Posted 8/27/12

Political Bit & Pieces

Voice of Labor
CT AFL-CIO President John Olsen

Photo by Steve Kotchko

Late August defines the summer doldrums.  Half the state seems to be away on vacation, at the local beaches, or otherwise occupied.  After the August 14th Democratic and Republican primaries, it seemed the political activity level died down as well, but there were a few bits and pieces of news floating in the warm summer breeze.

The Connecticut AFL-CIO decided it had played the waiting game long enough with State House Speaker Chris Donovan who lost the 5th Congressional District Democratic primary after his campaign was haunted by the ongoing FBI probe of alleged corruption tied to his now fired finance chief and some other aides.

Donovan conceded the Democratic primary to Elizabeth Esty, but did not endorse her, and split for “vacation” soon after primary night, staying mum about all attendant issues.  Legally, Donovan still has the endorsement of a third party, the Working Families Party, in the 5th District race, sparking speculation that the beleaguered Speaker might stay in the contest this fall with a long shot bid to win.  To date, Donovan hasn’t addressed that possibility.  (We will let you know here if that changes this week).

Last Wednesday, state labor leaders met at a union headquarters in Farmington, and emerged to say the state AFL-CIO had officially rescinded its prior endorsement of Donovan in the 5th District race.  Instead labor now backs the winner of the Democratic primary Elizabeth Esty.

“This isn’t about Chris Donovan, it isn’t about John Olsen,” said the state AFL-CIO’s powerful president John Olsen.  “It’s about the 5th congressional district and that’s what we needed to consider.”

Olsen many union reps are “sad” about Donovan’s legal and political predicaments because he was viewed as a strong friend of labor during his legislative career at the State Capitol, but the campaign continues and there is a strong GOP challenger State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) who will not wait for the dust to settle with the Donovan story.
“We needed a two-thirds vote (of the unions reps) to move forward (with a new endorsement) and there was well over two-thirds,” Olsen revealed.

As for the possibility Donovan might choose to make a run as the Working Families party nominee, Olsen said “there is no path to victory” in that strategy.  Democratic leaders feel if Donovan took that route, the Democratic vote would be split, opening the door for a Republican victory.  National Republican strategists already see the 5th District as a possible pick-up for the GOP, and would likely funnel more money to Roraback if they smell dissension in the Democratic ranks over Donovan.

Esty reacted to the AFL-CIO’s support by saying she is “honored to have the endorsement of the hard-working men and women of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.”  Esty added:  “It couldn’t be more clear how much is at stake—with workers rights under attack across the country” and Republican efforts to “end Medicare as we know it.”  By week’s end Esty also won the backing of Democratic Gov. Daniel Malloy and state Democratic Party officials.

In other political news, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill released the final statistics on turnout for the August primaries and they were nothing to write home about.  Though Merrill had hoped for a 30% turnout, the total wound up at just 22%.  For those who think it was a mistake to switch a few years ago from primaries in September to primaries in August, Merrill said the turnout stats for past September primaries were pretty dismal as well.

Republicans seemed more interested in primary activity.  The GOP turnout was about 28%, while the Democratic showing was just 19%.  A few towns in the 5th Congressional District, scene of hard-fought Democratic and Republican primaries did do democracy proud.  Goshen posted the highest turnout rate at 59%.  Goshen is the hometown of Roraback, winner of the GOP congressional primary. 

The low turnout phenomenon produced a very interesting result in a state legislative primary.  In a Windsor-Hartford Democratic state representative contest, the two contenders Leo Canty and Brandon McGee wound up in a tie on primary night.  A mandatory recount finally gave the nomination to Canty—by one vote!  You can assume that if he wins in November, Canty’s nickname at the State Capitol will still be “Landslide Leo.”

Canty, a long-time union official, who has worked in myriad campaigns and get-out-the-vote drives said:  “I have spent a good part of my life telling people how important it is to vote, and now I can actually walk the walk because I found out first hand just how important one vote is.”

Follow Steve Kotchko on Twitter for news and insider tidbits on politics and government@CRN_News