Posted 8/6/12

Politics All 'Round

Headed For China
Gov. Dannel Malloy

Photo by Steve Kotchko

You’d think with Connecticut political primary day coming on August 14, the candidates in those battles would be making all the noise, but last week, even some pols who aren’t in primary mode were looking for media attention.

Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy announced he is going to China in September, the first Connecticut governor to travel to the Asian power since Gov. William O’Neill made a trip in 1987.

Malloy said he’s been invited to participate in the World Economic Forum Summit in Tianjin, China.  He will be joined on the journey by State Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith.  Who’s paying for the trip?  You are.  The state is picking up the travel tab, expected to total “less than $20,000”, according to the Governor’s office.

If you’re asking why Malloy is doing the China thing, he is not at a loss for an explanation.  “While it sounds like a worn out cliché, we truly do live in a global economy,” said the Governor.  “If there’s one thing that’s a given in the 21st century economy, it’s that China will be a leading player on the world stage,” Malloy continued.  “I want to use this opportunity to do two things:  convince Chinese companies that Connecticut is a great place to establish a presence in the United States, and let the Chinese know Connecticut-based companies are ready and willing to do business with them too.”

The China trip will run from Sept. 8 to Sept. 16.  The Governor’s office says Malloy will meet with Chinese business leaders and officials, including a group of bioscience and technology firms.  In addition to Tianjin, Malloy will visit Beijing, and Jinan—the capital of Connecticut’s “sister province” Shandong.

While Malloy was thinking globally, State Senate Republican leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield) was urging lawmakers to be introspective—to investigate the legislative process and determine if it’s too easy for staffers and legislators to game the system for political or financial gain.

Sen. John McKinney
Photo by Steve Kotchko

Specifically, McKinney renewed his call for a bipartisan legislative committee of inquiry to look into allegations of misconduct tied to State House Speaker Christopher Donovan’s (D-Meriden) legislative office and congressional campaign.  Federal officials have charged former members of Donovan’s campaign staff with criminal violations tied to alleged influence-peddling and hiding the true source of campaign contributions.  Donovan himself has not been charged in the case.

Citing past misdeeds by lawmakers and a former governor, McKinney said there is “a culture of corruption in Connecticut” that causes voters to mistrust all elected officials.  He claimed this negative image is reinforced when lawmakers turn “a blind eye” to potential weaknesses in the legislative process that may foster corruption.

The federal probe into Donovan’s congressional campaign focused on alleged illegal efforts to hide the source of campaign contributions from owners of so-called “roll your own” cigarette shops that wanted to block a new state tax on their firms and were led to believe Donovan could help.  FYI—that tax was approved after the “roll your own” scandal broke.

McKinney says many questions about the vulnerability of the legislative process need answers.  “How could this happen?” he asked.  “What other bills were on (the list) and were legislative staff involved in negotiating or drafting those bills?”  The Senator concluded:  “The public needs to know this abuse of power and public trust will not be tolerated by its elected representatives.”

The GOP Senate leader suggests creation of an eight-member bipartisan committee of inquiry with appointments by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate.  He also wants the appointment of an independent counsel with experience in federal criminal probes.  That individual would be granted subpoena power under McKinney’s proposal.

State House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero (R-Norwalk) often teams up with McKinney at GOP news conferences, but McKinney was alone when making his pitch for a formal legislative inquiry.  Cafero said he was notified late about the event and could not attend “due to business commitments.”

Cafero said while he agrees with McKinney that the charges and arrests in the Donovan campaign probe “cast a long shadow over the entire legislature” he has reservations about how an inquiry would proceed.

The GOP House leader noted that the State Constitution “clearly establishes that each house of the legislature will determine the rules of its proceedings in punishing one of its members.”  Because of that directive, Cafero believes that “if an inquiry is called it ought to be done by the House.”

Cafero also said because the federal investigation in ongoing, “nothing we do should deter, distract, or interfere with the work of federal authorities currently working on the issue.”  However, Cafero said he’s had talks with State House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden) about the eventual “formation of a committee of inquiry” in the Donovan matter and asked his own staff to “research the rules involved in creating such a panel.”

As for Sharkey, the top Democrat in the House below Speaker Donovan, the Hamden representative basically trashed McKinney’s pitch for a probe.  “There are no charges that suggest our state legislative process was compromised by any violation of federal campaign law,” Sharkey claimed.  “If contrary information comes to light, I will call for appropriate measures to be taken with the State House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis.”  Sharkey concluded:  “Sen. McKinney’s proposal, is, at best, premature.  At worst, it is a partisan stunt.”
One word:  Ouch!

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