It’s always possible for politicians to learn from current events, mend their ways and move on. Owing to the failure of questionable progressive policies, national Democrats this election year kept the House and the Senate and won the presidency.
Republican gains have brought to a full stop a serious progressive movement that began when Barack Obama assumed office in 2009. Flush with success – Democrats that year captured both houses of Congress and the presidency – Mr. Obama ran a progressive plank above shark-infested waters and invited Democrats to take a stroll. They did. Eight years later, Democrats have 12 fewer governorships, 13 fewer Senate seats and 69 fewer seats in the House.
The losses cut deep and will be long remembered. During Mr. Obama’s two terms, according to MarketWatch Democrats lost more than 1,000 seats at the state and national level, leaving Republicans in control of 4,170 state legislative seats. The GOP holds 33 governorships and in 25 states controls both the governorship and two houses of the state legislature, whereas Democrats hold five. Clearly, the Democratic political trek from the heights to the depths is the most dramatic rejection of a nascent progressive movement in living memory.
In Connecticut as well, the progressive political arc now bends downward. In 2011, Connecticut Democrats seized the governorship for the first time in two decades, displacing two Republican governors and Lowell Weicker, whose political affections, even when he represented Republicans in the U.S. Senate, put him firmly in the Democratic Party camp. Mr. Weicker’s liberal American for Democratic Action (ADA) rating during his last year in the Senate was higher than that of U.S. Senator Chris Dodd’s, and the income tax he draped around the state’s neck like a hangman’s noose stood him in good stead with Democrats.
Ripping a page from Mr. Obama’s campaign book, Gov. Dannel Malloy simply refused to do political business with Republicans, and the Democrats in due course passed two budgets freighted with massive tax hikes, the first the largest and the second the second largest tax hikes in Connecticut history -- with predictable results.
In the most recent election, Republicans evened the numbers in the state Senate and made substantial gains in the House. “For the first time in 125 years,” one reporter noted, “Democrats and Republicans are tied in the state Senate. With a shift of just four votes on the House of Representatives side, the Democratic majority could lose control of issues due to their 79 to 72 advantage – the narrowest margin in more than 50 years.”
The numbers cited – “first time in 125 years… narrowest margin in more than 50 years” -- point to historic, even momentous Republican gains. The power shift in the General Assembly – and, Republicans hope, in the upcoming gubernatorial race in the next two years -- will be momentous if Republicans are able to seize the moment and turn it to their political advantage, by no means a foregone conclusion.
And if Republicans and moderate Democrats working, one hopes, hand in glove to make permanent life-saving, long-term adjustments in Connecticut’s economic and social policy, are unsuccessful -- beaten back by progressives in the General Assembly who want to increase taxes to support an already too expensive unionized public employee sector -- what then? Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, put it very bluntly in a recent column, Connecticut has wasted 40 years enriching its government class: “Since enactment of its state income tax in 1991 Connecticut has been declining steadily, and despite that tax increase and the others, state government is broke. Now Connecticut has nothing to do but strive desperately to subordinate the government class and unfix its ‘fixed costs’ -- or die.”
Mr. Powell is right. At stake in the next budget is not the welfare of a party, unions or a progressive ideology -- but the welfare of the state. Connecticut’s “fixed costs,” the untouchable expenditures written into budgets that cannot be adjusted, crowds out and marginalizes the government’s disposable revenue, and the bulk of the state’s fixed costs are tied to pension and salary agreements between state employee unions and a government that a) has been overgenerous to unions in the past, and b) retreats behind the curtain of “fixed costs” whenever anyone suggests permanent spending reductions, the only way Connecticut may lift itself up from permanent deficits and frequent cuts in services to the deserving poor.
Moreover, even the most progressive Connecticut governor since Wilber Cross knows in his bones that further tax increases will plunge the state into a “fixed tailspin” from which it is not likely to recover.
The next budget offered by Mr. Malloy to the General Assembly will fix Connecticut’s fate well beyond the next elections. Now is the time – perhaps the last opportunity – for all good men and women to come to the aid of their state.
Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based political writer.