mayors have cost two or three times more than was reported.

Since state government reimburses half the city's budget, New Haven seems to figure that it's nobody's money.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


The world's first    phonebook    was made in New Haven in 1878.

The world's first phonebook was made in New Haven in 1878.

Chris Powell: Of American single parenthood and low test scores

dedham.jpg


How much money has Connecticut state government thrown lately at what is called the "achievement gap" in the public schools, the gross underperformance of minority and impoverished students? Probably hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the results of the most recent standardized test taken by students in Grades 3 through 8, announced last week, show no improvement over the last four years, the period during which the current test has been administered.

Two-thirds of black, Hispanic and impoverished students are below grade level in math or English or both, 40 percent of them far behind. While the "achievement gap" correlates largely with household poverty, other standardized tests long have shown that half to two-thirds of all Connecticut high school seniors never master high school English or math but are graduated anyway. (Results are similar in other states.)

The evidence in Connecticut is overwhelming that educational achievement has little connection with spending and everything to do with parenting. But the major-party candidates for governor, Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, pledged last week not to reduce state funding for municipal education. They pledged this not because it makes any sense as policy but because most of the money underwrites teacher compensation, there are more than 40,000 teachers in the state, they constitute its biggest special interest, and they want parents to think that money equals education.

Many parents want to think that as well. They don't want to be told that the failure of education is their failure to raise their kids properly. About 40 percent of Connecticut's children live in single-parent households and thus many get only half or less of the attention they should get. In the cities it's close to 90 percent.

In guaranteeing the status quo in state aid to municipal education, Stefanowski has made himself especially ridiculous, since, while pledging to repeal the state income tax over eight years -- or, as his latest remarks suggest, maybe 10 years -- he is locking a huge amount of spending into future state budgets before identifying even one substantial expense he would reduce.

But last week Lamont made himself ridiculous enough on education by proclaiming what he supposes to be the need for more "workforce training" even as the test scores show that primary education itself is failing amid the state's policy of social promotion. That is, all students know that they needn't learn anything to advance from grade to grade and graduate from high school.

So it's no wonder employers complain that while they have openings for good jobs they can't find skilled workers. It's hard enough to find high school graduates who have a high school education.

There can be no improvement while public education in Connecticut remains too politically influential to audit. It will keep consuming more and producing less.

Those Grade 3-8 test scores weren't the only hint last week that simple demographics are everything. A survey by the United Way concluded that 40 percent of the state's households don't have enough income to cover necessities.

A closer look indicates that most of those households are single-parent. It is as if people never heard that having children and raising them properly is expensive and not to be undertaken without a dependable spouse and income security. But then government long has been encouraging childbearing outside marriage.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.


Chris Powell: Will 'starve the beast' work in Conn.?

Original  Godzilla  film poster in 1954.

Original Godzilla film poster in 1954.


From his remarks to reporters last week at the Crocodile Club lunch at Lake Compounce in Bristol, the Republican candidate for Connecticut governor, Bob Stefanowski, seems to think it's not important to tell voters how he would cut the half of state government that is financed by the state income tax, which he wants to eliminate over eight years. 

“We're ready and happy to talk about it," Stefanowski said, but he still has not   done so specifically. "I don't think the argument is about what the details of people's plans are," Stefanowski added, because there is such a "stark contrast" between him and Ned Lamont, the Democratic candidate for governor. Lamont, Stefanowski said, "is going to raise taxes and I'm going to try like heck to get rid of the income tax.” 

Yes, telling voters the consequences of his platform before the election might spoil the lovely dream of escaping the income tax. Since he won the Republican primary with nothing but that lovely dream, maybe Stefanowski thinks he can keep avoiding specifics because a candidate's credibility doesn't matter. 

Stefanowski doesn't seem to have noticed that he got only 29 percent of the Republican primary vote and that only 20 percent of Connecticut's voters are Republicans. Or maybe he doesn't think that matters either. 

But maybe even if a governor had no budget priorities and just began to cut spending across the board -- pursuing the good, old conservative platform, "starve the beast" -- much help might be volunteered to him, if resentfully. 

Maybe just reversing the dynamics of budgeting would spark the necessary reforms. That's because all the spending-dependent groups in Connecticut long have been on the same side, clamoring together to increase taxes so they all could get more. 

This has always worked for them, since, despite the whining about spending cuts, total spending in state government always increases and the only "cut" is in its  rate of increase.  

If a governor was determined to reduce or even just freeze spending and had enough support in the General Assembly to sustain his veto, the spending-dependent groups might be forced to split up and scrutinize each other for inessentials and excesses. Knowing the tricks of budgeting, these groups might make excellent auditors. 

For example, advocates for the mentally handicapped, 2,000 of whom are always languishing on a waiting list for placement in group homes, might start caring about the expense of the paid day off enjoyed by state and municipal employees in the name of Columbus. They might even question collective bargaining and binding arbitration for government employees, policies that put the compensation of those employees ahead of all other purposes in government. 

Employees of nursing homes and nonprofit groups with whose salaries state government long has been stingy might protest the extravagant pay at the University of Connecticut. 

Passengers of the Metro-North commuter railroad, where maintenance is always neglected, might protest the bus highway to nowhere. 

Parents of special-education students for whom services are hard to obtain might denounce the huge but never tabulated cost of social promotion in the schools. 

They all could have fun picking through the bonding package. 

If Stefanowski really thinks that most voters care only about taxes, let him run on "starve the beast." 

The beast does need to go on a severe diet. But if voters are more sophisticated, Stefanowski better start explaining. 


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Don Pesci: The role of humor and viciousness in politics

Anti-Jefferson cartoon in the 1800 election campaign depicts him burning the Constitution.

Anti-Jefferson cartoon in the 1800 election campaign depicts him burning the Constitution.

Republicans, we all know, do not know how to campaign -- which is why they lose elections. In the modern period, political jousting is either murderous or feckless. Twitterdom is full of deadly thrusts unleavened by humor, the opposite of wit.

Let’s suppose Connecticut Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bob “The ReBuilder” Stefanowski were Abe Lincoln, sans beard but with a similar sense of humor. Someone at a political rally once accused Lincoln of being two-faced – he was  being rather subtle on the issue of slavery– at which point Lincoln stopped his speech and shouted back, “If I had two faces, do you think I’d be wearing this one?”

The audience shivered with appreciative laughter, and laughter in politics is better than votes because it engages the stomach muscles and the thorax. Voting is a public duty most people choose to ignore, particularly in our day of snake oil salesmen. But laughter cleanses the soul and shocks the memory. Remembering a good joke is so much more pleasant that remembering a humorless politician.

So then, here is Lincoln Stefanowski ruminating – from the stump – on a recent Ned Lamont campaign rally in Hartford, Connecticut’s capital city and recently bailed out by the political money lenders under the gold-guilt dome in Hartford:

 “I see the Democrats had a rally in Minuteman Park in Hartford. All the usual celebs were there, minus Governor Dan Malloy, who’s in hiding. Democrats do not want the infectious Malloy touching their campaigns''. CTPost reported, “[Democrat candidate for State Treasurer Shawn] Wooden produced an awkward moment during the rally when he introduced Lamont as ‘Governor Malloy’ in an apparent slip of the tongue. Republicans continually paint Lamont as an extension of the unpopular Democratic governor, while Lamont emphasizes his differences from Malloy.” You see, at bottom – THEY KNOW – there are no policy differences between Malloy and Ned Lamont, who I hear is a wealthy businessman with only a smattering of political experience like… well, never mind.

The paper tells us that “Lamont, in his speech, emphasized that the Democratic ticket represented ‘change.’” But Ned favors more taxes and tax hand-outs to corpulent big businesses fleeing the state. All this sounds wearily familiar: Lamont is the Malloy who wasn’t there. And the only real change that can be expected of the man I called “Ned Malloy” is a sweep of change from people’s pockets. My campaign offers real political change, and we won’t assault your wallets or put a regulator under your bed to adjust the pictures in your house.”

A close friend, Philip Clark, noted Lincoln’s 1846 campaign against Peter Cartwright. Lincoln “asked Cartwright if General [Andrew] Jackson did right in the removal – I believe it was – of the bank deposits. Cartwright evaded the question” – no big surprise there; it happens all the time among politicians on the stump – “and gave a very indefinite answer. Lincoln remarked that Cartwright reminded him of a hunter he once knew who recognized the fact that in summer the deer were red and in winter gray, and at one season therefore a deer might resemble a calf. The hunter had brought down one at long range when it was hard to see the difference, and boasting of his own marksmanship had said: ‘I shot at it so as to hit it if it was a deer and miss it if it was a calf.’ This convulsed the audience, and carried them with Lincoln.”

The pundits are telling us that the upcoming gubernatorial campaign will be vicious though, one hopes, not quite a vicious as the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson campaign of 1800. Students of history will recall that all the elements of a modern campaign sprouted from this nursery bed.

Jefferson, it will be recalled, was Adams's vice president. The principals, Jefferson and Adams, were, of course, above campaigning; the slugfest was run by associates. The Jefferson camp boldly asserted Adams was a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." The Adams camp said Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

The two contestants viewed the battle from afar. Jefferson was not above hiring a hatchet man, James Callender, a political pamphleteer and newspaper editor, to spread campaign muck, while Adams considered himself above such low tactics. Callender proved effective in convincing dupable Americans – presidents at the time were elected through the Electoral College -- that Adams desperately wanted to attack France, and Jefferson prevailed in the election.

Eventually, the free-roving Callender turned against both Alexander Hamilton, whom he rightly accused of infidelity, and Jefferson, for having produced children by one of his slaves. Callender eventually was undone by his own bitterness and alcoholism. He was seen in drunken stupor in 1803, and later his body was recovered from the James River.

More Lincoln and less Callender would better suit the temperament of non-twittering voters in Connecticut.

Don Pesci is a Vernon. Conn.-based columnist.

Chris Powell: Conn. Democrats, Republicans vie to be nuttiest and most irresponsible


Which is Connecticut's nuttier political party? Most observers might say the Republicans because of their association with President Trump, the loose cannon-in-chief. Last week's primary results suggest otherwise. 

Yes, the Republican nomination for governor went to Bob Stefanowski, a former executive for a trifecta of disreputable corporations -- General Electric, which just moved its headquarters out of Connecticut; Union Bank of Switzerland, which helped the Nazis expropriate Europe, helped Long-Term Capital Management wreck the U.S. financial markets, and helped rich Americans evade taxes, for which the bank was fined $800 million; and DFC Global Corp., a payday lender in Britain. 

Stefanowski, who calls himself conservative, is so conservative that until last week he had declined to vote for 16 years, donated to Democratic candidates, and two years ago switched from Republican to Democratic as he contemplated running for governor in the other party. Stefanowski's insistence on repealing the state income tax without specifying where he would cut the equivalent half of state spending seems to have persuaded most of his supporters. 

But Stefanowski received only 29 percent of the Republican primary vote and won the nomination only because the remaining field was split four ways. 

Meanwhile in the Democratic primary  38 percent  of the vote for lieutenant governor went to Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a government employee union organizer who misrepresented her mediocre qualifications to be first in line of succession to the state's highest office. Zimmerman was appointed to the Newtown Town Council, not elected as she claimed, was defeated for election in her own right, and ridiculously exaggerated her work as a congressional intern. 

Zimmerman's main claim on the nomination was her Hispanic ethnicity as she exploited the retrograde movement among the Democrats toward the identity politics Connecticut might have thought it overcame 50 years ago. On taxes Zimmerman was just as bonkers as Stefanowski, advocating a vague tax on "big box" stores as the solution to state government's financial disaster. (Democrats always want more money for government but have to search for a new minority to extract it from, since they can't persuade a majority that the revenue will help anyone but government's own employees.) 

At least Zimmerman was an insurgent. She challenged a party old-timer, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, for whom party leaders arranged the lieutenant governor nomination in exchange for her withdrawing for governor in favor of Ned Lamont. 

But to win as an insurgent in Connecticut's Democratic Party it's best just to pretend  to be one. That's the lesson of Jahana Hayes's victory in the primary for U.S. representative in the 5th Congressional District. 

Hayes, the former national teacher of the year from Waterbury, now living in Wolcott -- a detail carefully underplayed by her campaign -- is black and portrayed herself as the exemplar of the oppressed when in fact she is the exemplar of government's occasional success in advancing the disadvantaged. With no political experience, just platitudes, she got half the vote at the party's district convention and then the endorsement of its most influential interest groups. 

Because of the insurgency buzz contrived for her, she probably will be elected and in Congress will be another vote controlled by the National Education Association, just like the retiring congresswoman she succeeds. Comes the revolution! 


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

 

Chris Powell: In Conn., Dems reject their record and Republicans won't learn

Hartford in 1877, as the nation came out of depression and the Industrial Revolution roared, especially in southern New England.    

Hartford in 1877, as the nation came out of depression and the Industrial Revolution roared, especially in southern New England.

 


What does this week's primary election for governor say about Connecticut's Democratic Party? 

First, it says that at least the party cannot rationalize Joe Ganim's corruption in office. 

Second, it says that the party has come down with a bad case of schizophrenia, as Ned Lamont, having won about 80 percent of the vote, delivered an extemporaneous and overwrought if not hysterical acceptance speech admitting that the party's eight years in control of state government have laid Connecticut low and it desperately needs to change direction. 

How does a party seek to keep power on a platform of repudiating its own record? 

What does this week's primary election for governor say about Connecticut's Republican Party? 

The victory of business executive Bob Stefanowski says that the party has declined to draw any conclusions from its four recent disastrous experiments with nominating for high office self-funding but unknown dilettantes whose ideology, ability, and character have never been tested in public. Each of those experiments produced damaging discoveries about the candidates in the closing days of their campaigns. Now it easily could happen again. 

Behind every great fortune, the French novelist Balzac wrote, is a great crime. Of course that's not entirely true, but their recent record suggests that Connecticut's Republicans might do better to start believing it. 

The Republican results also should teach all of Connecticut something. Stefanowski won with only 30 percent of the vote and the winner of the party's primary for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Joe Markley, may have won with just less than half. To prevent such impairments of democracy, when the field of candidates is large and the leader has not won a majority, state law should provide for runoff primaries and elections or what is called "ranked-choice" voting. 

A second primary between the two top candidates for the Republican nomination for governor well might produce a different result. In any case a runoff system encourages consensus and discourages candidates who cannot win a majority and indeed may even be extreme. 

Extremism is already the Democratic charge about Stefanowski, though Lamont himself has embraced a far-left agenda and has pledged obedience to the government employee unions. 



PARTY ON, HARTFORD: The Democrats' subservience to the government class was exposed again the other day when the Hartford Courant reported that the Malloy administration's $500 million bailout for Hartford city government has squelched even the tiniest bit of pension reform there. 

Prior to the bailout, Mayor Luke Bronin and the City Council planned to save money by disqualifying new, nonunion city employees from the city's defined-benefit pension plan. The new hires were to be offered a defined-contribution pension, a 401(k) plan. 

Now that the bailout has been secured, city government is no longer inclined to economize with pensions. Council President Glendowlyn Thames says her colleagues are thinking: "These are city employees. We should be providing them with good pensions." 

But since state government is reimbursing half of Hartford city government's budget every year and assuming all the city's long-term debt, the city's employees have become more the burden of all state taxpayers than Hartford's own burden. So thanks to the governor, Hartford, where nearly everyone is a Democrat, can party on. 


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn. 

Chris Powell: 'Diversity' Democrats start at the top



With two zillionaire candidates hoping to win their party's primary for governor with pervasive advertising, Connecticut's Republicans aren't the only ones being asked to nominate candidates nobody knows but who want to start at the top.

Connecticut's Democrats are being asked to do it as well, only instead of money, the basis of the pitch to start at the top is "diversity."

In the 5th Congressional District, the candidate endorsed last week by the party's district convention, former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, the party's candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, is being challenged in a primary by Jahana Hayes, of Wolcott, a Waterbury teacher who was national teacher of the year in 2016. Hayes has no record in public life and her claim on the nomination is frankly that she is black while Glassman is white and the Democratic ticket needs racial diversity. So much for Glassman's having been Simsbury's first Democratic chief executive in 40 years, diversity in political substance.

At the Democratic State Convention last the weekend, ethnic diversity was claimed as justification for a primary for the nomination for lieutenant governor.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who in pursuit of party unity ended her candidacy for governor to become the lieutenant governor candidate of Ned Lamont, the choice of party leaders for governor, was challenged by Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, of Newtown. Zimmerman is a government employee union organizer who lost a race for state representative two years ago. Her claim on the lieutenant governor nomination is only that she is of Latin American descent and Bysiewicz is white.

What is Zimmerman's expertise for high state executive office and what are her positions on the big issues? Announcing her candidacy, she didn't say and none of her supporters knew, though maybe, after her ethnicity, they think it is enough that she is a government employee union organizer, as if the Democratic Party needs to be even more identified with that predatory special interest.

Lamont has played along with this as much as he reasonably could. He has pledged to have the most diverse state administration in history and he solicited New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who is black, to run with him as lieutenant governor. Harp would have been not just a "diversity" candidate but a well-qualified one, having been a state senator for many years before becoming mayor -- completely vetted and a known quantity. She declined Lamont's offer and the Democrats had no other well-qualified minority prospect for the lieutenant governor nomination.

Since the last eight years of Democratic rule have dragged state government into insolvency and given Connecticut nearly the worst economy in the country, it may be no wonder that the party prefers to stress race and ethnicity. But such things won't pay the bills.

This year's proliferation of candidates without records in public life emphasizes the usefulness of party conventions for vetting purposes. For conventions test the character of candidates and delegates alike in public, pushing some into betrayals or opportunism.

Further, while primaries properly provide the ultimate democracy in party politics and at last are fairly accessible to candidates in Connecticut, conventions introduce the party to itself and confer the judgment of its most committed members on its prospective nominees. That judgment isn't infallible but it's usually worth something.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.