SEN. MEYER—INDEPENDENT MAVERICK OR LOOSE CANNON?

As the legislature’s Finance and Appropriations committees gave their blessings to Gov. Malloy’s budget yesterday, an interesting side story got some serious play. Those of us who have worked in the state legislature have known for years the unpredictable nature of state Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford). More of the public is now getting a look.

Meyer was the lone Democratic senator on the Finance committee to oppose the Malloy plan—and he didn’t simply cast his “no” vote. “We are being asked to vote today for a historical increase in state taxes without knowing the significant other side of the budget deficit, namely spending cuts,” Meyer told the press. The big wildcard in the budget process is whether Malloy can get the $2 billion over two years in union concessions he needs to balance the budget. There is further question about the constitutionality of the General Assembly voting on a budget that assumes the savings.

With all this in mind, it might seem Meyer is a courageous lawmaker who is merely voting his conscience. But the inside story is that Meyer has been giving Senate Democratic leadership and staff fits for years—sometimes serious, sometimes comical.

The Shad remembers one caucus meeting in which a bill affecting state employee unions was being discussed (there were some many of those bills I can’t remember which one it was). Meyer declared his opposition in the caucus saying forcefully saying, “This is a sop to state employee unions!” During a break in the discussion and while the younger members of the staff scrambled to find out what “sop” meant, Meyer was reminded that it was the unions that for all intents and purposes, got him elected. The mercurial union advocate Tom Swan was Meyer’s campaign manager. Meyer eventually supported the bill. Meyer may have been right. In The Shad’s closing days with the Senate Dems, the state employee labor unions might as well have had an office in the SDO caucus. They had unlimited access.

But Meyer also has his wacky side. In a hand-written column he (or someone else but no one on my staff) wrote for his local paper, he claimed that lobbyists were treated like lepers in the legislative office building because they had to wear badges. The column was filled with mistakes of fact not to mention misspellings and atrocious grammar.

The most ironic part of all of this is that Meyer is an absolutely brilliant man—an accomplished attorney who once worked for Robert Kennedy and a former member of the New York General Assembly. The question is, in his advancing years, is he still the valued, rare-breed of lawmaker who won’t fall into line when told to do so or is it “dog track time” for him? For The Shad’s money, it’s the former. And I hope he stays around for as long as possible.