Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Freshman's Whirlwind Start

My first two weeks in the State Senate have been a whirlwind of ceremony, receptions, and meetings, moving offices and meeting people at the Capitol. Keeping track of my activities is my dedicated legislative aide, Kimberly Anderson. Sometimes I find myself turning to Kimberly saying, “OK, what’s next?”

As ranking member of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, I’m spending a lot of my time studying proposals referred to us. Our co-chairs, Senator Gayle Slossberg and Representative James Spallone bring a new tone of leadership to GAE that I hope will be productive and bi-partisan.

One of the bills I proposed will make changes to the Public Campaign Finance laws by closing loopholes in grants provided to candidates in a primary. Currently a candidate facing nominal opposition in a primary qualifies for a $35,000 grant – the same amount if they faced a viable, qualified primary opponent. Candidates in the general election cycle with this scenario would qualify for reduced grant funding. My proposal will fix this inequity of the current rules and save taxpayer’s money.

Given the nature of the budget crisis in Connecticut, I anticipate GAE will have a busy agenda studying government re-organization proposals. Clearly if the General Assembly is to succeed in addressing our multi-billion dollar deficit we must truly reinvent how Connecticut government operates.

I am busy reading the reams of reports and proposals on this topic discussed over the past twenty years. This is not the time to create another task force to study our government – this is the time to make the tough decisions to right-size our government in order to retain our core services.

The Transportation Committee got off to a start with a bang by hearing testimony from a disgruntled former employee of DMV claiming Commissioner Robert Ward should resign for his handling of the driving school mess. On the contrary, it seems Commissioner Ward is moving deliberately and effectively to fix these problems but he apparently was not consulting with the disgruntled former employee on his decisions and actions.

I must admit I was not prepared for the hardball played during the Judiciary Committee’s judicial reappointment deliberations last week. A big envelope marked confidential arrived on my desk shortly before the meeting. An association of criminal defense lawyers had assembled “comments” from their members regarding judges scheduled for reappointment. Most of the comments were anonymous although the association president assured the committee they came from lawyers. The thick document seemed more like an anonymous witch hunt to me as two female judges seemed to be the lawyer’s target with strong accusations of every flavor.

Following a late-night marathon Judiciary Committee meeting, Judge Swords received a majority vote in favor of her reappointment. The following day she sailed through the House with 2-to-1 in favor. Late that night it appeared her luck had run out in the Senate and that her reappointment was doomed. The floor debate was spirited and sometimes disappointing. A tie vote 18-18 (I voted yes for ‘The Hammer’) was broken by Lt. Governor Fedele in Judge Swords favor. Bravo!

I think we all have lessons to learn from Judge Sword’s reappointment confirmation. I agree with President Pro Tempore Donald Williams comments during the Senate debate – let’s not start a new judicial selection process that includes anonymous testimony! If an association of lawyers would like to comment on a judicial nomination then please do – and sign your name.