Chris Powell: Special interest by special interest

After soliciting support Monday from the convention of the Connecticut AFL-CIO -- that is, the government-employee unions, the jobs of private-sector organized labor in Connecticut having moved away -- Tom Foley, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, said it would be a "fool's errand" to try to reduce the privileges of government-employee unions here as lately was done in Wisconsin.

Foley insisted to the delegates that when he asked a rhetorical question last year -- "When is the Wisconsin moment going to come to Connecticut?" -- he meant no challenge to collective bargaining for government employees but only to Connecticut's domination by the Democratic Party.

He promised that a Foley administration would not seek to economize at the expense of state employees -- as if the biggest cost of government in Connecticut, the compensation of state and municipal employees, could be fully insulated against any serious attempt to reverse the state's decline.

But Foley's clumsy dissembling about a "Wisconsin moment" evoked only snickering and laughter from the delegates, and their leaders declared that he wasn't to be believed.

The "fool's errand" turned out to be only Foley's pandering to the government employees, which not only earned him their contempt but also risked the contempt of people hoping for a choice in the election for governor. For Foley had essentially proclaimed that he wouldn't change much about state government at all, that no one on the payroll has anything to fear from him, and that he will compete for votes with Gov. Dannel Malloy, the Democratic nominee, special interest by special interest.

Foley accomplished nothing at the labor convention and if he is elected what he said there will get in the way of his governing.

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In turn the governor pandered too, only successfully, equating government employee unions with labor generally, thereby accepting the unions' image of themselves as the vanguard of the working class rather than its overseers, what the social critic Roger Kimball called "tenured radicals."

With that remark about a "Wisconsin moment," the governor said, Foley had been "going after organized labor, which I equate to going after the middle class." Of his administration the governor added, "We are not responsible for a single layoff in a municipality because of a budget cut we made."

Of course, the governor has raised taxes dramatically on the middle class -- indeed, by a record amount -- but he gave the union convention to understand that his highest objective will remain job security for government's own employees.

"I stand with labor," Malloy said. "I always have. I always will."

The delegates, most of them representing government employees, seemed pleased that the governor did not identify himself as a manager who represents everyone in the state and who thereby is obliged to try to get maximum value out of the government. But the delegates should have been far more pleased that Foley had forsworn that idea. Now they stand to win no matter who is elected. * * * Independent gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Pelto criticized AFL-CIO leaders for refusing to let him address the convention. Pelto, the former Democratic state representative from Mansfield and longtime advocate of government-employee union supremacy, is running on a platform of punishing Malloy for having wondered aloud two years ago whether there might be more to public education than job security for teachers, a thought the governor quickly repudiated when he returned to his political senses.

Pelto said his exclusion "flies in the face of the democratic principles that are purported to be among the core values of unions." But Pelto's exclusion may have served him right for having been such an uncritical tool, and he should have known better. While he pitches ideological purity, the governor pays cash.

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