For months last year, state Republicans fought hard to gain the top spot on the election ballot in an expensive legal struggle.
The Connecticut Supreme Court finally ruled in their favor in a unanimous decision and placed Republicans on the top line for last November’s election.
Now, having lost in court, the Democrats who control the legislature voted Wednesday, on a party line vote at the committee level, to change the law back to their original interpretation. Republicans were outraged.
“First, the Democrats ignored the law. Then when they got caught, they fought the law,” House Republican leader Larry Cafero said in a statement. “Now, having lost 7-0 in the State Supreme Court, they want to change the law. They dismissed our arguments as frivolous, and now they want to alter the system we have lived by for years because they can. It is total arrogance.’’
The state’s highest court said the state’s top elections official, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, had been wrong to rule that the Democrats belonged on the top line after the election of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2010. That came under the state’s complicated election law.
Malloy won the governor’s race, but he did it with votes on both the Democratic and Working Families ballot lines in the state’s closest gubernatorial contest in more than 50 years. Republican Tom Foley won more votes on the Republican line than Malloy did on the Democratic line — prompting the court to rule that Republicans should have the top ballot line through the next gubernatorial election in 2014.
The Democratic bill would allow the party of the overall winner – Malloy – to be the top line on the ballot.
The immediate result last year was that Republicans Mitt Romney, Linda McMahon, Andrew Roraback and all GOP legislative candidates were on the top line for their races on Nov. 6. Despite their top line, all of those on the statewide and regional level - Romney, McMahon, Roraback and four other Congressional candidates across the state – lost.
Sen. Ed Meyer, a Democrat who serves as the vice chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said the committee was attempting to make sure that Connecticut law is the same as New York’s law.
In 1994, Republican George Pataki was elected governor in New York by defeating incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo. But Pataki won only after the votes of the Republican and Conservative Party lines were added together. As a Democrat, Cuomo captured more votes on his line than Pataki did on the Republican line, but the Democrats kept the top line on the ballot for the next four years.
Regarding Cafero’s viewpoint, Meyer said, “I don’t blame him for it. That’s exactly what he should be arguing. I’m not going to be critical of Representative Cafero for that argument.”
He added, “I’m fully prepared that if Tom Foley wins for governor next year, with the help of the Independent Party, the Republicans should be on Row A.”
On Wednesday, Cafero said, “This is yet another example of the downsides of one-party rule in Connecticut. When the rules are not to your liking, regardless of precedence or procedure, the Democrats can simply change them.”
Proloy K. Das, a Hartford attorney who argued the case for the Republicans, said at the time of the court ruling that: ”We thought we belonged on top as a matter of law.”
While both Republicans and Democrats had said it was unclear how the top line would affect the results, both major political parties were jockeying for any possible advantage in the elections.
Democrats harshly criticized the Republicans for filing the civil lawsuit, saying it was frivolous. Malloy ripped the lawsuit during a conference call from China with reporters last year, saying: “For a party that complains about the use of courts, the Republicans in our state have decided to utilize it as much as possible.”
Former Chief State’s Attorney Austin McGuigan, representing the state Republican Party, rejected Democrats’ complaints that the Republicans were wasting the court’s time.
“I will say,” McGuigan said at the time, ”for a frivolous argument, we did OK.”
The court’s brief order was as follows:
“The court responds to the reserved questions and the jurisdictional questions on which it ordered supplemental briefs as follows:
(1) Did the plaintiff, the Republican Party of Connecticut, have an available administrative remedy in the present case? Yes.
(2) If so, did the plaintiff exhaust the administrative remedy? Yes.
(3) Is the complaint barred by sovereign immunity? No.
(4) Does General Statutes § 9-249a require that the Republican Party’s candidates for office be placed on the first line of the ballots for the November 6, 2012 election? Yes.”