Po­lit­i­cally, a dead man walk­ing?

The News-Times (Sunday) - - More Opinion - Ken Dixon, po­lit­i­cal edi­tor and colum­nist, can be reached at 860-549-4670 or at kdixon@ct­post.com. Visit him at twit­ter.com/KenDixonCT and on Face­book at kendixonct.hearst.

It felt like a nice, friendly group-ther­apy ses­sion for the Con­necti­cut Repub­li­can Party. But some­one had to die.

In an un­der-at­tended din­ner aimed at giv­ing Bob Ste­fanowski some more money for the TV ads that worked so spec­tac­u­larly, so shock­ingly, so stun­ningly that he has still barely re­cov­ered from that un­likely pri­mary vic­tory over four other can­di­dates on Aug. 14, about 360 Repub­li­cans gath­ered in a ball­room at the Stam­ford Mar­riott the other night.

More about Aug. 14 a lit­tle later.

The seats ranged in price from $100 to $10,000, with Big Bob the ben­e­fi­ciary of the cheer­lead­ing in the state’s new po­lit­i­cal land­scape. What could the rankand-file do? Their world has been thrown on its axis. But just be­cause the weak­est can­di­date won the pri­mary, doesn’t mean they can lose the sure bet of the gover­nor’s of­fice in 2018, does it?

Well, that’s why they hold elec­tions.

So what if their time­honored nom­i­na­tion sys­tem, with var­i­ous hope­fuls for gover­nor sup­pli­cat­ing be­fore town com­mit­tees and court­ing hun­dreds of del­e­gates for sup­port in ad­vance of the May con­ven­tion, has been thor­oughly re­pu­di­ated?

Who cares if a seg­ment of Repub­li­cans who have been toil­ing for years in var­i­ous elec­tive of­fices, work­ing for the party, bid­ing their time, were thrown aside for a can­di­date who didn’t even vote dur­ing most of this cen­tury, let alone reg­is­ter as a Repub­li­can?

Ste­fanowski’s bril­liant strat­egy, stand­ing the process on its head, front-loaded his cam­paign with TV ads in Jan­uary. He didn’t have to do any­thing more than throw a nice party else in Fox­woods on the first night of the con­ven­tion. The com­mer­cials so­lid­i­fied name recog­ni­tion, and his han­dlers have ex­celled in keep­ing him from re­porters. The next de­bate is Oct. 18.

I can count on one hand and a few fin­gers the num­ber of times since the con­ven­tion that Ste­fanowski has held events in which the Con­necti­cut news me­dia, and there­fore you, seething reader, were in­vited. Demo­crat Ned La­mont has had more than 100, tak­ing ques­tions from skep­ti­cal re­porters, an­nounc­ing things he stands for, bring­ing his cam­paign to the pub­lic square for scru­tiny.

But enough about Ned, let’s go back to the 40th An­nual Prescott Bush Din­ner, at­tended by dozens of peo­ple I have known, ap­pre­ci­ated and cov­ered for decades. Many are won­der­ing if the whole con­ven­tion process should be scrapped. Maybe the con­ven­tions should be held ear­lier, so those par­tic­i­pat­ing in pub­lic fi­nanc­ing can have a chance against a so-called self-fun­der like Ste­fanowski.

What about killing the con­ven­tion process en­tirely, avoid­ing the floor fights, and go­ing to a di­rect pri­mary? How about end­ing pub­lic fi­nanc­ing for the gover­nor’s race? It’s all up to the Gen­eral Assem­bly and the next gover­nor in this dan­ger­ous age of par­ti­san politics.

No one in the prac­ti­cally all-white crowd was talk­ing about the his­toric Ka­vanaugh hear­ing that was just fin­ish­ing up be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, where a for­mer Yale frat-boy cried, blamed a left-wing con­spir­acy for his drink­ing history, then asked a sen­a­tor if she ever passed out from al­co­hol.

In fact, Con­necti­cut Repub­li­cans were act­ing like that hoped Wash­ing­ton was on an­other planet, in­stead of the source of the events that could threaten their hoped-for ta­ble run for 2018: the gover­nor, the state House and Se­nate. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Themis Klar­ides, R-Derby, ac­cepted the an­nual Prescott Bush Award — named for the fa­ther of a pres­i­dent and the grand­fa­ther of an­other — and pre­dicted that if the GOP doesn’t win leg­isla­tive ma­jori­ties, Ste­fanowski would have “a mis­er­able four years.”

The key­note speaker was Gov. Pete Rick­etts of Ne­braska, a for­mer cor­po­rate guy — shades of Big Bob! —who pitched his state’s suc­cess story. For a chuckle at the ex­pense of J.R. Ro­mano, the hard-work­ing, catherd­ing GOP state chair­man, Rick­etts in­ad­ver­tently re­ferred to him as “R.J.” a cou­ple times.

Rick­etts, whose state has a uni­cam­eral Leg­is­la­ture, with law­mak­ers re­ferred to as sen­a­tors, painted a rosy picture of bud­get cut­ting and run­ning the state like a busi­ness. His pep talk, im­ply­ing what hap­pened there can oc­cur in Con­necti­cut with GOP lead­er­ship, got a stand­ing ova­tion.

Rick­etts, the son of the founder of TD Amer­i­trade, whose fam­ily also owns the Chicago Cubs, was less­known to the crowd for his re­cent claim to in­famy. On Aug. 14, the day of Ste­fanowski’s pri­mary vic­tory, Ne­braska ex­e­cuted a man with a lethal in­jec­tion, rather than let­ting him age away, anony­mously, be­hind bars.

Pre­vi­ously, Rick­etts ve­toed a re­peal of the death penalty. The Leg­is­la­ture over­rode the veto. Rick­etts in­vested a cou­ple hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars to sup­port a ref­er­en­dum that over­turned the re­peal. So if Big Bob is elected and the Gen­eral Assem­bly flips, does that mean the Con­necti­cut GOP brings back the death penalty?

Bob Luckey Jr. / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee Bob Ste­fanowski dur­ing the State Repub­li­can Prescott Bush Awards Din­ner at the Stam­ford Mar­riott Ho­tel & Spa, Thurs­day.

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