News flash: Connecticut is infested with corruption! Alas, some things never change. It is an immutable law of physics that just as the whiff of wrongdoing recedes from our olfactories, a new breeze sweeps across an open sewer to remind us of our proud heritage.
Such was the case in the month of January, when we learned, courtesy of Kevin Rennie’s Daily Ructions blog, that not only was the General Assembly being investigated by the feds, but that officials in Hartford were doing their best to stymie the probe and keep it away from the prying eyes of journalists and taxpayers.
Lest you’ve forgotten already, the feds’ General Assembly probe apparently stems from an FBI sting last year that nabbed several men for their roles in illicit contributions to the 5th-district congressional campaign of then-state House Speaker Chris Donovan. Just last week, a Waterbury tobacco shop owner pleaded guilty to attemped bribery in an effort to get Donovan to kill a proposal to raise taxes on roll-your-own cigarette operations. This follows the indictment of eight others, including labor union officials and senior Donovan campaign staffers, three of whom have already pleaded guilty.
This week we learned that Donovan himself is mulling a bid to head the 200,000-member state branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the nation. The job might appear to be a good fit for Donovan, himself a former union official beloved in labor circles.
A look at Donovan’s track record, however, raises serious questions about his ability to preside over a complex organization. Even if you’re a Donovan fan, you’d have to concede that he did a poor job of supervising those who ran his congressional campaign. And it goes without saying that Donovan’s decision to remain speaker while running for Congress opened the door to the kind of chicanery that resulted in the above indictments.
Organized labor has a long and sordid history of corruption. Can you be confident that Donovan could run a large labor union? Does he have the managerial chops to hold his staff accountable? Moreover, is he capable of sending a strong message to his subordinates that wrongdoing of any kind will not be tolerated?
But perhaps the most interesting political news of the month arose out of an action that generally elicits yawns of indifference. Gov. Dannel Malloy announced last week that he was nominating several men and women to fill state judgeships. At first, it struck me as entirely routine.
Then I heard that among the nominees was former state Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen, a Republican who had sparred often with the Democratic governor during the fiscal crisis of the first two years of Malloy’s term — and for much of his failed campaign for the 5th-district congressional seat last year.
My first thought was that it was a curious pick, given that Roraback had adopted the strategy of “blame it on Malloy” in trying to tag his Democratic congressional opponent, Elizabeth Esty, with the economic failures of the Malloy administration. How big of the governor, I thought.
But, as everyone who followed the 5th-district race last year knows, Roraback would have been the most formidable candidate the Republicans could field next year when the race to make Esty a one-term congresswoman begins. Esty, you might recall, vanquished the embattled Donovan in the Democratic primary last August.
So with one masterstroke, Malloy has succeeded in making himself look like the statesman who rises above politics in what is supposed to be an apolitical arena (the judicial branch). But more importantly, the governor has removed a formidable threat to Esty, whose husband is Malloy’s commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
As an aside, I’ve known Roraback for 20 years and covered him for The Lakeville Journal. I’d hoped he would seek higher office but still thought he wasn’t ruthless and phony enough to be a high-profile politician. This looks like a great pick. No one will be fairer than Roraback on the Superior Court. But it’s as far removed as you could get from being a Beltway politician.
It was a brilliant move on the part of Malloy. Everyone wins. Score one for the governor. However, balancing the budget without tax increases, passing gun control legislation, and getting our economy moving again will no doubt be far tougher tasks. In his new chambers, Roraback just might be wishing him well.