Rell Rattles the Cage


When Gov. Jodi Rell came out swinging against Democratic legislators on the subject of campaign finance reform last week, there were some who were still skeptical.

We now know she can talk the talk, they said.

But will she walk the walk?

Rell had begun the year saying: Let us act on Connecticut's culture of political corruption. Let's change the system.

She proposed an end to ad books, contributions by contractors seeking or doing work with the state, and political donations by lobbyists.

Simple. And, when you think about it, radical.

She challenged the Democratic majority to come up with its plan.

And, after many months, the Dems did.

Their plan for change was: Let's not change.

Democratic legislators answered that the loopholes were their favorite parts of the system!

But they did throw the public one bone.

They said that though it was probably impossible, partly because the governor and the Republican Party had long opposed it on principle, they would favor public financing of campaigns.

Republican legislators looked at their shoes and quietly whistled the melody of "Ain't nobody here but us chickens." The only thing better than the spoils is having someone else protect the spoils for you, and that's what the majority does for the minority in the Connecticut General Assembly.

Well, Rell blasted the cynicism and cowardice of it all, and that's how most people thought the legislative session would end.

But then Rell picked up that Democratic bone and traded it for a tire iron. And she began to rattle the Capitol cage with it.

She offered a deal: Give me the bans on donations by contractors, lobbyists, and influence peddlers, and I'll give you public financing.

She proposed a voluntary public finance system that would begin with a kitty of $5 million.

It is time to be bold and get it done, she said.

Legislators reached for their nitro tablets. One or two resembled the Wicked Witch of the East after the house fell on her. Those who overcame being stunned were mad as hell. Rell had violated the brotherhood and the code: Change nothing; do nothing; talk much but say nothing; protect the spoils (office, influence, creme brulee).

And then an amazing thing happened. The Republican legislators decided to back the governor's proposal.

Rell had opened a window and let the fresh air begin to replace the stale.

The woman is an anarchist!

But imagine state government without the lobbyists running it. Imagine it without the constant groveling for money.

Imagine a ban on the sleaze and an occasional candidate throwing his hat into the ring simply because he wants to serve.

Imagine candidates freed from the need to "campaign" mostly by phone, for dollars, and, when in the public light, by pander and with a shamed, bent posture.

Imagine a politics of self-respect.

Could this really be put together in two weeks? It?s possible, not probable. But it could happen.

Could the governor make it happen by jawboning legislators? No.

But if she gets the people of the state behind her, she could.

If the legislature blows her off, Governor Rell should mount the bully pulpit and carry this message -- ban the bribes and let the public pay for the process -- to every town hall and cable TV show in this state.

She should hold on to her clarity and her anger. For if she does, the public will follow her.

Legislators should be very afraid. Jodi Rell is smart, strong, and has now shown us definitively that she is sincere about this good government stuff. And she has a secret weapon -- the next election.

See the article on Journal Inquirer website

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

   Become a Clean Money Member