A fool's paradise for pols

'Like Webster's dictionary," as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sang in the old movie, Sen. Don Williams was Morocco bound last week.

Then, word about the journey got out and suddenly, he wasn't.

Sen. Williams of Brooklyn, president of the Connecticut Senate, was to join a delegation of 23 state legislative leaders June 28 for a week in Casablanca and Marrakech, Morocco, a junket that was impressively heralded as "Under the High Patronage of His Majesty The Kling Mohammed VI" and organized by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation. But he cancelled at literally the last minute because of a family health issue, according to a spokesman. Not going was probably better for his political health as well.

It would have been a nice trip, though, being wined and dined for a week under the high or low patronage of the king, but why such a trip was sponsored by an organization of state legislators is the question.

"The High Patronage of His Majesty The King Mohammed VI" would seem to mean the king was paying the bills for the "23 state legislative leaders and a comparable number of Advisory Council members, spouses and guests" to take part in a weeklong program, planned by the kingdom's government.

Or maybe the expenses were picked up by the foundation's Advisory Council, composed of hundreds of major and minor corporations like Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Archer, Daniels Midland and scores of others that subsidize the nonpartisan, tax exempt foundation. Either way, the trip, like so many of the genre, was a gift from a source that wanted something in return and definitely wasn't paid for by the 23 legislators, spouses and various hangers on.

The program for Sen. Williams and his colleagues promised to "capture the beauty and vibrancy of this extraordinary nation in the region known as the Maghreb." This would appear to leave little opportunity to learn much about what The New York Times recently described as "Morocco's systemic problems - corruption, unemployment, shocking inequality."

The paper said the nation is troubled by "the task of implementing unpopular cuts to pensions and subsidies in order to reduce Morocco's budget deficit." I doubt if the king would have brought that up.

The Casablanca jaunt - along with some accompanying jokes from the old movie of the same name - came to light in The Connecticut Mirror June 26 and was picked up by a few other news outlets.

But the next day, a spokesman for the senator announced the sudden "family health issue" had forced him to cancel. Since he was to have flown off to Casablanca in a few hours, it was probably too late for another senator to obtain the required letters of transit and go in his place. (Another old movie joke.)

However, there was time for Jerry Labriola, the newly reelected chairman of the state GOP, to unsheath his old, blunt rapier and liken the Williams junket to Morocco to, of all things. the governor's attendance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington as the guest of People magazine.

The chairman laboriously compared the senator's rather costly adventure with the $1,200 flight the magazine editors paid for so that they could revel in the glamor of having the governor of Connecticut at their dinner table. The governor repaid the money.

The king of Morocco didn't put a price tag on the trip but air fare to Africa and back and the cost of savoring the beauty and vibrancy of an extraordinary nation would probably be something in excess of $1,200.

Whatever their costs or alleged value, these junkets are embarrassing to the recipients and Sen. Williams' decision to cancel the trip to Casablanca was exactly what Rick would have done.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury.

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