For much of his career, state Sen. Andrew Roraback has been one of those politicians who takes the yellow highway caution sign seriously.
That’s why it was a little surprising that he threw his hat into the ring last month for the Republican nomination to run for the open 5th-district congressional seat. After all, this is not one of those no-brainer decisions featuring a “free run” in which an incumbent can campaign for higher office without risking his current position. Nor is it a case of stepping in majestically with the expectation of an easy victory against weak opponents.
No, Roraback’s late entry means he will also have to play catch-up against GOP opponents who have already raised in the six figures. And the famously modest Roraback will have to get on the phone and ask friends and colleagues to return the thousands of favors he’s done for them over the years, endorse him and write some checks to his campaign.
Since being elected to the state House of Representatives in 1994, Roraback has cultivated an image of moderation and bipartisanship. Indeed, I know scores of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and transplanted New Yorkers in the Northwest Corner who just about never vote GOP, but make an exception for Roraback’s Yankee Republicanism.
In 2000, when the legendary Senate Republican leader Dell Eads decided to retire, Roraback jumped at the chance to replace her. After arriving in the Senate, Roraback, too, tried his hand at legislative leadership, ultimately rising to the post of deputy minority leader pro tem and focusing on issues such as farmland, open space preservation and environmental advocacy.
Roraback has further established himself as the Cal Ripken of Connecticut’s legislators. In his 18 years in the General Assembly, Roraback has never missed a single vote. The iron man has cast 7,886 consecutive votes, the only member of the General Assembly to accomplish that feat.
Most conservatives in the Northwest Corner view Roraback as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), but in a blue state such as ours, righties have to take what they can get. The 5th used to be Nancy Johnson country, but no more. My state representative in Hartford is Roberta Willis. She is a lovely person, but whenever it’s a close call between less spending and smaller government vs. more spending and larger government, Roberta invariably chooses the latter. At least Andrew has shown some restraint over the years.
But now it looks like Roraback has a new mission — one that goes beyond saving dairy farms and extolling the virtues of greenways and bicycle paths. Now he wants to save us all from his likely Democratic opponent Chris Donovan.
In his announcement speech, Roraback waxed philosophical about a broken Washington and the need for grown-ups to restore fiscal sanity while preserving essential programs. But in an interview with the Waterbury Republican-American, he also made it very clear that having Donovan, the speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives, as his congressman would not be an appealing prospect:
“I have worked with Chris Donovan for 18 years in Hartford and I have no animus against him, but I don’t believe that he embodies the values of the people of the 5th District, and I am not anxious to see him as our congressman.”
Roraback did not elaborate on that statement, but please permit me to. As Speaker of the House, Donovan plays a key role in the reapportionment committee that will redraw the state’s legislative boundaries to reflect the population changes enumerated in the 2010 census.
When asked last month by CTNewsJunkie’s Christine Stuart about the conflict on Fox-61’s The Real Story, Donovan appeared completely oblivious.
“Our constitution gives the speaker responsibility in redistricting. I’m fulfilling the constitution as the speaker. I didn’t write the constitution. Other people did it.”
In other words, in their infinite wisdom, Connecticut’s forefathers made him do it. It’s out of his hands. Get over it. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. As the Hartford Courant pointed out in an editorial calling on Donovan to recuse himself, legislative leaders appoint members of the reapportionment committee and “the leaders’ appointees usually include themselves, but that is not a requirement.”
When Stuart pressed the conflict issue with Donovan later in the broadcast, the speaker smiled and replied, “There’s never conflicts of interest, Christine.” Donovan capped his flip response by invoking an absurd standard: “If the president of the United States can be president while running for president, then I can be speaker and run for Congress.”
Last month, Donovan appointed the son of Democratic Party power broker Peter Kelly to the Connecticut Airport Authority. Unfortunately, Matthew Kelly also runs the Waterbury-Oxford Airport, putting him in the awkward position of sitting on a board that is supposed oversee his own airport. Apparently Donovan sees no conflict of interest there either.
In a time that demands fiscal responsibility, Donovan is racking up endorsements from public-sector labor unions.
And about a week ago, Roraback bristled as Donovan’s House managed to get the General Assembly’s bond commission to agree to an $800,000 request for a new state-of-the-art vote tally board. That’s right: $800,000 for a new legislative scoreboard and they borrowed the money to buy it.
Back on Fox-61, Stuart correctly characterized the 5th as a “swing district” and asked Donovan how he expects to win over independent minded voters there, given his liberal voting record.
“The issues that I’ve worked with are very popular with the public: seniors, minimum wage, paid sick leave,” the speaker said. “Even though people call these issues liberal, to me they’re people issues. Looking after families. I want good jobs for people.”
Like them or not, those programs cost money. And if you’re one of those Nutmeggers who thinks the record tax increase passed earlier this year by Donovan’s House is enough already, then you might want to think twice about supporting his run for Congress.
Donovan has been in the majority party in the General Assembly for 19 years — a period in which Connecticut had the worst new private-sector job-creation record in the nation. Meanwhile, public-sector employment grew significantly during that time.
Roraback’s cause of saving us from the speaker is a worthy one. If Roraback is the GOP nominee, he’ll certainly motivate me to get off my butt and vote for him next November. To hell with the RINO label. Stay home at your peril, conservatives and independents!
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.