August 3, 2009 | last updated May 26, 2012 8:11 am
POLITICAL PERSUASION

Finance Reform Makes LeBeau Run Possible

When people ask me whether I can meet a deadline, get the lawn cut before it rains, meet them for coffee or lunch — I respond with the same hopeful expression: "This is America, anything is possible."

This must be the thought running through the mind of veteran state Sen. Gary LeBeau as he announced the formation of an exploratory committee for governor in July. The East Hartford Democrat, who has been in the legislature since 1991, is an unlikely candidate. He has never been known as a show horse or a leader among leaders as is often the case with politicians who aspire to higher office.

Instead he has been quiet and steady, interested in his own issues, toiling away in a workmanlike fashion on behalf of his constituents. As far I can tell he has no unusually large network of friends and supporters, but neither does he have a long list of enemies.

His decision to run for governor seems rooted in the basic belief that hard work pays off and in a time of growing dissatisfaction with government, we need something more than someone who looks the part. No one who has spent almost 20 years at the Capitol can be blind to the fact that common sense rarely prevails in politics, but it is easy to imagine someone like LeBeau deciding it is worth a shot. What if a simple, middle-class school teacher from East Hartford were allowed to run the state for four years? How would things be different?

LeBeau's candidacy may also be rooted in hardcore political realism. It may be the first manifestation of public campaign financing in a statewide race. In the old world of money and campaigns, LeBeau would have no chance in 2010 against Democratic frontrunners Dan Malloy and Susan Bysiewicz. They are better known, have run statewide before and, as a result, they have networks of supporters and financial backers in place.

Under the new public financing scheme, LeBeau only has to raise $250,000 to have access to the same funding as the more seasoned candidates. If he can win enough support at the party convention to qualify for a primary, he would be on a level playing field in terms of cash. He might still need to hold a 3-iron in the air for lightning to strike, but the dreamer in LeBeau must figure there's nothing to lose.

Former House Speaker Jim Amann is still clinging to the same dream. Even though he has been badly outpaced on the fundraising side and it is difficult to find a pulse on his campaign, he insists in media interviews that the rules are different now and there's plenty of time for him to qualify for the matching funds that he will then use to dispatch Malloy and Bysiewicz.

Yes, all this talk of Mr. Smith goes to Hartford scenarios is na´ve, but at the very least, it demonstrates how public financing can attract unconventional candidates.

The other wild card worth watching is Ned Lamont. He has a well demonstrated willingness to spend his own money on politics and might decide to get into the race while foregoing public financing. He has organized supporters who are eager to use the machine they built to defeat Joe Lieberman in the 2006 senate primary. To paraphrase Rod Blagojevich, "they've got this thing — and it's worth something."

For Malloy and Bysiewicz, there are unexpected but navigable bumps in the road, like LeBeau, and then there are major obstacles like Lamont who can build his own road.

Dean Pagani is a former gubernatorial advisor. He is vice president of public affairs for Cashman and Katz Integrated Communications in Glastonbury.

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