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Maynard's gun vote sure looked political

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published April 05. 2013 4:00AM

State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, is getting plenty of attention as one of only two Democratic senators to vote against the Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety Act. The general assumption is that Maynard made a political calculation. The deputy majority leader's eight-town 18th District includes the coastal towns of Stonington and Groton, but then moves north and encompasses rural, conservative communities where guns are more ingrained into the culture - Griswold, Sterling, Plainfield, Preston and Voluntown among them.

Secure about his support in places like Stonington, Groton and North Stonington, but potentially vulnerable in the northern towns, why not ingratiate himself to gun lovers in those communities by voting against the bill?

Sen. Maynard got quite agitated at the suggestion he was playing a political game with what he said was the most difficult vote he has ever cast.

"I fully expect I will get only a fractionally higher number of gun owners' votes, if any, despite this vote because the folks that don't want gun control also don't like the fact I am a Democrat," said Maynard. "And probably many of them are not going to know who I am, or what I did on this particular thing."

While there was much political about the gun-reform vote, he said, his decision was not.

"I fully expect I will lose far more votes from liberals, than the votes I will gain from conservatives," he told me. "This was absolutely not a politically calculated decision. The easy vote for me was 'yes.' I have no doubt this was a bad, personal political vote."

I'm not sure whether Maynard really believes this was bad for him politically, but I don't. If Maynard had voted for this bill, some future pro-gun Republican challenger could have skewered him in those northern towns with attack ads. He has largely negated that possibility. And I don't see his Democratic support in the southern districts eroding very much because of this one vote.

Yet Maynard's disdain for how the bill went down seems genuine.

A member of the bipartisan legislative committee formed to look at gun, mental health and school security changes in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, Maynard said the series of meetings sponsored by the committee were not really hearings. Yes, a parade of speakers would appear, but spoke only in broad terms because there was no proposed legislation to comment on and, under the agreed upon format, no questions were asked by lawmakers.

While he understands the decision by leadership to push the bill through as an emergency measure - "it would have had to have been parceled out to of dozen of committees, it would have dominated everything for weeks" - Maynard said the trade off was flawed legislation.

He called the requirement that gun owners must now register their high-capacity magazines unfair and unworkable, noting the devices don't have serial numbers.

"It makes people who have done nothing wrong, who have no intention of doing anything wrong, to be made to feel that somehow they are considered a threat and need to be monitored," Maynard said. "The registry is a farce."

While Maynard said he supports expanding the ban on semi-automatics to more weapons, a hearing process would have provided a needed discussion about where authorities should draw the line.

"The process was flawed to the extreme," Maynard said.

The act includes good reforms, he said, including the registration requirement for all guns, universal background checks, a gun offender registry, and the steps to better identify and help young people with mental health issues.

But not enough reforms to get his vote.

He was dismissive of the image that this was a wonderful example of bipartisanship. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney's district includes Newtown. He has gubernatorial aspirations. There was no way the Republican was voting against gun control, said Maynard. The House minority leader, Rep. Larry Cafero, likewise is considering a run for governor and so was not about to stand alone and block a popular reform law.

The Democratic leadership, said Maynard, knew they had the Republicans in a tough spot and used it to pass a bill they could boast is the toughest in the country.

In the process they went too far, Maynard said.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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