There has probably been no greater advocate for the interests of elderly in Connecticut than former state senator Edith Prague. But at a time when state government needs to become leaner, we see the Department on Aging as a luxury Connecticut can live without. And if there is to be such a department we seriously doubt the former state senator, at age 87, is the best choice to pass through government's revolving door and head it.
First, let us provide a little history.
As a state representative in the 1980s, Ms. Prague, a Democrat, earned her reputation as a champion for the elderly and a liberal firebrand. When former U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. ran for governor under the A Connecticut Party banner, he sought and received the endorsement of then-Rep. Prague. Once elected in 1990, Gov. Weicker appointed Ms. Prague as commissioner of the Department on Aging.
The relationship soured, however, when Gov. Weicker - confronted with the fiscal crisis that would lead him to push for creation of a state income tax - decided to shrink the agency. Ms. Prague rebelled and was fired. In 1993 the department was absorbed into the Department of Social Services.
For two decades the state functioned without the DOA. We don't recall any vast reduction in services to the elderly, or clamoring for the department's return. With their reputation as a block that votes, senior citizens are never far from the minds of elected leaders when it comes to shaping policy or allocating resources.
But in 2005, Ms. Prague, who in 1994 had captured the 19th Senate District seat and would hold it until retiring in 2012, pulled off a surprise closed-door deal that revived the Department on Aging. She is quite the politician. Its revival was delayed, however, by the state's ongoing fiscal problems.
Now it is truly back, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently nominated Ms. Prague, at a salary of $120,000, to direct the staff of about 30 workers.
Setting aside the fact Ms. Prague left her Senate seat only recently citing health problems. And giving her the benefit of the doubt she is a vigorous 87-year-old, we still must express our deep skepticism that there were no candidates available with fresh ideas and a better grasp of modern communication technology.
This smacks of providing a gratuitous victory lap for a loyal party servant, all at taxpayer expense.