OK, I will admit the unlikely. I have a man-crush on Attorney General George Jepsen.
After enduring 20 years of watching the peripatetic Richard Blumenthal campaign for higher office, hold interminable press conferences and chase television cameras all over the state, how refreshing it is to see an AG who prefers to work behind the scenes and use the law as a guide instead of reading public opinion polls and suing everyone in sight.
Jepsen, a former Senate majority leader and Democratic state chairman, was — when he held those jobs — a highly partisan Democrat. You would expect that from a high-ranking leader in the party and a former union lawyer.
But once he took office as AG, Jepsen took it very seriously and was obviously determined to adhere to his charge, which is to be the “chief civil legal officer of the state.”
Jepsen received the Democratic nomination for AG in 2010 almost by default when the Connecticut Supreme court ruled that former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz wasn’t qualified to assume the office because she hadn’t met the statutory requirement of having practiced law for 10 years.
Most of Bysiewicz’s campaigns for state office have been such a disaster that it’s doubtful she would have prevailed over Jepsen even if she had been cleared by the courts to run against him.
But I’m convinced that if she had won the AG’s office instead of being rebuffed and then running unsuccessfully for the retiring Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat, Bysiewicz would have been nothing more than Blumenthal in a skirt — a politician with a PR machine looking for a higher office.
Jepsen, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to distance himself from politics in his role as AG. Consequently, he has alienated some constituencies that he had favored as a politician. A former carpenter’s union staff counsel for nearly 10 years, Jepsen would seem to have impeccable bona fides in the labor community. But his insistence on following the law and protecting the state’s interests have put him at odds with some of the state’s top unions.
Earlier this year, Jepsen announced plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal court ruling that former Gov. John G. Rowland broke the law when he laid off nearly 3,000 state employees 10 years ago. The lower-court ruling could expose the state to millions of dollars in damages.
Two years ago, Jepsen blocked passage of the so-called “captive audience bill,” opposed by the business community, that contained restrictions on what employers could require of workers during union organizing drives. Labor groups were apoplectic but Jepsen and his legal team calmly argued that their opinion was solidly grounded in case law.
And it remains to be seen how Jepsen will handle the proposed acquisition of the nonprofit Waterbury Hospital by a for-profit company. Fearing a loss of jobs, labor is strongly opposed to the sale. And they’ve been dismayed that Jepsen has so far refused to meet with labor leaders to discuss the proposed sale. But why should he? As Jepsen himself has said, “The scope of our review is very narrow.”
“I think that the attorney general needs to have some serious conversations with folks,” Connecticut AFL-CIO boss Lori J. Pelletier told the CT Mirror. “In order for him to do that, he’s got to reach out.”
Translation: “He’s not doing our bidding like Blumenthal did. This is unacceptable.”
Some consumer activists are unhappy that Jepsen isn’t holding press conferences and launching a flurry of lawsuits every few days, as Blumenthal loved to do. But Jepsen maintains that he’s been just as effective as a consumer advocate by signing the state on to federal lawsuits and lobbying the General Assembly.
“Sometimes, the painful part of my job is telling people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear,” Jepsen said. “When people are your friends, it’s doubly hard.”
How refreshing. Most politicians crave acceptance and do favors for their allies. Jepsen prefers to simply do his job and let the chips fall where they may.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.