Connecticut AG: Can Bysiewicz Win?

For people who have been following the story closely this may be old news, but it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that no ...
by | April 16, 2010
 

For people who have been following the story closely this may be old news, but it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that no one has made an unforced error this cycle quite like Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. She could have been governor if she hadn't tried for a much more difficult office for her to win: state attorney general.

After Republican Gov. Jodi Rell announced she wasn't running for another term and after incumbent Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (the most popular Democrat in the state) announced he wasn't running for governor, Bysiewicz (also a Democrat) was the frontrunner to become Connecticut's top executive. She was the only statewide officeholder running.

But, as it turned out Bysiewicz didn't really want to be governor. From most accounts, she wants to be a U.S. senator. So, of course, it made perfect sense for her to run for state attorney general instead.

The key event was when U.S. Sen Chris Dodd announced he wasn't seeking another term this year. Blumenthal announced he was running for Dodd's seat and he quickly united Democrats behind him.

Nonetheless, Dodd's retirement and Blumenthal's campaign created a chance for Bysiewicz to run for Senate. Bluementhal long had been expected to challenge erstwhile Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2012. Now, Blumenthal was out of the picture. That presented Bysiewicz with an opportunity -- perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if Dodd and Lieberman's decades in office are any guide -- to win a Senate seat in 2012 as the Democratic candidate in a Democratic state against a badly bruised incumbent.

Clearly, Bysiewicz couldn't run for governor in 2010 if she wanted to run for Senate in 2012. She'd have to announce her campaign for Senate something like a year into her term. If she did that, it would have been clear that she never was interested in serving as chief executive.

To me, she had two options for what to do this year. One would have been to run for a fourth term as secretary of state. She likely would have won easily. Only partisan Republicans would have begruded her for then trying for the Senate in 2012 after 14 years on the job.

She also could have not sought any office this year. While that might have taken her out of the public eye to some extent, she'd still have been someone who had won statewide office three times. Plus, if she'd telegraphed that she was interested in the Senate race no one would have forgotten her.

But, Bysiewicz didn't choose either of those options. Instead, she's running for attorney general. The big problem with that is that there is a debate as to whether she's legally qualified to run, one that boils down to whether or not she has been practicing law.

Even if she wins in court, she faces big perception problems. First, even if she's legally eligible to run, the case against her has raised questions about whether she really is qualified for the job. I can see an argument that a conventional law practice isn't necessary experience or even the best experience to serve as a modern attorney general. Still, that's a tough case to make to the general public.

The bigger problem is that the whole episode raises a big question: Why does she want to be attorney general? She'll be pressed on whether she's just using the office to keep her name in the news until her Senate bid. She could solve that by pledging to serve a full term as AG, but, of course, then  shecouldn't run for Senate. And, if she doesn't care about running for Senate, why isn't she running for governor? Bysiewicz has real competition for the Democratic nomination for AG. I won't be surprised if she loses.

The contrarian part of me wonders whether Bysiewicz would be better off losing the court case. Sure, it would be embarrassing to not be allowed to run for office. But, she could claim that her political opponents denied her an opportunity to serve because of a legal technicality. That scenario would be less damaging than running a race for attorney general and losing.

What's more, getting knocked off the ballot would give her a second chance to do what she should have done from the beginning: Focus full-time on the Senate race, rather than serving as a temporary employee in one the most important jobs in state government.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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