The governor did right by refusing to house immigrant child refugees—in the view of a campaign challenger from the Tea Party movement.
The challenger, Joe Visconti, said if he were the governor, he, too, would have turned down a federal request to house 2,000 children in Connecticut who had crossed the southern U.S. border. (Click here to read about that.)
Visconti wants to become Connecticut’s governor. He said he has collected well more than enough signatures needed to have his new placed on the November ballot as an independent.
Visconti, who’s 57, made his comment about the governor during a wide-ranging interview in New Haven—the cradle of the state’s immigrant-rights movement, and as alien territory as you’ll find in Connecticut for the right-wing Tea Party movement, which he helped found in the state. He drank espresso, not tea, at the interview, which took place at Woodlands Cafe in Sherman’s Alley.
Visconti made other comments that ran against New Haven’s political mainstream, arguing that, despite conventional wisdom, his brand of politics—including a call to abolish the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) as well as opposition to the state’s recent minimum wage hike and gun control law—can sell in this liberal college town.
“We need to take the cities back,” Visconti declared during the interview.
And, he said, “When I’m on the ballot, Connecticut will have a real Republican to vote for.”
“Give Him A Few Months”
Connecticut will have a Republican listed on the November ballot: either moderate Republican John McKinney (read his interview with the Independent here) or hard-to-define Republican Tom Foley, depending which one wins the Aug. 12 primary. Visconti (pictured), a former Republican West Hartford councilman who runs a family construction company, decided to run as an independent, he said, to promote views more along the lines of the Republican national platform.
That includes a harder line on immigration than that advanced by the Republican candidates. Those candidates criticized Malloy recently when he turned down the federal request to house thousands of violence-fleeing child refugees at the old Southbury Training School.
New Haveners took to the streets to criticize Malloy, too. The city is the heart of the state’s immigrant-rights movement; it pioneered an immigrant-friendly ID card, defied a federal “Secure Communities” effort and ordered police not to ask about people’s immigration status unless it’s absolutely germane to a stop.
Visconti knows that story well. As one of the leaders of the state’s then-nascent Tea Party movement, he took to City Hall steps to announce a lawsuit aimed at stopping the introduction of the ID card. (The card took effect anyway.)
“Do you want to follow the Constitution and the force of law? Or do you want to bend your law to your own feel-good” preferences? Visconti said in reference to embracing immigrants. “We have to treat them human. We have to bring them back to their country of origin.”
“We cannot take everyone off the street and give them everything from the taxpayer right now,” he said.
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has generally supported the immigrant-rights movement in the state. Visconti said that while he agrees with the governor’s recent decision on declining to accept the 2,000 children, he doesn’t see the governor converting to the Tea Party’s position in general. “Dan Malloy would never do that” if he weren’t facing a tough reelection fight, Visconti argued. “Give him a few more months. He’ll change his mind.”
Not so Visconti. He said he continues to believe New Haven’s embrace of immigrants has hurt the city. He was asked about proponents’ arguments that the policy has helped the city, attracting hard-working people who pay taxes but don’t receive social services because of their immigration status. “We don’t know all that,” Visconti responded. (Click on the video at the top of the story for more of that conversation.)
Visconti’s grandparents moved to the U.S. from Italy. He grew up in Hartford’s South End—until his junior year in high school, when he said, his parents to move the family to West Hartford in the face of racial tensions and urban violence.
He was asked about the difference between America’s embrace of immigrants in his grandparents’ day and his opposition to immigration today.
“The cost of education, the cost of health services, the cost of cash assistance, the cost of social security—they didn’t have those costs then,” Visconti said.
Right Meets Left
As the governor’s race takes shape, it has featured a near-convergence at times between left and right. Visconti has found common cause in a few cases with Jonathan Pelto, the other independent candidate petitioning his way onto the ballot, challenging Democrat Malloy from the left.
Both, for instance, oppose the governor’s support of Common Core testing standards in state public schools. Pelto focuses on the complaints of teachers about losing autonomy and freedom to rigid, counterproductive high-stakes testing. Visconti, like Tea Party activists nationwide, attacks Common Core as “a costly social experiment to federalize education at the expense of your children’s education and future.” But like Pelto he also criticizes the removal of teacher autonomy; he called Common Core an intrusion into a cherished teacher-student relationship, as he also criticizes the intrusion of health insurers and Obamacare into the doctor-patient relationship. (He does not, however, call for shutting down Connecticut’s Obamacare exchange; he proposes a “train them & retain them” program to keep doctors in the state.)
The overlapping of establishment-challenging agendas mirrors what at least one observer, former state Comptroller Bill Curry—who ran for governor the last time the state had a four-way race, in 1994—called a possible emerging left-right populism in America. (Click here to read Curry’s article about that in Salon.) Assuming their petitions are certified, Visconti and Pelto will offer voters a livelier campaign, at least when it comes to debating issues.
Underlying the potential Tea Party-liberal populism Curry envisions is a joint critique of corporate power, of a dominance of both the Democratic and republican Parties by “the 1-percent.” In this campaign, Visconti and Pelto both distance themselves form the establishment candidates on that issue, in different ways. Pelto has called for raising the income tax rate for top earners. Visconti said he opposes income or sales tax hikes. Instead, he said, he would look at possibly raising corporate taxes “as a last resort”—not on small businesses, but on the largest conglomerates. Aetna, for instance, “is huge,” he said. “They’re not going anywhere.”
Right Vs. Left
On numerous issues, as with immigration, Visconti stakes ground far removed from popular liberal New Haven territory.
For instance, Visconti said, he would have voted against the recent minimum wage hike, to $10.10 an hour by 2017.
“Not in a recession,” he said.
Visconti said he opposes two separate efforts at the state Capitol to ensure greater PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) grants to cities that, like New Haven, have extensive tax-exempt not-for-profit-owned properties. One of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, John McKinney, said in an Independent interview that he would consider greater guaranteed PILOT payments to cities like New Haven.
Visconti said he would phase out PILOT, which reimburses cities for revenues lost on tax-exempt properties, altogether.
“The cities have to be weaned off state money,” he said.
Instead, the state should help revive main neighborhood commercial arteries in Connecticut’s cities as a way to bring back suburban shoppers, he said. (Click here for a story about Mayor Toni Harp’s efforts to do that in New Haven.) Right now, he said, “different ethnic groups” dominate those strips; suburbanites won’t “drive in” as long as they’re “afraid,” he said.
“These main arteries look like war zones.”
“I love the ethnic flavor of the city,” he said. But to thrive economically, the cities need to “bring in Caucasian-Americans,” too. “how do you bring standardized stores from Manchester that are not Third World shopping? You have the Jamaican [stores in Hartford]. But they don’t go to the average person who would never live in Hartfrord.” Cities need their share of Ace Hardware outlets, for instance, to build their base, he argued.
Visconti said he would hold off any state grants to specific neighborhood projects—like, say, an expected $15 million in bonding to rebuild New Haven’s Dixwell Community “Q” House —pending the development of that broader plan for reviving commercial. districts.
One of Visconti’s signature issue is guns. If elected, he said, he would repeal the gun-control law that passed last year in the wake of the Newtown massacre. The law instituted universal background checks and banned sales of AR-15-style rifles and large-capacity magazines.
Visconti was asked why New Haven voters, who elect devoutly pro-gun-control politicians, would support that stand.
He responded by posing a question to New Haven voters: “Has the crime and the gun violence slowed with these new laws? How can you stop guns and drugs when they [undocumented immigrants] came here” across the border?”
“You are never,” Visconti reasoned, “going to take guns out of America.”