Confronting Democrats’ Identity Politics Head-On in Connecticut

by Jim Geraghty

Also in today’s Jolt:

Confronting Democrats’ Identity Politics Head-On in Connecticut

A recent Gallup poll found that half of Connecticut citizens said that if they could leave the state, they would, second only to Illinois.

Those of us outside the state, leaning to the right, would suggest that the residents’ misery stems in part from the broad center-left to far-left consensus that has run the state for the past few decades.

The state Senate currently consists of 22 Democrats and 14 Republicans and the state House of Representatives has 98 Democrats and 53 Republicans. Democratic Gov. Daniel Malloy was preceded by two Republicans, Jodi Rell and John Rowland (convicted and now charged with new crimes), and before then (sigh) Lowell Weicker.

So how do Republicans win in places that are drifting towards one-party states? One of this year’s lieutenant governor candidates, Penny Bacchiochi, echoes Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land’s recent ad by taking the Democrats go-to identity-politics maneuvers off the table.

“People see me as someone who can unite people with diverse opinions and who has great listening skills,” Bacchiochi said in a recent interview. “I have a unique and interesting family; my husband is Nigerian-born, black; I have four black stepsons and two white sons of my own. I think people see me as having the qualities to unite, understand, and listen … All those Republican-bashing comments — war on women — kind of hard to say I have a war on women, hard to say I’m a racist when I have a blended, modern family. Those things really can’t work when I’m on the ticket.”

“Republicans need women on their ticket — most of the frontrunners for governor are men from Fairfield County; I think I bring some gender and geographic balance, being a woman from eastern Connecticut,” Bacchiochi said. “A lieutenant governor is really going to help the governor get elected — this is the number two person who’s going to be out on the stump, every day between now and the election.”

A woman on a ticket can’t guarantee better GOP fortunes; Romney and Ryan did better among women than McCain and Palin did. And Democrats will insist that Republican women candidates are indeed some sort of self-hating creature pushing laws that are bad for women as a whole. It may even spur complaining about playing the gender card, now that it’s being used by a Republican. The Land commercial, featuring the female candidate laughing off the accusation that she’s part of a “war on women” has spurred accusations she’s “hiding behind her skirt” — a column headline that would undoubtedly be deemed sexist if a male columnist had written it.

Whatever the gender of the candidates on the GOP ticket, there are signs that Connecticut desperately needs an interruption to the tax-and-spend cycle common among the deep blue states.

“We’re looking at a $1.4 billion budget deficit, and that’s after the historic, largest-in-history tax increase when [Malloy] came in,” Bacchiochi said. “That’s important to every Connecticut resident. Connecticut is at a crossroads; we need to elect a fiscally conservative Republican and a lieutenant governor who can get that agenda through the legislature, passed into law, and get the state back on track.”

“We have to address our unfunded liabilities,” Bacchiochi says. “It’s one of our biggest problems. It’s projected at $17 billion, but insiders believe it could be as high as 50. If we switch our state employees and retirees to a defined-contribution program [like an IRA or 401(k)] from a defined-benefit program [a monthly pension calculated by position and years of service] — that would bring immediate relief to our crisis.”

Could it happen? Well, even Illinois enacted a pension-reform package once the consequences of an unreformed system became dire enough, despite volcanic opposition from public-sector unions.

“Hey, we spend too much money,” Bacchiochi says. “Taxpayers can’t afford it. Connecticut is one of the few states that has a social-service dual-delivery program. We use nonprofits to deliver social-service programs, but we also pay state employees to deliver the same programs at a cost … that’s almost twice as much. The state of Connecticut needs to get out of the process of delivering social-service programs and let the private nonprofit sector do it. They do it just as well, and they do it at half the price — and that’s a big part of our budget.”