State House of Representatives Speaker Chris Donovan, nominated by the Democratic Party Monday to run for Congress from the 5th District, considers himself a defender of labor rights. What Mr. Donovan sometimes fails to recognize is that to have workers the state needs private-sector jobs. Not everyone can work for the government.
Because he could not get his way on a proposed state minimum wage hike, the House speaker, who has broad union support, held up a jobs bill that enjoyed bipartisan backing, allowing it to do die in his chamber as the clock ran out last week on the legislative session. That kind of bare knuckles politics benefits no one, least of all constituents.
Rep. Donovan cast himself as the good guy for proposing to increase Connecticut's hourly minimum wage, already the highest in the region. His first proposal was a payroll-busting increase of the $8.25 minimum by 75 cents a year over two years, plus connecting it with the Consumer Price Index to assure it would keep going up automatically.
What most Republicans and many moderate Democrats recognized is that, while it may seem magnanimous to mandate raises for workers struggling at the low-end of the pay scale, the timing could not be worse. Connecticut is still struggling to recover economically. Businesses and individuals were hit with a substantial state income tax increase after the last legislative session. Having to come up with money for a minimum wage increase could well have persuaded some businesses not to add jobs or to even eliminate positions. Businesses dependent on lower-wage earners would have had one more reason for deciding Connecticut was not their best choice. And young people, whose entry level jobs often pay the minimum wage, would likely have found it even more difficult to enter an already tough job market.
He may have heard those arguments had the speaker bothered to check with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy or his fellow Democratic leaders in the state Senate before he rolled out his minimum wage proposal at the start of the session. Instead he pushed forward, eventually accepting reductions in the size of the proposed increase in hopes of getting some kind of face-saving victory, but the votes were not there in the Senate.
Meanwhile the jobs bill, which did enjoy bipartisan support and cleared the Senate with a 32-2 vote, languished in the House. Speaker Donovan would not allow a vote in the House unless the Senate raised his minimum wage bill. When that did not happen, the speaker let the jobs bill - including a promotion campaign for state-made products, expansion of small business loans, and incentives to hire unemployed military veterans - expire.
With many voters upset with the type of highly partisan politics that make compromise difficult, Mr. Donovan's take-my-ball-and-go-home approach will not play well. If Mr. Donovan can't manage to play nice with fellow Democrats in control of the state's executive branch and Senate, imagine how he might do in the hyper-partisan U.S. Congress. Then again, he might fit right in.
If he succeeds in the party primary, Mr. Donovan's hard-left, labor-boosting record could make him vulnerable in the 5th District. With its roughly equal mix of registered Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, the district is best suited for moderates. Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy is leaving his seat to run for U.S. Senate. The northwestern district is the product of a 2000 compromise when a loss in population caused the merger of the old 5th District, then represented by Democrat James H. Maloney, and the defunct 6th District, then represented by Republican Nancy Johnson.
Republicans will choose their nominee Friday.
Which ever Republican emerges will likely remind voters that Mr. Donovan last year blocked a bill, which passed the Senate 30-6, calling for an end to state worker longevity bonuses, raises the state gives employees simply for staying in their jobs. And they may point out Mr. Donovan appointed himself to the Reapportionment Committee responsible for writing the boundaries of the 5th District he is running in.
In other words, Democratic control of all five congressional seats could well end.