The tectonic plates of Connecticut politics shifted last week when U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, under fire from her own party for mishandling a case of alleged sexual abuse by her then-chief of staff, announced she would not seek re-election in November.
Even before all the smoke had cleared from the political firestorm (there were still a few ashes flying around Wednesday, in fact, and a call for an ethics investigation Thursday), the speculation began as to who from either party might replace her in the 5th Congressional District.
One Democratic woman quickly stepped into the vacuum: two-time lieutenant governor candidate Mary Glassman of Simsbury. Democrats, of course, want to hold onto the seat as part of the national effort to retake the U.S. House majority in November; and political analysts still identify the 41-town district as likely to remain Democratic.
State Republicans are eager to contest the district, however, and listed at least five potential candidates – all men – including state Rep. William Petit, whose wife and daughters were slain in an infamous 2007 home invasion.
The 5th District scramble at least briefly overshadowed this year’s gubernatorial race in which former hedge fund manager David Stemerman began to announce his policy initiatives by addressing the state’s huge (and decades old) unfunded pension liability problem. Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, meanwhile, opened her gubernatorial campaign after weeks of exploring the idea. She was among five Democratic hopefuls evaluated by the AFL-CIO membership in a straw poll that identified as the favorite former U.S. Senate contender Ned Lamont.
At a debate among nine GOP hopefuls, the issue of re-appointing judges was a hot topic after the State Senate’s recent vote to reject the appointment of Justice Andrew McDonald as chief justice.
On Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy nominated Judge Ingrid L. Moll to serve on the state Appellate Court and named five other women and six men as potential judges to fill 11 of some 40 vacancies. He reacted to the McDonald rebuke Thursday by nominating Associate Justice Richard Robinson to become the state’s first African-American chief justice.
He also named, on Thursday, a long, diverse — and politically well connected –list of other judicial nominees. The governor also had a few harsh words for the Republican candidates who were complaining about “activist judges” — a term he said is “a thinly veiled guise of applying a litmus test on judicial nominees.”
In other political races, Iraq War veteran Dan Postemski, a Republican, declared his intent to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney in the huge 2nd District in eastern Connecticut. Another veteran (and son of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal) Matt Blumenthal opened a campaign committee to run for state representative in the 147th District of Stamford and Darien.
All the political goings-on took some attention away from Connecticut’s financial troubles which, in addition to largely defining the election issues, continue to vex lawmakers. The Appropriations Committee was once again unable to recommend a new state budget before its deadline despite some early signs that this year’s income tax receipts will be strong.
Meanwhile, unhappy group home workers are threatening to strike if officials don’t increase the financial allocation for their services.
The polarized political climate has forced members of the Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth Commission to concede that their multi-tiered plan to correct the state’s finances will have to be deployed in piecemeal fashion for now.
The state’s allocation of education funds for a largely inequitable and segregated school system also remains an issue — one that Connecticut apparently does not have the political will to solve, said former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a visit here last week.
A few potentially revenue-generating proposals did move forward through the legislative sausage factory: a measure that could lead to electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways; and another that would provide for sports betting here should the U.S. Supreme Court allow it.
And in something as close to political unanimity as it gets these days, bills banning bump stocks and “ghost” guns were approved by the Judiciary Committee.
One issue that is far from universal acceptance was the state’s decision to prevent the city of Hartford’s bankruptcy by agreeing to pay its bonded debt — but Moody’s Investors’ Service liked it.
Connecticut’s auditors are not too happy with the Corrections Department and have asked the state attorney general to help them obtain a report on prison health care Corrections Commissioner Scott Semple has declined to hand over.
Whether the state’s two tribal nations will be able to open an off-reservation casino in East Windsor remains an open question, however, despite pressure from the National Congress of American Indians on the federal Department of Interior to let it move forward.