Denver —“He needs to be stripped of his party membership, and it needs to happen right away,” declared a furious freshman legislator, five days before U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman was set to take stage at the Republican’s national confab.
State Rep. Jason Bartlett (pictured) of Bethel spoke those words from the floor of a Democratic convention event Wednesday—an event from which Sen. Lieberman was noticeably absent. Lieberman skipped the Dems’ affair this week, costing the Connecticut delegation one of its 60 seats.
The Connecticut senator has raised homestate ire as he emerged as the most visible Senate supporter of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Lieberman has delivered some of the harshest attacks on Democratic candidate Barack Obama. And he has accepted a spot to speak at next week’s Republican National Convention.
The RNC gig was “the final breaking point,” said Bartlett. (Bartlett is a former Republican himself; he managed the 1994 secretary of the state campaign of Andrea Scott. He switched parties, managing two Democratic mayoral campaigns in New haven then running himself for the state legislature.)
“He [Lieberman] should come before the [state] party and defend himself—otherwise he should be taken off the rolls.” Bartlett called for the state party to hold a series of hearings in Stamford to “air grievances about Joe.”
Lieberman has had a strained relationship with the state’s Democrats since party voters chose a challenger, Ned Lamont, over the incumbent senator in a 2006 primary. Lieberman went on to win the general election as an “independent.” He has maintained his Democratic Party membership in order to serve as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, even as he has served as one of the most prominent supporters of Republican President George W. Bush on the Iraq war. Democratic leaders have kept him in the fold in order to preserve a one-vote majority in the Senate.
That margin is poised to grow in this November’s elections; that means the Democrats may heed Bartlett’s call. If McCain becomes president, though, Lieberman will likely emerge more powerful than ever in a top appointed post. (The New York Times reported Thursday that Lieberman is among the three finalists for McCain’s pick as vice-presidential running mate.)
Nancy DiNardo, head of the state’s Democratic Party, said Wednesday she understands Bartlett’s frustration. The state Central Committee is said to have taken down Lieberman’s picture off the wall at its headquarters. But she disagreed with the method.
“Nobody has been more frustrated and disappointed by Sen. Lieberman than I have been,” she said. “But I need to look at the bigger picture—to keep the U.S. Senate and the presidency in Democratic hands.”
“Our focus should be on an Obama presidency,” she said, “and on sending five Democrats to Congress.”
Bartlett countered that Lieberman’s stripped status wouldn’t thwart Democrats’ success in the U.S. Senate, where Lieberman holds a key tie-breaker vote.
“He can caucus [with Democrats] as an independent,” Bartlett said. “I just ask that you have the personal integrity to say, no, I’m not a Democrat.”