Northwest Leadership Breakfast

Breakfast, originally uploaded by Aldon.

If you want to represent the Northwestern part of Connecticut as a Democrat in Hartford or Washington, then the place to be each April is the Northwest Leadership Breakfast. For the third year in a row, this breakfast has been held at the house of Audrey and Matt Blondin in Litchfield, CT. This year, over 100 Democratic leaders from the area gathered to listen to State Chair Nancy DiNardo, the four Constitutional officers, candidates for State Senate, members of unions and advocacy groups, and notable speakers, Rep. Chris Murphy, Mayor Dan Malloy, and former U.S. Senate candidate Ned Lamont.

Audrey Blondin, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, representing the 30th District, was joined by State Central committeewoman Myrna Watanabe of the 8th district and State Central Committeewoman Sharon Sherman of the 32rd district in organizing the event, and setting an example of the leadership we should expect from all State Central members.

After introductory remarks, Nancy DiNardo addressed the group, encouraging everyone to attend the Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner to be held on April 28th. She then read a letter from Sen. Dodd who apologized for not being able to attend the gathering but noted that “If anyone can bring out Democrats, it is Audrey Blondin”. His letter went on to talk about key issues, housing, jobs, health care, and education. It spoke about efforts to reform the No Child Left Behind act, and Sen. Dodd’s work on a call to national service.

The constitutional officers spoke in the order in which they arrived. Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz spoke first and thanked President Bush for helping people in Connecticut register thousands and thousands of new Democrats. During the 2006 Lamont-Lieberman race, over 30,000 new voters were registered. This year’s Presidential primary brought in an additional 35,000 voters and since the primary an additional 20,000 voters have registered. Of this last batch, 10,000 were Democrats, 8,000 were unaffiliated and 2,000 belonged to other parties. 4,500 of the new voters were between the ages of 18 and 29, and amongst these newly registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one. Ms. Bysiewicz also spoke about the battle to stop Broadwater and the continuing fight for ethics in government.

Next to speak was State Comptroller Nancy Wyman. She focused on the efforts by the Democratic Leadership to keep present a tight budget, meeting the needs of the people of Connecticut, while avoiding waste. She noted the efforts of many people, including both municipal leaders and leaders of unions to bring about a significant reduction in the health care costs for municipal workers. These reductions work out to be around $60 per person per month.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal spoke about the necessity of providing checks and balances. He noted that three people die each week in Connecticut because they lack health care. He spoke about suits that he has brought against insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies as part of his efforts to address this grave injustice.

Connecticut, according to Attorney General Blumenthal, has the most expensive electricity in the whole nation, double the national average. We need a safe, sane and comprehensive energy policy, one that focuses on renewable energy, as opposed to supporting ill thought out proposals such as Broadwater. He spoke about our stewardship obligations in preserving Long Island sound and in at least not leaving our state in worse shape than we found it. Most importantly, he noted, he didn’t stop Broadwater, nor did Secretary of State Bysiewicz or their counterparts in New York. It was citizen advocates, like everyone in the Blondin’s house, that stopped Broadwater and he thanked everyone.

Moving on to the national scene, Attorney General Blumenthal said he was an old fashioned sort of guy that believes that the President of the United States should obey the law. That is why he has brought various suits against the administration for their failures on issues such as No Child Left Behind and on climate change. We need people that will force the administration to obey the laws.

State Treasurer Denise Nappier started off by talking about how this coming presidential election is the most important in several decades as we seek for a leader than can start undoing the damage caused by the Bush administration. One place where that damage is noticeable in her job is in the current financial market dislocation.

In better times, a key focus of the State Treasurer’s job is to maximize return on the State’s investments. Yet with the current turmoil, it is important to focus on protecting capital.

She spoke extensively about the Teachers’ Retirement Fund 2008 Series bonds. She described these bonds as historic, well timed and critically needed. The bond issue received bi-partisan support. In the larger picture, they are part of an effort to commit the state to meeting its long term financial obligations.

Another focus for Treasurer Nappier has been shareholder activism. Ford Motor Company recently made a major commitment to reducing greenhouse gases. That commitment came as a response to shareholder activism, including pressures from various state funds, including Connecticut’s.

She noted that her efforts were an attempt to make a difference from around the kitchen tables of people in Connecticut to around the boardroom tables of companies across our country.

After the constitutional officers spoke, George Jepsen, immediate past chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party and the former state Senate majority leader added his comments about strengthening the Democratic Party in Connecticut.

Mr. Jepsen was followed by Art House, who has set up an exploratory committee for a possible run for State Senate in the 8th State Senate district. Mr. House noted that up until he spoke, he assumed everyone knew all of the speakers, but he suspected many people didn’t know his background. He spoke about his early days working for Abe Ribicoff and his recent support of Ned Lamont.

He noted that while Connecticut is ranked first in per capital income, it is ranked 44th in growth and last in retaining its youth. Mr. House noted that fundraising for his exploratory committee has been strong and should he decide to accept the nomination, he hopes that with the new public financing rules, he will be able to quickly complete his fundraising around the time of the convention and focus on meaningful discussions with the voters in the Eighth State Senate District.

Michael Renzullo spoke next. He has an exploratory committee set up as he considers running for State Senate in the 30th State Senate District. Mr. Renzullo is the Northeast Regional Manager for American Solar Roof. He spoke about the importance of a better energy policy in Connecticut and also spoke briefly about the importance of better for funding stem cell research in Connecticut. He energetically worked the room, introducing himself and seeking donations.

Later in the program, Matt Brennan, who ran for State Senate in the 30th State Senate District in 2006 spoke up. Last time, he received a third of the vote, having raised only $2,000. He believed that with public financing this time around, he could win and announced his plans for an exploratory committee.

John McCarthy who is running for State Senate in the 32nd State Senate District was not at the gathering, although he did have material there as well as people working the room on his behalf.

Connie Razza, education and outreach coordinator of 1000 Friends of Connecticut then spoke. 1,000 Friends is an organization committed to smart growth in Connecticut, “preserving, conserving and growing smart”.

Ms. Razza spoke about the need to reform property taxes in Connecticut. Towns in Connecticut are more dependent on property taxes than in any other state in the country. By reforming the property tax structure, towns will be more able to work together to make sure that the growth in Connecticut “serves the economy, the community and the environment.”

Roberta Willis, originally uploaded by Aldon.

State Representative Roberta Willis then took the floor. She spoke about the importance of the new public financing of campaigns. The Connecticut General Assembly was the first legislature to vote in public financing by themselves, instead of being forced by a referendum or other actions. She spoke how the law makes it much easier for people to run for office and hopes that it will encourage more competition in seats that traditionally go unchallenged. Candidates for State Representative need to receive donations from 150 people in towns in their district. Rep. Willis suggested that a low dollar spaghetti dinner is a wonderful way to reach donors and noted the wonderful aspect of grassroots campaign that the new public funding of elections encourages.

Chris Murphy, originally uploaded by Aldon.

This provided a great segue for U.S. Representative Chris Murphy. Rep. Murphy spoke about his victory coming as a result of good old-fashioned grassroots manpower. He spoke about addressing issues like universal health care or protecting our national security by protecting our constitution. These are issues, he said, that we can talk best about when we speak with voters eye to eye.

Mayor Dan Malloy, who has now successfully paid down his campaign debt from 2006, acknowledged the importance of being seen at the Northwest Leadership Breakfast and spoke about perhaps having a chance to run for another statewide office in the future. Yet he also spoke about another important aspect of the breakfast. The energy in the room was palpable and Mayor Malloy spoke about coming to the breakfast to get his batteries recharged.

Ned Lamont at Audrey's, originally uploaded by Aldon.

I was asked to introduce Ned Lamont. Ned needs no introduction, and the breakfast had been going on for quite a while, so I tried to keep my remarks brief. I mentioned how Kim had first met Ned back in 2004 when she was running for State Representative. I spoke about how Gov. Dean had encouraged his supporters to consider running for office, and I repeated that encouragement to everyone in the room. With that, Ned Lamont briefly took the floor.

He spoke about the importance of standing up for what is right and his belief that we will take our country back. With the speeches over, attendees mingled, talked, and tried to encourage each other to run for office. Slowly, the crowds departed, some heading off to hear Rep. Murphy speak at Heritage Village in Southbury, others to enjoy the beautiful day, and some, hopefully, to consider running for office.

It is not clear who will run for which office in the coming years, but it is clear that Connecticut Democrats are blessed with many great potential candidates and it was a wonderful time to hear many of them at the third annual Northwest Leadership Breakfast.

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