Hugh McQuaid file photo
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby (Hugh McQuaid file photo)

Connecticut Democrats called House Republican leader Themis Klarides a hypocrite Friday for making an appearance on a nationally syndicated radio show to criticize the governor shortly after she’d suggested he was spending too much time on the national stage.

“GOP House Leader Themis Klarides’ hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Democratic Party, said Friday during a conference call. “First she calls on Governor Malloy to resign, even as he’s a national leader for progress. Yet, two days later, conducts her own national press tour.”

Appleby’s statement was only the latest volley in a public fight between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Klarides. The flap began Wednesday with a comment from Malloy to the CT Post regarding Republican opposition to his proposal to eliminate the enhanced penalties for possession of drugs within so-called drug-free school zones.

“To treat those folks differently because they live in those communities is patently unfair and if not racist in intent, is racist in its outcome,” Malloy told the CT Post Wednesday.

Outraged by Malloy’s insinuation that Republican opposition to his Second Chance Society legislation had racist overtones, Klarides brought the state House of Representatives to a standstill and then marched up to the capitol press room to issue an angry rebuttal.

Among other things, she said that “[Malloy] should figure out where he is and what he wants to do with his career because if this is about making a national name for himself, he should step down and let Nancy Wyman take over. Because he clearly is not interested in doing the job he was elected to do.”

But just two days later, Klarides agreed to be a guest on the nationally syndicated Laura Ingraham show, providing the Connecticut Democratic Party with an opportunity to call her a hypocrite.

A spokesman for Klarides said she was asked by Ingraham’s producers to appear on the show. In other words, she did not seek them out. Also, a guest spot on one radio show is hardly a “national press tour,” Pat O’Neill, Klarides’ spokesman, said.

During the show Klarides told Ingraham that Malloy’s “playbook was directly delivered from President Obama.”

Malloy’s spokesman Devon Puglia shot back:

“The Republican House Minority Leader said that the Governor uses a ‘playbook from Obama’ regarding social progress, basic justice, and fairness for all Connecticut residents, no matter their ethnicity. Here’s a newsflash: we do — and we’re proud to. We stand with the president on many issues, criminal justice and social progress included.”

Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto said Klarides was “spreading fear against the governor’s Second Chance Society proposal.”

Klarides, however, has said that just because someone opposes the governor’s legislation, it doesn’t mean they should be called names.

“We surely understand what this bill does and what it doesn’t do,” Klarides said Wednesday. “We are entitled to our opinions despite what Gov. Malloy apparently believes.”

Business was held up for five hours in the House on Wednesday until Democratic lawmakers issued statements telling the governor not to question lawmakers’ motives.

“Questioning the intentions of those with differing opinions is counterproductive to the work that needs to be done in the legislature,” House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey added, “This is a difficult policy issue where there can be legitimate disagreement, but ascribing motives to people on opposite sides of the issue is not productive or helpful toward the ultimate goal of passing legislation that is important to hard working families.”

The question now is whether the dustup between Democratic lawmakers and the Democratic governor will hinder budget negotiations.

Malloy told The Connecticut Mirror on Friday that he didn’t consider it a “rebuke,” and he said that Democratic lawmakers needed to do something in order to get back to work.

Why is this an issue?

The state’s drug free school zone law enhances penalties for drug sales or possession within 1,500 feet of any school. But in conjunction with the large number of schools in the state’s urban areas, the law has essentially turned those cities into drug-free zones entirely, or nearly so. As a result, people of color in Connecticut’s cities are far more likely to face mandatory prison time for simple drug possession, and legislation to address the inequity has failed to pass for the last several years.

As Malloy has been advocating for his Second Chance Society legislation this year, he has been talking about the unintended consequences of criminal justice policies that have led to the mass incarceration of people of color over the last few decades.

But while he suggested that Republican opposition to his legislation had racist overtones, members of the House Republican caucus say the criminal justice system already offers too many second chances, and they are concerned about specific outcomes from the bill.

Rep. Cecilia Buck-Taylor, R-New Milford, suggested that the law will enable drug dealers to do business with impunity near schools.

“Plain and simple, the folks behind this bill are sending the wrong message to both children and the drug abusers and pushers their parents try to protect them from,” Buck-Taylor said. “In their view of the world, a guy with heroin and needles in his fanny pack standing on a street corner across from a middle school isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be — it’s a ‘tsk, tsk’ kind of offense.”

The state Division of Criminal Justice says that while they “fully support and endorse the need to provide treatment, training, employment and other assistance to those re-entering society from the correctional system we should focus on rehabilitation rather than just reclassify a host of serious crimes as misdemeanors.”

But last week, Malloy did not back down from Klarides’ outrage over his comments.

“When you have a disparate impact, and it’s racial in nature, and you don’t correct it, there’s something wrong,” Malloy said. “And I have pointed out that, you know, there are a series of Republican legislators who put out misstatements about what we’re doing in the bill and equating it to sale as opposed to simple possession. But not one of them has proposed treating mere possession in their community as a felony that requires incarceration. Not one of them.

“So, you know, certain questions get begged from time to time,” Malloy said. “You could be in your house, in your home, have some small amount of drug, and you would, because you live in New Haven, automatically be subject to incarceration. When if you did that in most of Avon or most of Canaan, or most any other non-urban community, you would not be treated that way. We know that now. Let’s deal with it.”