Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Connecticut Treasurer Shawn Wooden (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)
TERRY COWGILL

Ask most anyone who Connecticut’s statewide office holders are and they typically blurt out the names of the governor and our two U.S. senators – or maybe the lieutenant governor, which I’ve always argued is a useless office that should be abolished anyway.

But aside from the governor and his LG, there are four other constitutional officers elected in their own right: attorney general; treasurer; comptroller, and; secretary of the state. As you might expect in a state with few prominent Republicans to speak of, every officer is a Democrat.

Part of me likes the fact that they are all independently elected and not appointed by the governor to do his bidding. It has been refreshing, for example, to watch comptroller Kevin Lembo differ with then-Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration on budget numbers and deficit projections, or mount a campaign for government transparency that annoys the executive branch.

But for every Lembo, it seems there are twice as many constitutional officers who use their offices to promote a political agenda. On one level, this is not surprising because people who run for office are, you know, politicians.

Perhaps the worst offender was Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the former AG who paraded around the state for 20 years looking for cameras and microphones, acting as the equivalent of Connecticut’s consumer watchdog and eyeing evil corporations as his targets du jour. Fortunately, after going to Washington, Blumenthal was replaced by George Jepsen, who, as I wrote six years ago, preferred to “work behind the scenes and use the law as a guide instead of reading public opinion polls and suing everyone in sight.”

It is now evident that after eight blessed years of a dutiful and workmanlike performance, Jepsen opted last year not to run for re-election and has been replaced by another politician, William Tong, looking for publicity and surely eyeing higher office.

Now we can add to that list the man who replaced treasurer Denise Nappier, Shawn T. Wooden. As I have pointed out in the past, Nappier was not without problems, especially in her last few years. Unfortunately, however, Wooden – a lawyer and former Hartford city councilor – has walked predictably down the path cleared by Blumenthal.

In his first major initiative since taking office in January and with the seventh anniversary of the Newtown massacre fast approaching, Wooden held a press conference to announce that he is seeking to have the state disinvest about $30 million in state employee pension funds from five civilian gun manufacturers. Wooden termed investments in those companies “a risky proposition.”

Let it be said here and now that Wooden is a smart guy who worked for 21 years as an investment lawyer. Except for presiding over Hartford’s near-bankruptcy as city council president, he appears qualified to be state treasurer.

But Wooden, the politician who lost his own cousin to gun violence, may have done a disservice to taxpayers and pensioners with this divestment move. His Republican opponent in last year’s election, my neighbor Thad Gray, penned an op-ed last week for The Mirror entitled “Guns and Poses.”

Gray said Wooden’s “decision demonstrated dangerous overreach at the expense of public pension fund beneficiaries and Connecticut’s economic well-being.” Gray added that two of the companies targeted by Wooden, Daicel and the defense contractor Northrop Grumman, “have no apparent connection with the manufacture or distribution of civilian weapons.”

It’s no secret that Connecticut is heavily reliant on defense contractors for revenues and jobs. Corporations like General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and United Technologies, which own Electric Boat, Sikorsky, and Pratt & Whitney, respectively, are enormous players in the state’s private-sector economy.

Wooden’s move, Gray said, “sends a dangerous message to other defense contractors that Connecticut is not a good place to do business.” Gray also pointed out the apparent hypocrisy in Wooden’s silence on the Malloy administration’s multi-million-dollar aid package to Bass Pro Shops, which actually SELLS firearms, to build its 150,000-square-foot store in Bridgeport. Wooden is on the board of Connecticut Innovations, which proposed the $22 million financing package, and Gray could find no record anywhere of the now-treasurer’s opposition to the Bass deal.

It’s a pretty good bet that Wooden’s move was made less on the basis of sound investment policy than on the publicity it would generate. Last Sunday, Wooden pulled the Connecticut equivalent of a Full Ginsberg, appearing on all three Sunday political talk shows (Face The State, Face The Facts, and The Real Story) to explain his scheme.

The conservative Waterbury Republican American newspaper blasted Wooden in an editorial last week, headlined, “Guns and money: Mr. Wooden’s overreach.” [registration required] Wooden responded in a guest op-ed in the paper, calling the editorial’s assertions “ridiculous.”

Forgive me, but that word could better be used to describe Wooden’s divestment scheme itself. One activist accompanying Wooden at his news conference said in support of the initiative, “We need to tackle gun violence from every angle.”

Except there’s one small problem with that. Tackling gun violence is not in the treasurer’s portfolio. In happier days, we left that to our elected officials in the legislature and the governor’s office. Those days are gone for good, apparently.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at thenews@hotmail.com.

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