If we didn’t already know, we’ve learned in the past 17 months that a Connecticut governor wields a lot of power, which involves executive orders and control of a 50,000-person bureaucracy, not to mention the National Guard.
Nobody knows this better than Senator Martin Looney, the New Haven Democrat who has held seats in the General Assembly for an astonishing 41 years, the last seven as pro-tempo President of the State Senate. And this week, Looney holds the rare and enticing title of incumbent governor, with both Governor Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov Susan Bysiewicz spending a few summer days in other states.
The pressure on the liberal lions of Lighthouse Point (okay Morris Cove, but it’s close). He has until late Thursday when Bysiewicz returns from New Mexico, three days before Lamont ends his Maine vacation. What could he do?
So far, Looney hasn’t exactly tossed its temporary power around; no orders, no emergency appointments, not a single proclamation. He even turned down a state police security detail, an advantage of the deputy post. “I said I didn’t think it was necessary unless something came up,” Looney told me on Tuesday. “And to be honest, I think it would scare the neighbors.”
You can bet that the pragmatic progressive has thought about possible tricks. Take, for example, a tax hike for Connecticut’s richest residents that Looney fought for this spring and lost in a clash with his Democrat Lamont, who insisted on keeping the line up in exchange for new levies.
“We’d probably levy a 1 percent capital gains tax. That would make $ 131 million, ”Looney said dreamily after suggesting that maybe he could quietly sneak through a 2 percent hike on a nightly executive order. Has it occurred to him? “Yes, of course,” he admitted, but added, “it would likely be overturned when the governor came back.”
Looney also wants to cancel an order Lamont made Friday night and signed by Bysiewicz, giving Connecticut cities and towns the right to request masks indoors, including in private businesses. Looney favors a uniform state policy for the governorship, preferably with a stricter mask requirement. “I think you have a tower-building effect,” he said of the new order.
Unfortunately, this move wouldn’t take very long either.
Something similar happened in Idaho in May when Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a Conservative Republican, took advantage of Governor Brad Little’s exit from her state and signed an order banning mask mandates from cities, towns and schools. Little returned the next day and angrily withdrew McGeachin’s action. And get this: he is also a Republican and faces a likely re-election challenge from her.
Idaho has a history of incumbent governor stunts, but it’s just not the way we roll in posh Connecticut. Looney was acting governor a few years ago and had a quiet week.
Still, Looney, from the world’s pizza capital, could declare New Haven-style pizza a state meal, while Lamont to the east is surrounded by lobsters. Looney endorsed the Flatbread Award that year after the State House voted for it. But since the debates are tight, it never came to a vote in the Senate and some Republicans refused to pass it without debate.
Hoping for a last minute pizza verdict as a topping for Looney’s reign.
Other possible orders? Looney remains lukewarm over an upcoming expansion of Tweed New Haven Airport, so perhaps a moratorium on the necessary runway extension could find his signature. On the other hand, two years ago the US Court of Appeals overturned the state’s 2009 law that banned the extension of the Tweed runway. “That could be the subject of a judicial challenge,” said Looney, an attorney, of a possible Tweed order.
How about forcing Yale University to pay more to the city of New Haven instead of property taxes? Damn the Constitution.
Ah yes! Anyone can agree that Connecticut should “take the notch” – that little package that should rightfully belong to Suffield, where Massachusetts dips into the northern border. “I don’t know if I would have to mobilize the National Guard to occupy the area and if Massachusetts would launch a counter-offensive,” Looney said.
Aside from orders and military coups, he takes the role seriously. “I’ve had a lot of very nice calls from my Senate colleagues and others who congratulated me and said it was nice to call you ‘Governor’,” he told me, but added, “I didn’t get a chance to print out” letterheads or letters Signature forms or ballpoint pens for proclamations. “
Looney said he hadn’t spoken to Lamont this week. He drove to the State Capitol on Tuesday to do routine business, where he spoke to me from his seat of power. “I thought it would be good if I could be in the building for at least one day that I was acting governor,” he said. “I parked in front of the Capitol instead of the [Legislative Office Building] Garage so that people know that I’m up here. “
Did he at least take the governor’s parking lot? “I went to my own place out of habit,” he admitted, adding that as the Senate Chairman, with offices in the Capitol and the Legislative Office building in both locations, I have the closest seat.