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Tea Partier Or Constitutional Conservative? Republican Lt. Gov. Candidate Owns Party’s Right Flank

Source: Hartford Courant | July 16th, 2018 | By Neil Vigdor

He once championed a bill to stop the state from requiring the addition of fluoride to the public drinking water supply — unconvinced of the efficacy of the decades-long practice.

He would eliminate the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, open up juvenile court proceedings to the public and establish a state holiday for Ronald Reagan’s Feb. 6 birthday.

And when all public and private universities in the state were required to adhere to a “yes means yes” sexual consent law in 2016, he cast the lone vote against the measure in the state Senate and said it was a government overreach into the bedroom.

Now, this dogmatic conservative could be one heartbeat away from being governor, not of Texas or Indiana, but Connecticut: Joe Markley.

The veteran state senator from Southington is a clear favorite to win the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor next month in a three-way primary after nabbing the party’s endorsement at its May convention.

Markley was asked Wednesday night why he wants the job during a constituent town hall, where he apologetically arrived 25 minutes late and left a half-hour early in between political stops.

“I want to elect a Republican and I want to hold him to our principles,” Markley said of a potential partnership with one of the five GOP candidates for governor.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle termed Markley, 61, who returned to the Senate in 2011 after a 24-year hiatus, as an affable and bright colleague.

But Democrats and more traditional moderate Republicans say that the right wing agenda of the Amherst College and Columbia University-educated Markley does not comport with the views of most voters in blue Connecticut.

“He was the tea party before the tea party was fashionable,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a Democrat from Norwalk. “Heck of a nice guy. We get along fine personally. We just don’t agree on much.”

Bob MacGuffie, a tea party stalwart from Fairfield, said the Republican base knows that Markley won’t sell out.

“He’s a constitutional conservative,” MacGuffie said. “I think he’d be a very steady oar in the water for the state. He’s a realist. He calls it as it is all the time.”

The lieutenant governor of Connecticut wields tremendous power, especially when it comes to breaking ties in the state Senate, where the No. 2 officeholder serves as president of the chamber.

“Once upon a time, it was the deciding vote on the passage of the state income tax,” Markley told about 35 constituents Wednesday night at the Southington Municipal Center.

That vote was cast in 1992 by Eunice Groark, the lieutenant governor of Lowell Weicker Jr.

Groark, who died in May, also cast the pivotal tie-breaking vote in an assault weapons ban supported by Weicker

State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven, said those were two of the most important tie-breaking votes in state history.

Last summer, the current lieutenant governor, Democrat Nancy Wyman, exercised the tie-breaker to push a controversial state employee union concessions package through the legislature on a party-line vote. The deal is expected to save the state $1.5 billion over the next two fiscal years, but was uniformly criticized by Republicans for its no-layoff guarantee for the next four years.

So how does Looney feel about Markley commanding tie-breaking powers should he become lieutenant governor?

“I think he’s pretty much in line with the national Republican Party on most issues,” Looney said. “Obviously, I’m hoping the Democrats win the election so we don’t have to deal with that.”

There are no scheduled debates in GOP primary race for lieutenant governor, which pits Markley against two women, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.

“This election in November, it can’t be an ideological election,” Stevenson said. “What we need are people who have a demonstrated ability to build consensus. Those are the kind of people we need right now in state government, not people who stand on some kind of political ideology.”

Stevenson said the fiscal crisis of the state should be the focus of Republicans.

“Some of those [other] things are likely feel-goods [to] score points with the party folks,” she said.

Stewart said Markley’s vote against the “yes means yes” college sexual consent standard and his push to eliminate the state’s human rights commission were disturbing.

“Does he know what year he’s living in?” Stewart said. “You’re talking about an office that was established to protect those who are feeling discriminated against, for whatever reason it may be.”

Stewart said Republicans have to be pragmatic looking toward the general election.

“Oftentimes, what you find is that those that vote in primaries are extremist,” she said. “Republicans are outnumbered substantially in the state of Connecticut. If we don’t put candidates forward that can appeal beyond our Republican base, it’s going to be very difficult for them to be successful in November.”

In contrast to many statewide candidates, Markley does not send out media advisories on his campaign appearances and did not respond to a request for his schedule.

Approached on his way out of his constituent town hall, he said a campaign spokesman would call to follow up, which he did not.

There are GOP moderates backing Markley, such as Edward Dadakis, a Republican State Central Committee member from Greenwich.

“I like that he’s conservative on fiscal policy and I’m not a big fan of legislating social policy,” Dadakis said. “Joe is extremely conservative. He knows how our state government works, particularly our legislature, and would be an asset to any governor to put forward their agenda in the legislature.”

In 2015, Markley ran for state GOP chairman, but withdrew after finishing third on the first ballot to J.R. Romano, and Easton’s John Pavia. Some say Markley’s withdrawal tipped the contest to Romano, who was re-elected in 2017.

“Joe comes across as a Puritan Abraham Lincoln, but he’ll cut your throat in a New York minute,” said Joe Visconti, a 2014 gubernatorial candidate and tea party compatriot of Markley.

Visconti said that Markley is “smart as a whip,” but that Republicans need gender balance on the ticket. He’s supporting Stevenson.

“I believe he’ll sink the ticket, whatever it is,” he said of Markley.

Markley’s pro-life positions — he introduced a parental notification bill for minors seeking to have an abortion and led the fight against doctor-assisted suicide legislation — have ingratiated him to groups such as the Family Institute of Connecticut.

“I know we think very highly of him,” said Christina Bennett, a spokeswoman for the group. “He’s been supportive of our causes regarding pregnancy centers. I’m pretty sure that he’s someone that we would be giving an endorsement to.”

Looney said his philosophical differences with Markley aren’t limited to social issues.

He said Markley was a vociferous opponent of a nearly $450 million state investment in the Jackson Labs genetic research center. Looney characterized the project, which is expected to create 7,400 jobs over the next two decades at UConn Health in Farmington, as a win for the state.

He also said Markley is also on the wrong side of the Hartford-to-New Britain busway, which the Republican senator has panned as a boondoggle.

“I think that’s also proven to be a success,” Looney said.

Markley, who has taught high school and college English classes and looks the bespectacled part of a professor with his neatly trimmed beard and mustache, spent part of his brief town hall appearance maligning the state budget.

“It committed us to paying off the debt of Hartford,” Markley said of the estimated $550 million bailout that many of his GOP colleagues approved. “Terrible mistake.”

Duff, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said that Markley’s introduction of a 2013 bill seeking to let cities and towns decide whether to fluorinate public drinking water systems was a glaring example of Markley’s radical ideology.

It coincided with a national defluorination movement by the John Birch Society, a Cold War-era anti-government advocacy organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. Markley brought a prominent chemist associated with the group to testify against the longstanding practice. The bill failed to gain traction.

At the time, Markley said that he wanted to start a dialogue about the health risks of putting fluoride in the drinking water, which he read had been connected to the brittleness of bones and other conditions.

Two male constituents at the Southington forum, one in a Cabela’s T-shirt and the other in a Connecticut Citizens Defense League T-shirt, were among those listening intently to the conservative doctrine.

The conversation eventually turned to Connecticut joining a compact, which once it gets enough states to reach 270 electoral votes, would award the state’s seven electoral votes based on the national popular vote. It came about after the election of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

“We are blessed with an election system that is respected,” said Markley, who opposed the measure. “I wouldn’t change a system that has worked so well for us.”

*Original article online at http://www.courant.com/politics/elections/hc-pol-markley-ultra-conservative-20180709-story.html