Norwich freshman Republican lawmaker has lofty political goals

Two years ago Republican candidate Christopher Coutu of Norwich scored one of the most impressive election victories in the state. In a year when President Barack Obama was leading a Democratic charge, Coutu knocked off an entrenched Democratic incumbent, Jack Malone, in the 47th Assembly District.

Now it appears Coutu is considering taking aim at an even bigger Democratic icon in the legislature — state Sen. Edith Prague in the 19th senatorial district. It may seem an overreach for a freshman lawmaker to take on the popular Prague, what with her strong labor union support and popularity among seniors, but Coutu recognizes that good timing is important in politics. And in 2010 the state electorate, he senses, is in a mood to give Republicans, and their fiscal conservative message, serious consideration.

But Republicans, he knows, must have a game plan, quality candidates and a clear message the public can latch on to.

"We have a coalition forming with 10 new candidates in southeastern Connecticut," he told me. "It is a solid diverse group of leaders who will run for office."

Other Republicans would do well to listen to his suggestions. In 2008 Coutu used a formula of hard work, a fiscal conservative message, and effective use of the new state campaign public finance law (which, interestingly, many conservatives oppose) to upset Malone in the district that represents Canterbury, Scotland, Sprague and parts of Norwich. The Air Force veteran's volunteer work for veterans' causes added to his popularity.

In office, however, Coutu expressed frustration over his party's minority status and its inability to pursue an agenda. He has formed an exploratory campaign committee, leaving as an open question which office he may run for. And he proposes a straight-forward, five-point plan (really four) that other Republicans seeking state office might do well to consider.

I summarize it here:
Elected officials must admit there's a deficit problem and stop looking to blame others for it.
Lawmakers must exercise fiscal restraint and stop breaking campaign promises.
The legislature must prioritize, consolidate services wherever possible and outsource services to the private sector where it makes sense.
There must be accountability — which means an end to borrowing to meet ongoing expenses and basing budgets on "phantom revenues."
The fifth point — "Coutu will work for any candidate willing to join his fight against Hartford's political machine" — is more rhetoric than policy, but I guess plans need at least five points.

Coutu's campaign Web site is

Democrats, as the "Super Majority" in the General Assembly, may be looking at one last chance in the coming session to get serious about addressing the ongoing state fiscal crisis. If not, they could face a tough challenge from an energized state Republican Party led by candidates such as Mr. Coutu.

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