By today’s sad standards, the criticism made about Gov. Ned Lamont at this week’s state Republican fundraising dinner by House minority leader Themis Klarides was only mildly rude. Lamont, Klarides said, deserves a grade of “F minus” for making state government less affordable, transparent, and trustworthy. The governor, Klarides added, is “not a jerk” but “incompetent” for the job he is in.
Competent at least in being a gentleman, Lamont reacted with disappointment, not anger. Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol, the governor said: “I’ve worked really hard to change the tone in this building. ... I don’t like the poison I see in the state. ... So I was disappointed in that. … We can disagree on policy but we disagree respectfully.”
But recent weeks have impugned the governor’s competence.
The governor’s public health commissioner bizarrely proclaimed that her job actually prevents her from advising the public and the General Assembly about public health.
His port authority was exposed for graft and corrupt patronage.
His billionaire buddy Ray Dalio kept insisting on exempting the state’s new educational grant commission from open-government and ethics laws as a condition of dispensing Dalio’s $100 million gift, which is to be mingled with state government’s own $100 million appropriation.
His party’s legislative leaders accused his tax commissioner of misinterpreting new tax law by declaring taxable some supermarket food items that had been exempt. But while the Democrats said the commissioner’s interpretation was not what they meant with the new law, the commissioner was stuck with what the new law says, and the governor had signed it without complaint. Whereupon the commissioner was made a scapegoat for what the legislators and the governor had done together.
Good for the Republicans for making issues of these things. That’s what an opposition party is for, not that the Republicans are themselves reliable advocates of transparency. A few months ago when the exemptions for the Dalio commission were devised in secret, put into the state budget, and enacted without a public hearing, the Republicans happily went along, figuring that a $100 million bonus for the education lobby was worth sacrificing open, ethical, and accountable government.
The governor quickly corrected his health commissioner. He will fix the port authority eventually. He pledged to get the new grocery taxes reduced or withdrawn one way or another.
The governor would prefer not to offend his billionaire friend. But Dalio’s exemptions are indefensible and the issue will fester into the legislative session next year as even some education advocates are complaining about them. Sustaining the exemptions will give cause to wonder just who is governor — the guy who won the election last year or the guy who thinks he can buy his way above the law.
After all, nothing prevents the billionaire from giving his money away to educators on his own. It would be better if he did.
As leader of the state’s Democratic Party, Lamont has many hungry and politically correct mouths to feed, far more than Connecticut can afford, and this doesn’t facilitate competence. Some allowance may be made for this in any evaluation of the governor.
But the embarrassments to the governor of the last few weeks have been self-inflicted, and no calls for civility can disguise that.