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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    Democrats on Lamont's burning ship of scandal may miss the last safe harbor

    I'm very happy to know that real journalism, struggling so hard in the information scrum of the digital age, is still alive and well in Connecticut, as it uncovers and reports on corruption at what seems to be a rotting core of the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont.

    We are not talking about accepting free hot tubs, like some of the cheesy bribe taking that eventually put former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland behind bars.

    Lamont, born rich, can buy his own hot tubs.

    It's the people around him, whom he enabled, and what big, serious bribes they may be accused of taking, that ought to terrify Connecticut Democrats.

    It turns out, we know from some fine reporting that is likely only going to get better as we roll into election season, that the FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating some of the state's biggest spending projects, so much money that it is largely borrowed, a lien against the earnings of future generations, young people who won't be born rich.

    The latest round of disclosures, from the Hartford Courant, indicate that the Lamont administration was strong-arming municipal officials into hiring chosen school contractors, with bidding rules suspended under the guise of emergency spending.

    That doesn't likely happen in a vacuum, with one rogue actor. The state doesn't usually spend many millions of dollars on the authority of one person. What we already know on the record suggests a spreading scandal.

    This is an administration that has long turned a blind eye toward corruption, offering hush money to keep a former employee of a scandal-engulfed agency from going to the news media and even now trying to starve the state's procurement watchdogs of the minimal state funding they need to do their jobs.

    It is shocking to watch the governor, in real time, propose freezing out the Connecticut State Contracting Standards Board, as it finds fault with his pet spending project, a $235 million cost-spiraling boondoggle, a gift to rich utilities, which is now being scrutinized by the FBI.

    It seems desperate to me, as if the governor knows how much worse it is all going to get.

    As the flames of scandal lick higher on the SS Lamont, there have already been some splashes astern. Some jumped. Some were pushed.

    It all makes me fear for Connecticut Democrats, who seemed still tethered to the mast and increasingly likely to go down with the ship.

    There is still time for the party to rescue its bid to retain the governor's mansion, if it can quickly field a candidate who won't be tainted in the gathering storm of scandal.

    I think mainstream Connecticut Democrats have already been caught off guard by how quickly the federal investigation has consumed the attention of the state and must fear what lies ahead.

    They can hope that the indictments and the most worrisome allegations all drop after November. But, honestly, that seems like a lame strategy, one based on hope and prayer.

    They should remember that Lamont likely saw this coming last spring, when he chose as his lawyer a former prosecutor well schooled in Connecticut corruption scandals.

    They should all ask themselves how much of what the governor knew at the time did he disclose then to other leading Democrats. My guess is not much.

    Connecticut Democrats, by all accounts, should be comfy and snug in safe harbor by the fall elections.

    State and municipal coffers are full of COVID-19 relief money sent by Washington Democrats. Republicans nationally are going to be back on their heels by the time the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United State Capitol starts its televised hearings in the spring, exposing the party's snub of Democracy.

    It would be a shame if Connecticut Democrats let an arrogant chief executive, whose resistance to transparency and accountability have undermined his own future, spoil the moment for everyone and lose the governor's mansion.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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