A governor is inaugurated and gives a state-of-the-state address; a corrupt, former governor is sentenced; a convicted, former state senator goes on trial; and a new session of the General Assembly begins. It’s an extraordinarily busy political week even for Connecticut. It’s a week of optimism as a new legislative session always is. Yet it’s also a reminder of why the moniker “Corrupticut” is still used.
The New Year’s Day hangovers may subside by next week but there will be shortage of political hangovers. It starts on Tuesday when former state Sen. Ernie Newton of Bridgeport goes on trial on campaign finance corruption charges. Newton has already done a five-year stretch in a federal pen for taking bribes. Famously defiant as even he took a plea deal, Newton declared himself, “The Moses of my people.”
The Shad had a front row seat for Newton’s first foray into corruption. As communications director for Senate Democratic caucus at the time, it is what I can point to as important experience in “crisis communications.” It was more than a little uncomfortable when the FBI swooped in and started hauling out Ernie’s stuff back in 2005. Newton got five years for taking $5,000 (while a sitting governor previously resigned and ended up going away for a year and a day for turning the state into his own, personal plaything). But we’ll get to him in a moment.
Newton tried a political comeback in 2012, running and losing for his old seat. He somehow managed to get pinched again, this time for allegedly cheating in his effort to get public financing for his return to office. Say this for Newton, he doesn’t give up. There are rumblings that he may seek his old seat in the Senate again, assuming he is acquitted of course.
Wednesday is the mother lode for political junkies. Former Gov. John Rowland is scheduled to be sentenced after being found guilty in September of engaging in a fraudulent plan to help a congressional candidate and enrich himself, posing as a volunteer for Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign while being paid through her husband’s business as a “consultant.” He proposed a similar scheme to another candidate in 2010 but Mark Greenberg was smart enough to turn it down.
Possibly the most egregious part of Rowland Corruption 2.0 is his use of his WTIC-AM radio show to bash Wilson-Foley’s main opponent (and eventual primary winner) state Sen. Andrew Roraback. It is a violation of the most basic ethical code of radio and journalism. The prosecution has said it reserves the right to use that aspect of Rowland’s misdeeds to seek an even harsher sentence. As a radio veteran who has done multiple fill-in shows on WTIC, in the very time slot Rowland occupied, I am personally offended.
Not surprisingly, there is serious disagreement over how much time Rowland should spend in the slammer this time around. He is likely to get slapped pretty hard. The judge this time is Janet Bond Arterton not Judge Peter “Revolving Door” Dorsey, circa 2005. Arterton is known as a hanging judge when it comes to white collar crime and political corruption. In 2003, she sent former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim to the slammer for nine years for accepting improvements to his home that would “This Old House” blush. She also gave relatively harsh sentences to players in the 2012 scandal involving the congressional campaign of then-state Speaker of the House Chris Donovan.
Rowland brought in big shot defense attorney Reid Weingarten whose bluster far exceeded his courtroom performance. “Most of all we’re looking forward to this trial and we fully expect our client to be fully vindicated,” he said the day Rowland pled not guilty. Yeah, not so much.
The Shad predicts five years or more for Rowland this time around. For the record, Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband Brian Foley are scheduled to be sentenced, also next, Friday, the 9th (just because everything seems to have to happen next week).
There will be considerable good will and pledges of bipartisanship next Wednesday as well. Gov. Dan Malloy will be inaugurated for a second, four-year term. Then, the 2015 session of the Connecticut General Assembly opens with Malloy giving his state-of-the-state address.
New leadership abounds in the legislature this year, particularly in the state Senate. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven moves up to take over as Senate President Pro Tempore. Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk becomes majority leader. Republican Len Fasano of North Haven is the new minority leader. There is a chance the bipartisanship could last past the first day in the Senate. Looney, Duff and Fasano are regarded as level-headed and reasonable.
Over in the state House, things stay the same in the Democratic majority with Speaker Brenden Sharkey of Hamden and Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin returning. On the Republican side, state Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby is the new minority leader.