When I first became politically aware as a teenager, I recall being struck by what a different standard we apply to elected and appointed officials. Appointed officials serve at the pleasure of those who appointed them, while elected officials are accountable mostly to the voters who put them into office.
Indeed many of us in the private sector have so-called “morals clauses.” At one job, the agreement I signed said my employer “may terminate this contract immediately by providing written notice which cites criminal or moral misconduct.” As Central Connecticut State University Prof. Ravi Shankar can happily attest, things move a little slower in the public sector.
But if you encounter misfortune or make mischief, nothing beats being an elected official. Some of them literally get away with murder. It took more than two years to get rid of Richard Nixon, 18 months to boot John Rowland out of 990 Prospect Avenue, and perhaps as much as a decade for South Carolinians to rid themselves of Sen. Strom Thurmond, who was 100, senile, and not far from death when his last term finally expired in 2003.
Now we Nutmeggers must deal with state Sen. Andrew Maynard, who by most accounts appears to be unfit for office. Maynard’s is a sad case. He stumbled at his Stonington home in July 2014 and suffered a traumatic brain injury after tumbling from an exterior staircase in the middle of the night.
The unfortunate accident left him largely unable to speak, which is something of a handicap considering that’s what politicians do all day long. Arguing that we should “let the voters decide if they want to give him another term,” Maynard’s family kept him on the ballot and he easily won re-election only a few months later, despite being too disabled to debate or even campaign against his opponent, Republican Kevin Trejo.
Last year after he left a New Britain hospital to return to the legislature to be sworn in, the beloved Maynard was greeted by emotional colleagues who hugged him in welcome. Some even shed a few tears.
But Maynard’s convalescence took a bizarre turn a couple of weeks ago when, on the way home from the Capitol, he drove his car the wrong way on Route 32 in Waterford, hit another vehicle, flipped his own six times and suffered a severe concussion.
The reaction of the Maynard team has been typical. Don’t say much of anything and don’t make yourself available for questioning by anyone. His Democratic colleagues say little. His lawyer said the senator would be available for questioning from the Waterford police when he was good and ready.
The actions of the local police were equally troubling. The department failed to acknowledge in a timely manner that Maynard was involved in a two-car crash, which was only later disclosed in a revised press release. And it sure looks like the Waterford cops were cutting Maynard some slack. They waited days to interview the senator even as he rested at home. Not cooperating with the police is unacceptable conduct for someone who makes the laws the rest of us have to live by. And if Maynard wasn’t capable of communicating with investigators, how could he be fit to govern?
Most of Maynard’s colleagues have been evasive when questioned by reporters on his status. At an impromptu Jan. 21 press gaggle in the Capitol, Senate President Martin Looney was asked whether he thought Maynard was capable of carrying out his duties, Looney replied, “I’m not a doctor. I’m not able to determine degrees of recovery . . . I see no evidence of impairment beyond the speech impairment.” Really? How about driving the wrong way in broad daylight, colliding with another car and nearly getting yourself killed?
It’s as if the police and Maynard’s fellow lawmakers are trying to cover for him. There has been speculation that nervous Democrats are concerned that a Maynard resignation, followed by a special election, could result in a Republican replacement. But I’m not so sure about that. Despite the first mishap, Maynard was handily re-elected.
No, I think Maynard’s fellow legislators are propping him up because they want him to serve until next year when he’ll have netted 10 years of service and will be eligible for lifetime healthcare. If that’s the case, the General Assembly could simply let him resign and give him those benefits by a special act.
It would be an act of humanity. Then again, it would feed directly into the notion, often promulgated by people like yours truly, that elected officials get the kind of treatment most of us could only dream of. Indeed, that’s what this whole episode evokes. If you or I had caused the kind of accident Maynard was involved in, the police would never treat us with kid gloves. And for people of color, it’s far worse.
But hey, that’s what happens when you get elected to office. The favors and special treatment flow. And if they’re not enough, you can always start taking payola. But be careful. I’ve heard the FBI is pretty active in Connecticut.
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