Connecticut Democrats need a reboot

Nothing speaks more to me of the failings of Connecticut Democrats to prevail on today's shifting political terrain than the fact that one of their most powerful political leaders is an employee of the municipal employees union.

You can't get a more startling conflict than that, as the state grapples with a crushing immediate and long-term budget meltdown that directly is related to pension obligations.

Of course state Rep. Joe Aresimowicz didn't become speaker of the House in a vacuum.

He and his clout are just a stark reminder of how closely union influence is woven into Connecticut's Democratic Party.

And that has broad implications for the now wide-open gubernatorial race, as new candidates keep emerging daily, like clowns from an overcrowded circus car.

Republicans in blue Connecticut should be at an enormous disadvantage in the next election cycle, as a Trump administration tramples on principles that are important to moderate and even many conservative Connecticut voters, trying to unwind protections for the underprivileged, the environment, women.

I don't think a climate-change-denying, health-care-revoking government run by Goldman Sachs veterans sells well here.

Themis Klarides, House minority leader, for instance, should have foreseen what her Trump endorsement would look like for someone who might want to run for governor of Connecticut, at the same time we are learning just how horrible a Trump presidency might be.

The new Trump activism among Connecticut Democrats, though, maybe isn't enough to save them from the financial morass here at home that voters blame on them.

Never mind the inevitable direct tax increases coming our way, in addition to the indirect ones, pushing obligations down to municipalities to make them raise property taxes.

Some Democrats eyeing the governor's office have addressed pension reform. Comptroller Kevin Lembo, with his detailed plan to address a general refinancing of the debt, is the most prominent.

But none is talking up the benefits cuts that are needed to put the state on a firm financial footing. You can almost see the union swords aimed their way.

Connecticut has yet to produce a brave Democrat on the order of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who successfully negotiated a pension overhaul with union cooperation.

Granted, she was on firmer legal ground to negotiate, since Rhode Island's pension system was based on statutes, which could be changed by the legislature, rather than contracts that could be enforced in court.

Still, she made it clear enough to union management that the alternative to no pension reform, and subsequent bankruptcy, was much worse than the compromise she was offering.

The Harvard-educated Raimondo built a road show around her plan to make the state, with the worst pension crisis in the country, fiscally sound again.

One of her best arguments came from using the bankruptcy of Central Falls, R.I., which devastated the pensions of so many retired city employees, as an example of what would happen to state retirees.

Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman, in his unsuccessful state Senate campaign last year, used this argument as his plan for resolving Connecticut's fiscal crisis.

Needleman said he would invite one of the best bankruptcy lawyers in the country to come and address a room full of all the major players in Connecticut, including union leaders, so they will all understand what happens next if people don't compromise.

Alas, Needleman lost the Senate race to Trump-endorsing Art Linares.

Nothing would make me happier than for this plain-speaking Democrat, who doesn't seem intimidated by the municipal unions, to run for governor.

He strikes me as someone who can prove that Democrats can be fiscally responsible, and winners, especially in the time of Trump.

Some Trump rejecter can then take Linares' seat.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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