Chris Powell: Last stand for Conn.'s private sector

With Quinnipiac University's final poll on Connecticut's election for governor calculating once again that the race is essentially tied, two conclusions may be drawn.  

The first is that the supporters of petitioning candidate Joe Visconti, the gun-rights fanatic, are breaking somewhat in favor of the Republican nominee, Tom Foley, as they realize that Visconti has no chance of winning and that votes for him will be only protest votes.


The second is that the success of the Democratic nominee, Gov. Dan Malloy, will depend on mobilizing city voters, who are disproportionately tax consumers -- government employees and welfare recipients -- rather than taxpayers.


The decline in voter participation in non-presidential election years like this one favors Republican candidates. But since opinion polls under-represent the urban poor, who vote Democratic overwhelmingly, the governor probably already has the support of more people than the polls show and so he seems more likely to win.


Indeed, since the two major political parties are really just accumulations of interests rather than proponents of political principles, and since the candidates have avoided issues of substance, choosing instead personal attacks, contrivances, and hysteria -- the governor because his record is weak, Foley because his knowledge of government is weak -- this election is largely a contest between government itself and what remains of Connecticut's private sector. If Malloy wins it may be the final triumph of Connecticut's government and welfare classes, the triumph Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. felt he could not win when, having imposed the state income tax to rescue those classes, he declined to seek re-election in 1994.


But after imposing a tax increase even bigger than Weicker's and for the same purpose, Governor Malloy is seeking vindication. It will be construed as license for unlimited government and taxation.

The governor essentially confirmed as much in his comments to the NAACP meeting in Waterbury last weekend. "We did not balance our budget as other states did" by reducing financial grants to municipalities, he said. "Not a single teacher, not a single policeman, not a single fireman has lost his job because I took my problem and shifted it to Waterbury, Bridgeport, or New Haven."


This was also to say that by raising taxes and increasing financial grants to municipalities, the governor insulated their employees against union contract concessions just as he had insulated state government's employees -- that only private-sector workers have to sacrifice, their concessions being extracted via higher taxes.


The Democratic campaign also is touting to the most fearsome special interest, teacher unions, that the Malloy administration is fully funding the state teacher retirement fund, though this is only required by a law enacted under the governor's Republican predecessor and though it inadvertently demonstrates state government's perverse priorities. After all, no law guarantees public safety in Connecticut's anarchic cities, maintenance of the state's decaying transportation infrastructure, or group homes for the mentally retarded. No, inviolability attaches only to the pensions of teachers.


Since he has so little to say, Foley's election will be construed as mere repudiation of the governor and dissatisfaction with the state's lengthening hard times. The Republican will not be able to claim a mandate for any particular policy, having demonstrated little familiarity with or even interest in state government's operations. If he is elected that stuff will be assigned to the hired help.


As for Visconti, he has defaulted on tens of thousands of dollars in debt over the years and has posed for photographs bare-chested with odd expressions on his face, and still he sometimes has seemed more sensible and candid than his rivals. In this disgraceful campaign it might be hard to blame voters for wondering if guns really are the answer.


Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.