The Connecticut Legislature has eliminated the post of state Business Advocate - in a sense - claiming it will save the state money. Right.
What the state legislature actually has done is a blatant attempt to force the person who holds that post, former US Congressman Rob Simmons, into cold storage, by merging his position with the state Department of Economic and Community Development. There, Simmons can be moved inch by inch, step by step, into political obscurity - or so the theory goes.
Simmons lost his seat in Congress by 83 votes two years ago, and didn't run again this year, preferring to help his state dig itself out of the economic morass the Legislature has guided it into over the past decade. As the Business Advocate, Simmons was visible, transparent, energetic and probably far more effective as a one-man show than the entrenched bureaucracy that is failing miserably at keeping Connecticut economically viable.
There are myriad reasons for taking Simmons out of the public eye, but two come to mind immediately - Jodi Rell and Chris Dodd.
Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell is halfway through her four-year term, and within another year will be in a new race in which she will be trying to keep her job while the Democrats pull out all of the stops to take it away from her.
But before the classic showdown begins Rell still must win her own party's nomination. At the moment Rell's favorability rating is very high - not as high as Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's which the press falsely claims is in a nosedive ever since the media declared Jihad against moose hunting - but high nonetheless.
Until recently Rell enjoyed balmy relations with the media, and according to the media polls, which are tied directly to media stories and how naughty or nice those stories may be, she is still well liked by Connecticut voters, at least those contacted by the media.
But within the past week one Connecticut newspaper did a story alleging that Rell is merely a figurehead governor who spends her mornings calling in to drive time talk radio shows, and then fills the rest of her mostly empty schedule with groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, and speeches. The media report, which also is circulating on the Internet, says the actual work of the governor's office is left to Rell's office staff.
The article quoted liberally from potential Democratic challengers, thus it is fair to deduce that it likely was the opening salvo in a long-range effort to bring Rell's approval ratings out of the stratosphere and into the vulnerability range.
Which is why Simmons needs to be kept on ice, at least as far as Democrat strategists are concerned. Because should Rell falter, Simmons is one Republican who could challenge her for the nomination and give any Democrat in the state a good race should he win the nomination - if he is even interested that is.
The media love fest with Rell could be over, but that isn't her only problem. Rell's support within the GOP often is a matter of what you hear in public versus what is said in private, and easily could evaporate if there is a serious challenge for the nomination. That in turn depends on what the media does with her approval ratings, since a year of negativity will certainly create a downburst in her popularity.
But bashing Rell in an effort to bring down her poll numbers could have the opposite affect of boosting Simmons' popularity, which is the last thing the Democrats want to do.
Then, there is US Senator Chris Dodd who is watching his popularity drop like a rock over his financial dealings. Dodd has a bit more time to bury voter resentment over his actions before he faces reelection, but that presumes he does something to erase the current resentment toward him. He will have to make some dramatic improvements in his favorability rating if he is to remain untouchable in 2010.
Dodd has been given a free ride by the media on his sweetheart mortgage deal, his complicity in the collapse of the credit and housing markets through support of the Community Reinvestment Act, and the subsequent Wall Street bailout.
But one needs only to listen to Connecticut conservative talk radio such as Jim Vicevich's "Sound off Connecticut" morning show, to understand that the media is completely out of touch, but the voters are not. (I listen Jim on the Internet which also has blog postings, forums and live chat that provide even more opportunities to see what voters are saying about Dodd and others.)
Vicevich's callers and forum posters aren't fooled one bit by the media running interference for Dodd. They are angry and it may well take a lot longer than three years to dig his ratings out of the cellar, if it can be done.
(Full disclosure required here: Rob Simmons is my friend. For those of you who have already purchased the paperback version of Masters of the Art, A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam, you know that Rob gave me a great endorsement on the outside back cover. I also have met Sen. Dodd, and he has an autographed copy of Masters of the Art, if he hasn't sold it on eBay. I also have known at least one staffer in Dodd's office for many years and hold that person in high regard.)
All that aside, trying to minimize Simmons by hiding him away in a cubicle deep inside a state office building is like trying to contain a cyclone. Simmons is energetic, highly intelligent, and has deep support from veterans - a major voting bloc in Connecticut - both because he is a Vietnam Veteran and because he stayed in the reserves for a full career. Simmons is a former CIA agent, leaving in the Carter era, and has been a senior staff member for intelligence issues in the US Senate, as well as serving in Congress.
Simmons can sit at a constituent's kitchen table sipping coffee and discussing the intricacies of state and federal economic issues, and seamlessly slip into fluent Chinese when discussing why he knows what he knows about intelligence matters.
People who know Simmons, and a lot of people know him, also know that he he calls things as he sees them, genuinely likes people, and he is genuinely liked in return.
Trying to stifle Simmons for political purposes, under the guise of saving money when the state is headed into a $6 billion deficit, not only is classic politics, it is a classic misunderstanding of Simmons, and the voting public. In fact, it is an insult to the voting public.
It really doesn't matter what the Legislature does in the next year. If Rob Simmons is awake he is moving, working, analyzing, getting things done. When he walks into a room or a meeting the place lights up.
If the press is anywhere near, Simmons will be interviewed for the simple reason that he tells the truth and gives understandable answers to reporters' questions. That could be another reason why the Democratic Legislature - and possibly some Republicans - want Simmons on ice; he gets far more favorable press than they do.
But burying him inside the state bureaucracy won't do anything to keep Simmons out of the public eye. And even if he is buried deep inside the state bureaucracy, he has plenty of friends on the outside who will be only too happy to drop a trail of pebbles for the media to follow - straight to his desk.
After all, Simmons is an honest man, and when you are reporting on government you need quotes from at least one person who is telling the truth - to give the appearance of fairness and balance off all the other quotes in the story.
Friday, December 05, 2008