Gizzi on Politics: June 25-29

Nutmeg State News

Hartford, Conn.: The week I picked to be in my home state of Connecticut proved to be an eventful one in terms of Nutmeg State politics. Here are just some of the fast-breaking political developments.

A ‘Sopranos Story’

Just as the HBO series “The Sopranos” recently ended, a “Sopranos Story” in Connecticut politics also came to an end last week, although a bit more decisively than the unclear closing of the TV series that has so many fans bewildered and angry.

Days after an emotional press conference in which he defended himself against charges of corruption, State Sen. Louis DeLuca resigned last Monday as Senate Republican leader amid charges that he had asked a trash hauler with alleged ties to organized crime to intimidate his grown granddaughter’s husband, Mark Colella, who DeLuca felt was abusing her. The 73-year-old DeLuca, who has served in the senate since 1990 and been minority leader since 2001, has admitted that two years ago he sought the assistance of Danbury trash hauler James Galante to “pay a visit” to his granddaughter’s allegedly abusive husband. Galante is now under federal indictment. (“Certainly you don’t call up your neighborhood florist to pay such visits,” deadpanned Hartford Advocate columnist Alistair Highet. “I think it’s safe to assume that any conversation Mr. Galante’s associates would have with Mr. Colella would include the threat to beat the [expletive deleted] out of him.”).

But Galante was being wiretapped and, as a result, his lieutenants never got to slap around Colella. As Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie noted, “A state police detective known to one of the thugs was conspicuously in a car outside the thug’s house on the day Colella was to be assaulted.” DeLuca later insisted he turned to Galante after the Waterbury police would not help him stop the abuse toward his granddaughter. The police deny they were ever contacted about the abuse.

But what also led to DeLuca’s arrest, guilty plea in court and suspended sentence for a misdemeanor conviction was that the senate GOP leader had later met with an undercover agent posing as a friend of Galante. He told the agent that “anytime [Galante] needs anything within my power that I can do I will do” and that he would keep his “eyes open” for the trash man where state legislation was concerned. The same agent also offered the senator a bribe, which DeLuca refused but did not report to authorities. DeLuca later said he was afraid after being offered the attempted bribe and did not know what to do.

DeLuca’s resignation as leader and apology to his colleagues bring to a close a drama that has gripped the state Capitol for months.  Senators will soon meet to discuss sanctions against DeLuca, State Senate President Donald Williams (D.) told the Courant. Very possibly, these could include expulsion from office.

Bygone Age Returns With Famous Name

For conservatives, the sad irony of the DeLuca affair was that it removed from the leadership of the 12 Senate Republicans someone who actually worked closely with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford in opposing liberal legislation on abortion and same-sex civil unions. DeLuca’s successor as senate leader is John McKinney of Fairfield, son of liberal GOP Rep. (1970-87) Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn.). Like all but a handful of Republican office-holders from Gov. Jodi Rell on down, the 43-year-old John Mc-Kinney is strongly pro-abortion. He also voted for the civil union measure and pointed out to the Hartford Courant that he lives next door to a lesbian couple, that their children play together and that he is “of a generation that is comfortable with diverse lifestyles.”

Yale and University of Connecticut Law School graduate McKinney, whose father served as minority leader in the state house of representatives before going to Congress in 1970, said he will push some of the same agenda as his “Gypsy Moth” father, particularly the preservation of open space and wildlife areas.

The new senate leader, concluded the Courant, “is a link to a bygone age of Eastern Republicanism, before the party turned to the right….”

Shays Under Fire
Another link to that brand of Eastern Republicanism is Rep. Chris Shays (R.-Conn.), who won the 4th District House seat in a special election after the elder McKinney died 20 years ago. As Republican Representatives Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons were going down to defeat in the Nutmeg State last fall, Shays barely clung on to his district, which includes Fairfield, Westport and other New York City “bedroom communities.”

Shays (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 47%) has long been a particular irritant to conservatives. In 1998, after a period of public soul-searching and town meetings, he became one of the five Republicans in the House to oppose impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton. For more than a decade, he was co-sponsor of the Shays-Meehan legislation, the House version of the statist McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure that became law in ’01. At one point, there was a movement calling for Human Events Legal Affairs Correspondent and 4th District resident Ann Coulter to challenge Shays for renomination.

Next year, Shays, the lone Republican left in Connecticut’s five-member U.S. House delegation, will face a determined challenge. State GOP Chairman Chris Healy tells me he expects the Democratic opponent will be either Greenwich cable TV tycoon Ned Lamont, who defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the ’06 Democratic primary on an anti-war platform but lost to newly minted independent Lieberman in the fall, or Ted Kennedy, Jr., now a businessman in New Haven in the 3rd District. His liberal record notwithstanding, Shays is expected to be a national Democratic target because of his support of the Bush Administration on Iraq.

The Constitution requires U.S. House members to reside in the state they represent but not the district, “and Kennedy could easily move to the 4th,” Chairman Healy observed. “Geography has never stopped the Kennedys before.”

The Last Conservative Name Returns

Older HUMAN EVENTS readers may be interested to learn that a name from Connecticut’s past that used to cheer them (albeit many years ago!) has recently resurfaced. John A. Danaher, III, a former U.S. attorney, has just been named state public safety director. Danaher is the namesake-grandson of the last truly conservative U.S. senator from Connecticut, John A. Danaher, who held the seat from 1938 until his defeat in 1944 (I told you it was long ago!).

The late Allen Drury wrote glowingly of the intellectual firepower displayed by Sen. Danaher when Drury covered the Senate for the New York Times in the 1940s. Had Robert Taft become President in 1952, writes biographer James Patterson, he almost surely would have named friend Danaher to his Cabinet. As it was, President Dwight Eisenhower named Danaher to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often considered the “second highest court in the land.” Long before Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia or John Roberts sat there, Danaher exemplified the term “strict constructionist” in his rulings.

Whether the grandson lives up to the greatness exhibited by his illustrious namesake will be something for conservatives to watch.