Outgoing U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd told the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce Monday that he feels a little bit like Tom Sawyer sneaking into the choir loft to hear his own eulogy as he winds down his 36 year political career.
He admits as he tours the state for the last time as a U.S. Senator he’s gotten a little sentimental, but “I haven’t died,” Dodd quipped. “I’m not going away.”
The East Haddam resident who decided last January not to seek re-election will retire at the end of a year and is uncertain about what his future may look like at the moment. In the meantime, he promised to stay involved, even if that means selling tickets to his 9-year-old daughters production of the Nutcracker.
“By the way I have 8,000 tickets to the Nutcracker,” Dodd joked. “It’s just a big fundraiser that’s all it is.”
He said the past election, the first in 60 years in which a Dodd was not on the ballot, has been called historic, but Dodd hesitated to called it that. He said elections are only historic based on what the people elected decide to do.
The election of 1980 was historic he said because Ronald Reagan restored a sense of optimism. “Whether you liked his politics or not he gave this country a sense of hope,“ Dodd said. He said the election of 2008 could be called historic as well if you use the late Daniel “Pat” Moynihan’s definition.
Dodd said Moynihan told him that presidents really get about 20 months from their inauguration until the mid-term elections to “actually be a president in a large sense.”
“If you’re going to do anything on a large scale that’s the moment in time to do it,” Dodd said.
As he retires from politics Dodd told the group of more than 500 business leaders Monday that he worries about three things. First, the amount of money involved in politics.
He said he doesn’t begrudge anyone from spending their own fortune, but he worries about the loads of money being spent, “most of it on negative advertising,” and is concerned about what that means for the country.
His second concern is reapportionment. He said of the 435 House seats only about 60 changed. He said only about 10 percent of the seats are really in play in any given election cycle.
He said the only challenges are from the right or the left and those working hard on the issues regardless of political ideology are ousted from their seats. “That is driving the political conversation further and further to the extremes and I worry about that very much as well,” Dodd said.
He said he worries partisanship is driving good people away from running for local elected positions. However, he’s also confident that as things settle down the politicians here and in Washington will be able to come together and talk about the very serious issues that face the country and the state.
Dodd also thanked the chamber and the people of Connecticut for giving him and his family the chance to serve the state. “As rich and as vibrant as the English language is there aren’t enough words or adjectives to express my gratitude to the people of the state,” Dodd said.
The partisan divide was probably never greater than during the debate on national health care reform, which Dodd helped push through Congress in the absence of the last Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“Now I know the health care debate is troublesome,” Dodd said. “I know there’s disagreement about whether this is going to work as well as we’d all like it to. My hope is people will work on fixing this and making it work better.”
“If you’re going to repeal it, you’re going to have to replace it with something,” Dodd said. “None of us want to go back when 35 percent of our Gross Domestic Product was being consumed by health care costs.”
“This bill is far from perfect. I understand that, but it’s a great beginning,” Dodd added.
Another moment Dodd said he’ll never forget is the night of Sept. 18, 2008 when the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate invited 12 members of Congress to a meeting with Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, and Hank Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury. In that small room Dodd recalled that Bernanke told the 12 of them: “Unless you act in a matter of days the entire financial system in this country and a good part of the world will meltdown.”
A few weeks later Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program and it cost some Senators their seats, Dodd said. He said the measure passed the Senate 75 to 24. Before the vote Dodd said he told former U.S. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon that he didn’t need to vote for it because it would put his reelection bid in jeopardy, but Dodd said Smith told him that he could not vote against something he thought was the right thing to do for our country.
“I believe we did the right thing for our country,” Dodd said.
Dodd said even though the “temptation to run again was strong” he doesn’t believe if he would have been a candidate that they ever would have passed financial reform.
“It would be impossible mind you to be a candidate for reelection and engage in the very complex and difficult debate of trying to fashion a financial architecture that makes sense for our country,“ Dodd concluded.