The Democratic Party’s power in Connecticut and its powerlessness in Washington, D.C., were both on display last week beginning with a special one-day session of the state legislature and U.S. Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy’s announcement that he will retire this summer.
Kennedy’s departure gives President Donald Trump and the Republican Party the opportunity to replace a critical swing vote on the high court with a more conservative justice, potentially opening the door to changes in policy on a number of social issues including abortion. And while Democrats all over – including Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy — strenuously object, there is little they can do to forestall the appointment before the November mid-term elections.
They can, however, and apparently will, make the appointment and related issues a rallying cry for voters — something U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, did Friday along with Blumenthal and Murphy.
The Kennedy announcement was so politically potent that it managed to partly turn the public’s attention from anger over proposed immigration legislation and the Trump administration’s now-abandoned practice of separating undocumented immigrants from their children when they cross the border. DeLauro was particularly incensed and called the Republicans “cowards” for postponing debate and a vote on the issue. She was no less irritated than Murphy and Blumenthal, who complained they were promised, then denied, access to immigrant children being housed in Groton.
Earlier in the week Kennedy and his fellow justices issued a ruling that is widely viewed to have weakened public-sector unions – a matter of grave concern in Connecticut where unions hold considerable political influence and where funding union members’ pensions and benefits has been a defining budgetary issue. It is likely to be a big issue in the gubernatorial elections as well.
The campaign to be the next governor chugged forward for some candidates, hit some snags for others and, as always seems to be the case, had a lot to do with money.
In Republican David Stemerman’s case, the money was $10 million of his own that the former hedge fund manager pledged to use to boost his gubernatorial campaign. For one of his primary candidates – former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst – it was about money he would not use to run the state if elected, pledging “I will veto any new tax hikes and reduce taxes for struggling Connecticut residents.” And for their fellow Republican competitor Steve Obsitnik, the monies at issue were those raised by an independent expenditure committee called FixCT, Inc., and whether they were collected legally. (He has not given up, he says, on getting the public campaign financing he needs to pursue a viable campaign.)
The race for governor among Democrats got a little more focused when Guy Smith, a corporate executive from Greenwich, conceded that he had not gathered enough voter signatures to petition himself onto the Democratic primary ballot with Ned Lamont and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.
Democrats, by a narrow margin, hold the political upper hand in Connecticut, as evidenced last week by state senators’ decision to reverse some of their positions on a number of bills and uphold seven vetoes by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Democratic identity, however, came into question following the surprise primary election in New York of 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist whose candidacy has parallels with that of Connecticut lieutenant governor candidate Eva Bermudez Zimmerman.
Election campaigns and potential changes in leadership aside, government continues to function — but in some cases not very well. The wait times for callers to the Department of Social Services, for example, are longer than they have ever been despite efforts to improve them.
Over at the Department of Motor Vehicles wait times are improving, but not everywhere.
Connecticut hospitals, at least, are a little happier than before now that Malloy has decided to release to them close to $300 million in state payments. Submarine makers are perhaps less so following a vote by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee opposing U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney’s, D-2nd District, bid to add about $1 billion to the budget for the purchase of an additional Virginia-class boat per year.
Students at the University of Connecticut, meanwhile, appear to have dodged another tuition increase, for the time being, now that the trustees have approved a new $1.25 billion budget that will not be sustainable beyond the fiscal year.
Not so fortunate are elderly residents who were receiving two meals a day from the state. Instructed by lawmakers to make budget cuts they could not identify for themselves, Malloy trimmed $2 million from the senior nutrition program, in many cases reducing the number of daily meals to one.