It figures, doesn’t it? You write a budget that is sloppily out of balance and needlessly cruel, just to relieve the boredom of being the permanent minority party, and then all of the sudden some Democrats with a grudge vote for it — and it passes. Instead of being an afterthought and a punchline, you’re suddenly a government-in-waiting.
Welcome back, Connecticut Republicans. It’s been a while.
How long, exactly? We did have two Republican governors from 1995-2011, but during those years the party in the legislature only controlled the Senate for a brief while, from 1995-97. The last time a Republican budget passed and was sent to the governor was in the summer of 1995, and then it was considerably easier. A Republican, John G. Rowland, was governor, and the GOP had a clear majority in the state senate.
Everything since then has been all about decline. Republicans lost the state senate in 1996, and the party in the legislature and the state’s Republican governors began to drift apart. When M. Jodi Rell was governor, it often seemed as if she and the Republican members of the House and Senate were from two different parties. Republicans were all but wiped out in the mid-2000s, when Democrats managed to build a supermajority in both chambers.
They’ve slowly come back lately, as the public sours on Democratic ineptitude, constant financial crisis, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. They drew even in the Senate in 2016, and there are plenty of people who think they’ll snatch a chamber or two away from Democrats in 2018. No one, though, was prepared for them to be this relevant this early.
The governor vetoed their budget on Thursday. But Republicans cobbled together a majority on the budget once, and they can do it again. The balance of power has shifted, and Republicans, for once, have the upper hand.
If you’ll take it, Republicans, I have some words of advice.
First, don’t get too comfortable. This is a blip, the universe burped and spotted you one. Those Democrats voted against their own leaders and against the futility of their own garbage bag of a budget, they didn’t so much vote for yours. You don’t have an actual majority yet.
You may never. It feels like your party is in great shape to win both the governorship and the legislature next year. Things change, though. It’s starting to look like Republicans are going to get slammed nationwide. A wave election could sweep you away.
So use the time you have wisely. Make the most of it. Figure out the most important things and act on them, work like you’re running out of time. Democrats got complacent and comfortable, and look what happened to them!
Second, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but your party has a minor image problem around here. It has to do with the animated can of Cheez Whiz you nominated for president last year, yes, but it also has to do with all the bananas stuff Republicans have been pulling across the country for over a decade now. Climate change denial? Check. Weird and cruel health care policies? Got ‘em. Throwing gasoline into the dumpster fire of our culture wars? Oh yes. As evidence of all three, I submit Roy Moore, who just won his U.S. Senate primary in Alabama.
There’s a belief that Connecticut Republicans are more moderate and reasonable. This is less true than I’d like. Still, you may want to play that up. Distance yourself from the national party. Put some daylight between you and President Donald J. Trump. Don’t entertain your fringe. Shove the monsters under the rug. Tell GOP state chairman J.R. Romano to stop sending out sneering, ranting emails — just for a little while.
The thing is, Connecticut could really use a rational center-right party. Please pretend that’s you for a little while.
And lastly … for God’s sake don’t blow it.
I want you to succeed. I love this state, and I want it to be a better place. I watched House Minority Leader Themis Klarides speak on the night the budget passed about how so many people say they just want to leave, and how demoralizing that was, and it hit me right in the heart.
So please, hold your fragile coalition together. Make hard but necessary choices. Force some kind of fundamental change in the budget. Don’t give up until you get it.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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