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.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Opening Day at the State Capitol

What an exciting day for a freshman in the Connecticut General Assembly! We chartered a coach and brought 42 family members, friends and supporters to the State Capitol in the middle of an ice storm early this morning. Everyone arrived safe and sound and I know several people who passed on the trip due to weather concerns kept us all in their prayers for a good day in Hartford.

A special cousin, Dave Deakin, joined us at the Capitol today. I always refer to Dave as my favorite Democrat next to my grandfather Gus Deakin – the former Town Clerk of Danbury. Dave was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his swearing-in to the Connecticut House of Representatives where he served with distinction. Dave went on to serve as first selectman of Bethel and Deputy Commissioner of Housing before his retirement. Dave Deakin is a “gentleman’s gentleman” and all of us in politics today should aspire to match the calm demeanor, good nature and wisdom of this fine Connecticut public servant.

I am pleased that my three spiritual advisors were all present today. Father Albert Audette is a dear friend and confidant who always finds time for me when I call. Pastor Gary Baldelli, ignoring his limitations, wheeled his chair into his van and drove himself to the Capitol to attend the ceremony. Brother Benjamin Arde won the prize (I still have to find an appropriate one) for travelling the furthest – coming all the way from Cape Town, South Africa. May God Bless these spectacular gentlemen for their ministries and their dedication to carrying the message. I am blessed to have their friendship and their prayers.

I felt a deep sense of humility taking the Oath of Office in the Connecticut State Senate this morning. After many years of public and community service the time had come to take on new challenges. I look forward to the days ahead and pray for the wisdom to offer substantive solutions to the grave fiscal crisis we face in Connecticut.

Senate Republicans offered amendments to the Senate Rules calling for streamlining the legislative process in Connecticut and insisting on transparency. Eliminating legislative committees (and the dozens of staff and resources) sends a strong message to the residents of Connecticut that state government is serious about cutting spending just like families are struggling with today. Eliminating the late night deliberations that produce monumental legislation without public hearings is another good idea that was summarily dismissed by Senate Democrats.

Senate President Donald Williams defended the Democrats’ rejection of our proposals by claiming the Connecticut Legislature needs S-P-E-C-F-I-C-I-T-Y! Senator Williams insists that our endless list of legislative committees is somehow good for Connecticut. Sending a proposed bill to an endless list of legislative committees for review is exactly why we should eliminate some of these committees. Not only did the Democrats reject a good streamlining proposal – they want to expand the committees!

Republican Senator Kevin Witkos offered a classic response to Senator Williams call for “all hands on deck... for all of us to work together” by saying, “aye-aye Captain - reporting for duty with bold ideas.” How can we possibly address the difficult challenges ahead of shrinking Connecticut’s government if the Democrats propose expanding government on opening day?

Governor Rell, in her State of the State speech, reminded legislators that families across Connecticut are cutting costs, businesses are cutting costs and government must do the same. Government cannot be something that just grows and grows every year like we’ve seen in the past.

The largest growth of jobs in Connecticut since the adoption of the state income tax in 1991 is in the government sector. Imagine that – we develop an income tax to fill a budget hole (roughly 1/6 the deficit of 2009-2011) and all we’ve done is grow the government with the extra money from the income tax.

Now we must shrink the government to balance the budget.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Watch Senator McLachlan introduce his guests on Opening Day

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Opening a new chapter in my life of public service is exciting so writing a blog from the Capitol seems to be a good venue to share my experiences and observations. I hope to provide a unique perspective on the business of the Connecticut General Assembly as a freshman senator.

I followed my two Republican predecessors’ careers in the Connecticut State Senate over the past fourteen years so some of my comments may reflect on Mark Nielsen and David Cappiello’s terms. I am glad David will remain with the Senate Republican Caucus as a policy advisor.

The Connecticut General Assembly session opens on Wednesday, January 7th. The incoming State Senate has five freshmen – four Republicans - Kevin Witkos, Toni Boucher, Scott Frantz and me - and one Democrat – Anthony Musto. Three of us are new legislators while Kevin Witkos and Toni Boucher join the Senate after distinguished careers in the State House.

My professional experiences in financial services and municipal government administration bring a unique perspective to the extreme challenges we face in the state legislature this year. All of our budget deliberations must assume the current revenue streams are dry and find less expensive alternatives to deliver core state government services.

Only a small number of current legislators were on hand for the last major budget crisis in 1991 that created the state income tax. State government’s reliance on the income tax has grown in leaps and bounds since then.

With dramatic reductions in tax revenue due to the Wall Street mess we are now faced with difficult decisions – do we reduce state spending to match the belt-tightening in homes across Connecticut or keep operating a bloated government with dozens of new tax increases?

Connecticut legislators have a good opportunity this year to make bold decisions to transform our government into a 21st Century model of efficiency. Bold decisions require action – not blue ribbon commissions and task forces. Let us dust off the dozens of studies and reports, look at the best practices of every state government and develop a plan for 2009.

This Wednesday I’ll be joined by friends and family as I take the oath of office. Check back for my report on the opening day experience.

May God Bless Governor Rell, my fellow legislators and I with the strength and wisdom we’ll need to make the right decisions.