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Committee Approves Bill To Give Democrats Top Billing In 2014

by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 27, 2013 3:30pm
(8) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Election 2014, Election Policy

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Sen. Anthony Musto

Lawmakers continued to squabble over which political party gets top billing on election ballots Wednesday when a legislative committee passed a bill that would reverse a Supreme Court decision.

Last September, the state’s high court ordered that Republicans be given “Line A” on election ballots, despite the fact that the sitting governor, Dannel P. Malloy, is a Democrat.

By state law, the top line on ballots goes to the political party whose candidate received the most votes in the most recent gubernatorial election.

In 2010, Malloy won a close election against Republican Tom Foley. However, Malloy’s votes were split between the Democratic line and the Working Families Party’s line. Foley’s name only appeared on the Republican ballot line. And although Malloy was elected, when the votes were totaled, more voters had cast ballots on the Republican line than on the Democratic line.

In 2011, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill gave top billing to Democrats since their candidate occupied the governor’s mansion, but Republicans challenged her in 2012 and the Supreme Court agreed.

On Wednesday, the Government Administration and Elections Committee passed a bill that would change the law so that the political party the governor was a member of at the time of the election gets top billing, rather than the party that gets the most votes.

Republicans on the committee objected to the bill. Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, cited the Supreme Court’s decision and called the legislation an abuse of power.

“When this lawsuit was brought, the Democrat Party tried to fight it. So first they tried to thwart the law. Then they fought the law. Now after they lost, this represents an attempt to change the law,” he said. “The bill represents an abuse of the majority party’s power.”

Democrats didn’t accuse the court of interpreting the law incorrectly, they just said they wanted to change the law to reflect its original intent.

According to Sen. Anthony Musto, the committee’s co-chairman, everyone always assumed the governor’s party got the top line, at least until 2010’s unusually close election highlighted the language of the statute.

“Frankly, every time I’ve been elected to office it’s been on Line B. It doesn’t really matter to me but some people think it’s important and we’re trying to make the law consistent with what people thought it was and what it’s effectively been since the law was passed,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo The committee’s ranking Republicans insisted Democrats were just trying to change the rules because they didn’t like the Supreme Court decision.

“What I’m hearing right now is, ‘We’re not liking the rules so we’re going to go change it,’” Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said.

Sen. Michael McLachlan agreed.

“That’s what’s going on,” he said. “As long as everybody is clear that’s what’s going on, I’ll vote ‘No.’ I suppose some others might vote ‘No.’ Chances are, nobody in the majority party will vote ‘No,’ but let’s move on.”

Musto pushed back, saying the General Assembly changes laws in response to court cases “all the time.”

“The law is the law until the legislature decides differently unless it’s a constitutional concern, which this is not,” he said.

Musto said he personally agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to give Republicans the top line on ballot last year because of the way the law was written. But he did not think that was the intent of the law.

The committee’s passage of the bill prompted a statement from House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero, who accused Democrats of altering the rules because they could.

“It is total arrogance,” he said.

The bill passed the committee on an 8-5 vote and heads to the House for further action.

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(8) Comments

posted by: CitizenCT | March 27, 2013  5:33pm

Our state has a budget deficit, a lousy business climate, high unemployment and needs to make difficult decisions if new legislation would help prevent another Newtown tragedy.  Sadly the Dems priority is how to get back the top line on the ballot.  How pathetic.

posted by: Lawrence | March 27, 2013  7:35pm

That SC decision was based on questionable statutory language, even to lawyers on both sides of the issue.

Now it will be clarified to comport with the intent of the law when it was written, when there were two parties in CT, and not a slew of cross-endorsements.

Abuse of power, or practical and reasonable response to a new-found legal foible?

posted by: Joe Eversole | March 27, 2013  7:55pm

This is an easy fix. Add an amendment that states candidates may only run under on party line.  That way Republicans could start winning some races.  Since the WFP, the Green Party and The Dems would split their votes.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | March 27, 2013  9:36pm

Geez and I thought the democrats liked to be fair to everyone. How about letting the republicans be on top for a change?

posted by: Noteworthy | March 28, 2013  2:50am

This is rich. Don’t like the law? Hey, change it so that it reflects your own best interests. No conflict of interest here. Now I see why they bellyached so much when Foley laid it out for them. This is their version of conflict free legislation and governing.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | March 28, 2013  7:24am

I think next we debate the virtues of the state song and whether or not we should replace it with “Fat Bottom Girls.”

HST

posted by: dano860 | March 28, 2013  7:58am

CitizenCT is spot on.
When will we see them take up real cuts in the budget? When will they go after the real waste that pervades the offices and operations on a daily basis?
As far as putting the Dems on top or even on the back, CT is so blue the Dems would still get the votes…even if they passed a Cyprus tax (40%) on income.

posted by: jimoco | March 28, 2013  10:20am

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the statute meant exactly what it said.  There was no ambiguity whatsoever.  The Secretary of the State ruled incorrectly and cost the State and the Republican Party significant dollars. 
This is a prime example of the arrogance of power that characterizes the one party rule of the Democratic Party.  I would like to see Sen.  Williams, Rep. Sharkey and chairperson DiNardo vote against this bill or renounce it.