GovernorM. Jodi Rell (R)
SenatorsChristopher Dodd (D)
Joe Lieberman (I)
- 5 D
- 1 through 5
By many measures, Connecticut is the nation’s highest-income state and quite likely its wealthiest. But it’s also the state with the greatest rate of increase in inequality between rich and poor. It is high on lists of states competitive in the global knowledge economy, yet it has grown achingly slowly and has not enjoyed an appreciable gain in jobs since the recession of 1990-91. Connecticut has drawn freely on its Yankee heritage of inventiveness and openness to technical innovation. Yet at times it seems headed for a comfortable French-style retirement, as hedge-fund managers on their estates in Greenwich savor life untormented by the travails of low-income workers in Stamford and Norwalk.
Connecticut was founded by Puritans who considered Massachusetts too lenient and backsliding. Connecticut Yankees for years were flintier and more unyielding, more tightfisted and set in their ways than other New Englanders. Yet they were also open to certain reforms. In 1784, Connecticut voted for gradual emancipation of the state’s slaves—one of the first societies anywhere to do so. Life here still bears the imprint of the 17th-century settlers, even though most Connecticut residents today are descendants of Catholic immigrants who arrived here between 1840 and 1924. This small chunk of rocky terrain has been an odd duck politically, the last state to back the Federalist Party (in 1816), one of the few to vote to re-elect Herbert Hoover (1932), and one of the last states to impose an income tax (1991).
Connecticut’s affluence came not from any windfall but from a knack for tinkering and making good productive use of savings. George Washington called it the “provision state” for the supplies of food and cannon it provided his Revolutionary War forces. Connecticut made clocks, hats, combs, cigars, silk thread, pins, matches, and furniture. It invented and still manufactures Pez candy in the town of Orange, Nivea cream in Norwalk, the Stanley Powerlock tape measure in New Britain, and the Wiffle Ball in Shelton. The quintessential Connecticut Yankee, Eli Whitney, was the inventor not only of the cotton gin but also of rifles with interchangeable parts. The state has been a major arms maker ever since Samuel Colt won a War Department contract to manufacture guns for the Mexican-American War. During President Reagan’s defense buildup of the 1980s, Connecticut produced Air Force jets and Army helicopters and, in the Electric Boat Shipyard in New London, most of the Navy’s nuclear submarines. These industries, like Connecticut’s civilian manufacturers, depend heavily on meticulous work. For years, the state was the center of the brass industry, the nation’s main producer of precision instruments. Through decades of immigration, its workers never lost the Yankee knack: Connecticut ranks first in patents per capita. Over the years, the state has accumulated capital and invested shrewdly, with great skill at assessing risk. It is the home of several of the nation’s great insurance companies, and its laws are uniquely friendly to creditors and harsh on debtors.
But Connecticut has been finding its success at accumulating wealth hard to sustain. The state has never entirely recovered from the recession of the early 1990s, and has had the slowest rate of job growth of any state since. Its insurance companies were hit by huge casualty losses, and cuts in defense spending cost Connecticut nearly 150,000 manufacturing jobs. Its small central cities—New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport—have been plagued by crime and have lost manufacturing jobs and people. In 1950, the three cities had 500,000 people in a state of 2 million; in 2007, they had 385,000 in a state of 3.5 million. Connecticut’s post-1990 economic growth has been concentrated in two corners of the state, on opposite sides of the invisible divide that separates Yankee fans and Red Sox fans. In the southeast is the state’s biggest employer and taxpayer, the Foxwoods Resort Casino, which opened in 1992 and is run by a battery of lawyers and lobbyists and developers working for the 650-member Mashantucket Pequot tribe. Its big competitor is Mohegan Sun, owned by the 1,600-member Mohegans. In the southwest, Stamford and Greenwich have become major financial services centers and the headquarters of the hedge-fund industry. But both were hard hit by the collapse of the financial markets and the recession that began in 2007. The hedge-fund business shed 10,000 employees in 2008 and was predicted to lose another 20,000 in 2009.
It’s not clear that Connecticut’s top-and-bottom work force, with many highly educated people and many with little education, is poised to spark growth. In recent years, its 18-to-34-year-old population has declined by about 200,000, the third-fastest rate of any state. An influx of immigrants from Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and other parts of Latin America has filled jobs that would otherwise go begging. Hispanics are now 11.2% of the state’s population, slightly higher than African-Americans, at 9.1%. Its state and local taxes are the eighth-highest in the nation. Small-business growth is inhibited by high taxes, heavy regulation, and requirements that health insurance policies cover every imaginable contingency—a comfortable enough situation for those who are well off, but a “Get out” sign to those who want to move up the ladder. Corruption has been widespread. Mayors of Waterbury and Bridgeport were sent to prison, and the Hartford mayor was arrested on bribery charges in January 2009. Republican Gov. John Rowland went to prison in 2005 for corruption. As former Republican state legislator Kevin Rennie wrote, “Affluence, high scholastic scores, and verdant hills have masked an increasingly corrupt political system that thrives on a complacent public and political elite.” The question is whether the achievements of the tinkerers and investors who built this state can be sustained while its new lead industries—gambling and hedge funds—are reeling.
For most of the 20th century, Connecticut politics was an ethnic struggle between Yankee Republicans and Catholic Democrats. Slowly, as Catholic birthrates exceeded Protestants’, Democrats gained ground. Their great leader was John Bailey, state party chairman from 1946-75, a master legislative strategist and ticket-balancer, who was one of the first to endorse John F. Kennedy for president. The central cities and Catholic suburbs voted Democratic, and the WASPy suburbs and rural towns Republican. But those days are gone. In the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, the state’s Protestants voted Democratic and its Catholics voted Republican; secular voters went heavily Democratic. Now, the central cities, heavily black and Latino, remain Democratic and are joined by many high-income suburbs—Greenwich voted for Democrat Barack Obama—while old mill towns in the Naugatuck Valley and eastern Connecticut vote Republican. Similar patterns were apparent in the 2006 Senate contest between Democrat Ned Lamont and independent Joe Lieberman, with many historically Republican areas favoring the more liberal, anti-war Lamont, and historically Democratic areas favoring moderate Lieberman, a former Democrat who became an independent after Lamont beat him in the Democratic primary that year.
Cultural issues have played a role in this. The state whose ban on contraceptives produced the U.S. Supreme Court’s Griswold decision in 1965, the precursor of Roe v. Wade, is now solidly for abortion rights, and its Legislature passed a law in 2005 legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples. Connecticut legislators have also voted for in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants and, after the Rowland scandal, Connecticut became the third state with public financing of state legislative races. Republican Gov. Jodi Rell, who succeeded Rowland, has either approved or acquiesced in these decisions, and has had some of the highest job-approval ratings in the nation.
Rell’s political success has been the exception to the rule that Connecticut has become a mostly Democratic state. All seven of its members of Congress are Democrats, albeit one; Lieberman identifies himself as an “Independent Democrat.” The state’s only remaining GOP House member, Christopher Shays, was defeated in 2008. The Legislature is solidly Democratic, although Democrats lost their veto-proof majority in the Senate in 2008. But Connecticut’s two U.S. senators may be on shaky political ground. Christopher Dodd’s job-approval ratings dropped sharply beginning in 2008 after several controversies, including revelations that he had received a favorable mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial. Lieberman had low job ratings from Democrats, who view him as a traitor for his support of Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest. Dodd faces the voters in 2010, Lieberman in 2012.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
Why does the nation’s highest-income state vote Democratic for president? Because liberal stands on cultural issues have trumped any hunger for tax cuts among most of Connecticut voters and because most of its voters regard themselves as members of ethnic groups with a historic Democratic heritage. The Obama-Biden ticket carried Connecticut 61%-38%, better than Kerry-Edwards’ 54%-44% in 2004 or Gore-Lieberman’s 56%-38% in 2000.
Though it comes fairly early in the calendar, Connecticut’s presidential primary has not been quite early enough to make a great difference. Only registered Democrats or Republicans can vote, and here, as in Massachusetts, large pluralities have not registered to vote in either party. Democrats who have won Connecticut’s primary include Edward Kennedy in 1980, Gary Hart in 1984, and Jerry Brown in 1992. Republican John McCain won in 2000. But they all ultimately fared no better than the Federalists whom Connecticut favored in 1816. Two recent presidential candidates from Connecticut, Lieberman in 2004 and Dodd in 2008, failed to keep their candidacies alive long enough to contest their home state.
In 2008, Connecticut played a greater role, with its primary set for Super Tuesday, February 5. Thanks to Greenwich and the hedge funds, it was vital in the money primary. By the end of 2007, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton raised $2 million and $1.8 million in the state, respectively. Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain raised $1.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively. As the numbers indicate, interest was greater on the Democratic side and, with polls showing a close race, Obama held a rally in Hartford on the day before the primary and Clinton had an event at Yale (she had a rally in Hartford the week before). Democratic turnout was 354,539, far more than the past record of 241,000 in 1988. Obama won 51%-47%. Obama carried central cities and affluent suburbs, African-Americans, and secular voters; Clinton carried ethnic areas and mill towns, Latinos, and Catholics. The Republican primary was less seriously contested and attracted only 151,604 voters, less than the record 178,000 in 2000. McCain won 52% of the vote. Romney, though governor of neighboring Massachusetts for four years, won only 33%.
|111th Congress: 5 D|
Connecticut has devised a bipartisan process for redistricting. Two Republicans and two Democrats from each chamber of the Legislature meet to draw the lines. If their map is approved by a two-thirds vote in both chambers, it becomes law. Otherwise, a ninth member is chosen by the other eight, and they try to reach consensus. The process worked in 1991, when the Legislature approved a plan that made minimal changes in the congressional district lines. And it worked in 2001, with a nudge from the state Supreme Court, when the task was much harder: Connecticut had lost one of its six seats in the 2000 census, and two incumbents had to be put together in one district. Legislators of both parties said they wanted a district that would set up a “fair fight” between a Republican and a Democrat.
The commission decided to create a new seat out of the 5th District represented by Democrat Jim Maloney and the 6th District represented by Republican Nancy Johnson. The narrow and elongated 5th, the only district that bounded all the others, seemed to many the obvious district to eliminate. But the commissioners haggled over precisely what boundaries would set up a fair fight. Maloney wanted to keep the three biggest cities in the 5th in the new district: Danbury, his hometown, Waterbury, and Meriden. But some Republicans tried to put Danbury into the heavily Republican 4th District. Johnson insisted on keeping her hometown of New Britain, even though it is heavily Democratic and she had not always carried it. The eight-member commission failed to come up with a plan by the September 2001 deadline, and it appointed as its tie-breaker former state House Speaker Nelson Brown, a Republican. The commission ultimately agreed to put some 27,000 of Waterbury’s residents into the 3rd District, but otherwise let Maloney keep his three cities. Johnson kept New Britain. Both incumbents said they were satisfied. Johnson ended up winning 54%-43%. But in 2006, she was swept to defeat.
Connecticut is not expected to lose a seat in the reapportionment following the 2010 census, and with all five seats now held by Democrats, redistricting is likely to be much less controversial than it was in 2001.