This is likely my final defense of Connecticut’s senior Senator, Joe Lieberman, who will retire upon his term’s conclusion in 2013. Senator Lieberman has been consistently a stand-up person and a strong advocate of a twentieth-century Democratic, progressive agenda. When Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont challenged Senator Lieberman in a 2006 primary over almost singularly the Iraq War, Senator Lieberman had a career voting record of more than 92 percent with the Democratic Party. Senator Lieberman lost the primary by a narrow margin and went on to run as an independent (Connecticut for Lieberman Party) in the general election, where he won in a blowout.
For years, the Nutmeg State’s grumpiest have chastised Senator Lieberman for ignoring the primary results and running in the general election as an independent. This is testament to one thing, and more-or-less one thing only: primary elections do not always reflect the views of the citizenry. Polarization dominates primaries, and in order for primaries to serve an effective, truly democratic role in elections, they must be open. Registered independents should have the right to vote in a primary election of their choices so that their voices are heard. This is so vital because primaries are as important, if not more so, than general elections. When unaffiliated voters can cast only one ballot and affiliated voters can cast multiple, both the relative individual influence on government by registered independents and the equality of assembly power amongst independents and non-independents are reduced dramatically, impeding true democracy. Had there been open primaries in Connecticut, the country’s most Independent state, in 2006, Joe Lieberman likely would have fared far better in the Democratic Primary. Senator Lieberman realized this and took his case to his entire constituency, not just the Democratic portion of it, and was sent back to Congress. Those who suggested Senator Lieberman should have joined the Republican Caucus were wrong because Joe Lieberman voted like a Democrat more than 92 percent of the time. Senator Lieberman fit the Democratic Caucus mold (he fit it far better than certain other incumbent members who receive little opposition). Senator Lieberman has campaigned for Democrats, including hosting fundraisers for Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010. Senator Lieberman is, and will be remembered as, a Democrat.
However, Senator Lieberman is a moderate – a pragmatic-minded, non-ideological Democrat – and his successor needs to be too. I wrote recently about former Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker, a strong, economic-minded potential Republican candidate for Senate. In recent days a second moderate Republican who typifies to large extent the Lieberman mantra has emerged as a possible Republican nominee: retired 21-year Representative Christopher Shays.
Christopher Shays was the last Republican standing in New England before losing to Greenwich businessman Jim Himes by four percent in 2008. After leaving office, Shays became co-chairman of the Commission on Wartime Contracting. Shays sold his waterfront home in Bridgeport (interestingly to David M. Walker) and bought a home in Maryland and a smaller condominium in Bridgeport. Shays’ record of public service and his strong political abilities make him a potential force in a 2012 primary matchup against Linda McMahon, and then against Rep. Chris Murphy in a general election.
According to Congressional Quarterly, Christopher Shays had 67 percent party unity in 2007, versus Joe Lieberman’s 81 percent. That year, Representatives John Larson and Rosa DeLauro, both senior Connecticut members of Congress, had 99 percent party unity. Between 1987 and 2007 Shays’ party unity was often in the fifties and never higher than 80 percent, testament to his pragmatic nature and willingness to cross party lines. Moreover, in 2007 Congressman Shays’ presidential support (the percentage of votes aligned with incumbent George W. Bush) was at 33 percent – lower than Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama. In 2007 Congressman Shays was ranked as 48 percent liberal and 52 percent conservative in the National Journal’s liberal/conservative political continuum.
While his replacement played a fundamental role in economic recovery legislation, Christopher Shays had a strong foreign policy mind. Shays went to Iraq and/or Afghanistan 21 times during his 21 years in Congress. Shays brought tens-of-millions of dollars into his district as a senior member of the Republican Caucus. He advocated for a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment, PAYGO and sequestration restoration, and discretionary budget caps. Shays committed to supporting extensions of the Bush Tax Cuts (which might be more beneficial to the southwestern parts of CT-4 than to any other area in the country), in favor of which Congressman Himes ultimately voted.
Along with Congressman James Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, Shays introduced the American Health Benefits Program Act, which sought to use the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program as a model to provide health insurance to all Americans. Shays supported two and opposed four Iraq War timelines. Shays supported five of the six Democratic “Six for ’06 Agenda” items, including the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Implementation Act, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, the Energy Independence and Security Act, and the College Cost Reduction Act.
Christopher Shays has a record of independent, bipartisan and effective leadership, and the Nutmeg State would benefit greatly from his return to public service. Shays, like Mr. Walker, is similarly pragmatic to Joe Lieberman, and equally as committed to the people of Connecticut. Congressman Shays will likely need to make a final decision whether to be a candidate for Senate, which entails many complicated questions, by approximately the end of this month. I hope he runs.