The Connecticut Capitol (Miblue via Shutterstock)
TERRY COWGILL
TERRY COWGILL

Two prominent Connecticut political figures were the subject of embarrassing reports by journalists this week — one serious, the other less so, but still illustrative of the gulf between us and them.

Salon, the online news and commentary magazine, published a report on leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski that could have an impact on this fall’s election. The predictably left-wing digital outlet essentially rehashed a pair of reports from 2013 and 2014, entitled “Dirty Profits,” from the German-based nonprofit watchdog group, Facing Finance. Salon reported that the group found that some assets Stefanowski managed during his time at UBS were linked to companies with a “disregard for the environment and human rights.”

When I first saw the Salon headline, “Connecticut GOP candidate, former bank CFO, brags about assets linked to human rights abuses,” I thought the revelation would be devastating, in part because past private-sector dealings have been problematic for some Republican nominees for high office in Connecticut.

After all, one doesn’t have to look too far back to the troubles Tom Foley, the GOP nominee for governor in 2010 and 2014, had in trying to explain away his private equity past. That past included Foley’s firm making millions in fees managing Bibb Manufacturing Company while laying off hundreds of employees, cutting pay and eliminating benefits for workers and wiping out their retirement plans — and ultimately, the company.

And of course, who could forget wrestling magnate Linda McMahon’s two unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate, also as a Republican. The world of professional wrestling has a seamy underbelly – a fact McMahon’s opponents, including fellow GOPer Rob Simmons, seized on, as when Simmons attacked her for tipping off a Pennsylvania urologist about allegations that he had supplied anabolic steroids to WWF wrestlers.

As you might expect, Democrats seized on the Salon piece and added it to the list of questionable moves Stefanowski has made in a business career that includes not only UBS, but a stint as chief executive of DFC Global, a predatory payday lender that has been barred from operating in the very state he wants to lead.

One of the reasons this phenomenon is a regular occurrence is that Connecicut Republicans insist on nominating wealthy business people to run for Senate and governor. Since they have no record in public office to examine, opponents and the news media scrutinize the candidates’ records in the private sector — and often what they find isn’t pretty.

The Salon piece says UBS “provided loans and underwriting services to the mining corporations … which continued to face allegations of brutal human rights abuses years later.” UBS also had financial ties to “a company accused of jeopardizing the health of 13,000 people who lived or worked near its mine in Colombia.”

There are other examples in the report of Stefanowski’s business dealings, some of which strike me as routine, and others that are cringeworthy. It’s unlikely, however, that any of them will change voters’ minds. Stefanowski’s supporters will stay with him. His detractors will dislike him even more and unaffiliateds such as yours truly will mostly shrug and think, “The duty of a business executive is to add value to his company for shareholders, while staying within the parameters of the law. Making moral judgments about the worthiness of investments, not so much.” I say, look at Stefanowski’s policy proposals, which I did in a previous column. They’re pretty thin gruel, if you ask me.

Another revelation about a public official that caught my attention last week is seemingly minor. Former state senator Kevin Rennie operates the blog Daily Ructions and is channeling Lennie Grimaldi of Only In Bridgeport in the motto department. Grimaldi subtitles his blog, “Pry Open The Juicy Stuff.” With Rennie’s string of recent scoops, he is giving Grimaldi a run for his money.

At any rate, a Norwalk motorist had previously seen Bob Duff, the Senate majority leader, perform a variation on an option we all have. We can generally turn right on red if we come to a full stop and determine that it’s safe to do so. Duff makes a habit of performing the same feat when he wants to turn left. This time the motorist, who said they had witnessed this before, caught Duff on camera turning left on red at the intersection of Main Street and Delaware Avenue and sent it to Rennie.

Now don’t get me wrong. Duff hasn’t ventured into impeachment territory here, but the fact that he feels emboldened to violate traffic laws speaks volumes about his sense of entitlement.

Sitting there in his late-model Subaru Legacy with legislative plates affixed, Duff obviously felt traffic laws are for the little people. This arrogance is what infuriates people about politicians.

Perhaps Duff knows something the rest of us don’t know. Do police in Connecticut nab drivers for moving violations if they have low-digit legislative plates on their vehicles? Why, for that matter, are members of the General Assembly issued special plates anyway?

I tried to look it up but my efforts yielded no fruit. The relevant statute says lawmakers will be issued special plates for no more than two vehicles, but it does not say why they are issued in the first place.

As former Gov. Dannel Malloy once said, “Honestly, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it,” referring to the appeal that the license plates hold for the political classes, which Malloy said has always been part of the “Hartford culture.”

I do get it, governor. The plates are a status symbol disguised at a perk. They are meant to shout, “Look at me. I’m important.” Or perhaps, in Duff’s case, “Don’t give me a ticket. I’m a lawmaker.”

Terry Cowgill

Terry Cowgill

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at PolitiConn and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at tcowgill90@wesleyan.edu.

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