CHRIS POWELL: Democrats' silly obsessions bring back ticket balancing

Published on Friday, 27 May 2022 21:00
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As recently as 50 years ago Connecticut politics still had traces of the old ethnic, racial, and religious resentments and rivalries that had arisen through the state's long history, resentments and rivalries that political party state tickets tried to assuage.

Yankee Protestant Republicans scorned immigrant Catholics. While the Irish and Italians both were mostly Catholic, they were also tribal and often found something to dislike about each other, so much so that many Italians became Republicans just because the Irish, having arrived first and been scored by the Yankee Protestant Republicans, had come to dominate the Democratic Party.

The state's Blacks started leaning Democratic during the New Deal years but race remained the state's biggest prejudice so they didn't get much patronage for their political involvement, and for a long time they were glad just not to be actively oppressed.

Jews were an afterthought in Connecticut politics until Abraham Ribicoff got elected to Congress as a Democrat from the Hartford district in 1948 and came back from defeat for re-election in the Republican landslide of 1952 to run for governor in 1954. Ribicoff ran into what was said to be a whispering campaign targeting him for his religion, so he went on television near Election Day to extol the American dream and his right to aspire to it despite his modest Jewish origins in New Britain. The tactic worked, gaining Ribicoff a small plurality, and it may have been the moment when Connecticut began to grow up a little politically, to start looking past the ethnic, racial, and religious prejudices and irrelevancies.

Still, ticket balancing along ethnic, racial, and religious lines continued in both parties for a few decades.

For some reason back then both parties tended to reserve their congressman-at-large nominations for a Pole, and when, at the Democratic State Convention in 1962, the Democratic incumbent, Frank Kowalski, stomped out in resentment over being denied a primary for the U.S. Senate nomination, party power broker John M. Bailey, who was both state and national Democratic chairman, urgently sought another candidate with a Polish name.

Bailey found a prospect in the Bristol delegation, a little-known municipal official and war veteran, Bernard F. Grabowski. The legend is that Bailey asked Grabowski three questions:

Are you Polish? Are you Catholic? Can you speak Polish?

When Grabowski answered affirmatively, the Democrats had their nominee and Connecticut its next congressman-at-large.

But amid the national political turmoil of the late 1960s, ticket balancing was getting in the way of the ambitions of too many state politicians, and when Bailey, the master of machine politics, died in 1975, there was no one skilled and inclined enough to keep ticket balancing going as ethnicity and race were fading as focal points of life.

Indeed, in the following several decades Connecticut began to think itself somewhat more enlightened for its growing indifference to the ancestry and religion of political candidates and its increasing concern for positions, skills, and character.

But now the state may be regressing, at least to judge by the recent Democratic State Convention, where the party's silly renewed obsession with race and other characteristics irrelevant to the performance of public office targeted nominations for two spots on the state ticket where no incumbents were seeking re-election.

Connecticut Democrats still seem to think the state Constitution requires the treasurer's office to be filled by a Black person and the secretary of the state's office by a woman. The party's nominee for secretary this time is not just female but Black as well. Both nominees may do a good job if elected but they are little known and almost certainly would not have been chosen if they did not provide the racial composition the convention sought.

Of course few voters may care much about who fills the treasurer and secretary positions, and even with Connecticut Democrats diversity goes only so far. For their ticket's top positions, the ones with the greatest power over policy and patronage -- governor and lieutenant governor -- have gone again to whites, and somehow the ticket apparently lacks a transgender candidate, an oversight that may embarrass the party's most hysteric members.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Friday, 27 May 2022 21:00. Updated: Friday, 27 May 2022 21:03.