Sue Bysiewicz July 17th 2011 Part I of a Two Part Interview
Former Connecticut Secretary of the State Sue Bysiewicz spoke by phone with Hartford Government Examiner for an hour or more on Sunday morning July 17th to discuss her campaign to succeed Joe Lieberman in the U. S. Senate come November 6th, 2012—election day. Before that she has a primary date with two-term member of Congress Chris Murphy. Sue represented the 100thDistrict in the General Assembly from 1992 to 1999, before winning her first state-wide office as Secretary of the State in the 1998 election. Despite Republican gubernatorial wins at the top of the ticket, because of her performance in office and her ability to raise relevant issues in the position, Sue has been a consistent popular figure among Democratic, Republican and independent voters, winning re-election in each successive term in these state-wide Secretary of the State races. She handed over the office to current SOTS Denise Merrill in January 2011. In total she served the state as Secretary from January 1999 to January 2011, twelve years total. I’ve spoken with Ms. Bysiewicz on two prior occasions by phone, and I’ve found her to be accessible, responsive and personable. She is eminently available considering her family and professional commitments, this is unbelievably refreshing in any candidate for public office today, let alone a viable contestant for an office such as the U.S. Senate. Other candidates in such positions have not been nearly as accessible, and this most certainly is not the case with Susan Bysiewicz. Arranging the conversation was easily handled, I’ve had direct communications with her campaign volunteers and staff, including her manager and it’s been a delight every step of the way.
“Oh I loved Ella Grasso.”
My first question was about former Connecticut Governor Ella Grasso. Bysiewicz is the author of Ella: A Biography of Governor Ella Grasso (1984, The Connecticut Consortium for Law and Citizenship Education, Inc.) and she responded: “Oh I loved Ella Grasso. She would be very familiar with what our state is going through right now, because she faced very similar circumstances when she came into public office. She was elected in 1974 to a lot of fanfare because she was the first woman governor elected in her own right…. She came in at a time when her predecessor, Governor Meskill, had left her a very large deficit, and she had to deal with it. One of the things she had to face was how she was going to put the house back in order. It wasn’t easy, as I recall she had to cut the state work week back from 40 hours to 35. The state employees of course were not very happy with that…. She insisted that her [own personal gubernatorial] detail drive economy cars. She was a child of the depression like my parents… and we were used to being very frugal and she had that. I think the thing that made her the right person for the job was that she was very frugal, simple accountability, living within the means of the state. By the way, she was not a supporter of the income tax. She was a very tough lady in tough times, but she was also someone who was very, very compassionate, she understood what people were going through, she related to people all around the state—you could put her in Litchfield and she could meet with the League of Women Voters’ in Litchfield or Greenwich—she would be equally comfortable visiting Italian ladies [at a coat factory in] Middletown, she was a people person.”
Her book was actually a senior undergraduate thesis, and we traded some personal stories of Ms. Grasso, who died at 61 years of age (having fallen ill and decided not to run for re-election and dying just 36 days after leaving the Governorship on February 5th, 1981) to cancer, and just this past week I received a copy of Ms. Bysiewicz’ biography of the former governor in the mail, along with a note expressing her fondness for her memories of the late Governor and our common memories. Thanks so much Sue.
On the recent changes in National Security personnel at the White House, she spoke of a recent book she’d read detailing four General officers, speaking of changes in warfare in recent times. She spoke lovingly of her octogenarian WW II Army Air Corps veteran father and her work with WW II and Korean War veterans. She spoke of the fact that their numbers are decreasing rapidly due to aging and that she cherishes the time she gets to spend with the veterans of the wars earlier in the last century and we once again traded stories of my own Dad, a Sergeant in the Army Air Corps, Alfred J. Alexander, who was a parachute rigger supervisor in Italy while Sue’s father was flying missions to Yugoslavia and Germany based out of the same area. She specifically spoke of her fondness for appearances at and with vets of these two wars, as well as all vets, and spent a great deal of time speaking with fervor, passion and affection for these individuals.
“I’ve said we should bring all of our troops home, we’ve accomplished our mission.”
In those wars she said, basically those uniforms identified the nationality of the combatants. And while there were sea and air operations, there was a heavy emphasis on ground troops. With most of the ground fighting, post-Pearl Harbor, happening in Europe and Asia, if you could tell who the enemy was it was a different style of fighting, similar to Korea. In Vietnam, things changed were what Ms. Bysiewicz expressed. It was ‘very, very difficult to tell who the enemy was.’ In her reading, Sue said she’s read of General David Petraeus’ commentaries of the difficulties involved in the Mideast warfare of the past decade, not knowing who the enemy was. She was quick to point out that “We’ve had more than 20,000 people from Connecticut serve there and depending on where you are you don’t know if you’re going to come up on an IED or unfriendly fire and it is to the point where Secretary Gates (now former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates) said that any President who wanted to send our ground troops into the Middle East…” ought to consider carefully and that we need to refocus our strategy on Special Forces, “I think the successful bringing of Osama Bin-Laden to justice really highlights that.” She continued “I’ve said we should bring all of our troops home, we’ve accomplished our mission.” She called for troop reductions in Afghanistan before President Obama announced his reductions in the “surge” recently, and was careful, yet obviously, committed in her views on this most delicate of subjects.
People “seem frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency about getting our young people home.”
“We are now losing more young people to deaths due to suicide than deaths in combat in the Middle East”
“We are now losing more young people to deaths due to suicide than deaths in combat in the Middle East” Ms. Bysiewicz interjected with passionate feeling at this point and followed up by emailing a day later an op-ed piece from the NY Times which I re-publish here in its entirety, because it is worth the brief read. The sad statistics for in-theater U.S. uniformed servicemen and women for 2008 are that 347 were officially recorded dead by combat and 381 died as a result of suicide.
“In California between 2001 and 2009, more than a thousand people who had done more than one or more tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan committed suicide once they got home,” she said. “So having heard some of these statistics, it seems to me, especially after a Federal Court’s ruling that the V.A. – that treatment of those with PTSD the judge found those efforts ‘woefully lacking and inadequate’ and I can tell you that I’ve heard from the families of young people in the state and that they are very, very concerned about Post Traumatic Stress and suicide.” She shared a heartbreaking story, with sensitivity and without revealing t
he identities involved, which I won’t reproduce here at her request, and given my own judgment as well. We spoke a bit of President Obama’s obligation to speak with the families of fatal victims of our overseas wars in our uniforms, and I wondered what happens in cases of suicide. I am unaware of how these situations are handled by the Administration.
She spoke of the much larger number of returning women veterans from the current wars, and she said “The V.A. is not set up to deal with women’s illnesses. So I’ve met women who have returned and haven’t been able to get the kind of care that they need. So this is another reason why I am so very passionate about seeing to it that our veterans are taken care of… I can tell you I spent time in 2008, 2009 and up through 2010 holding recognition ceremonies for WW II and Korean War veterans. I did that because we are losing 40 WW II, veterans and John Kerry has a statistic that 1500 WW II veterans every day, probably less now because we’ve lost so many. Being the daughter of a WW II veteran, after I heard that, I thought we should do something special to say thank you to people. So I’ve spent time meeting with thousands of World War Two veterans and it turns out many WW II veterans also served in Korea.”
She returned to the topic of the current wars to say “With $1 Trillion that we’ve spent on the war, there is all of that undocumented money in Afghanistan… There are so many more productive things that we could be doing. And now we have over 9% unemployment so I think that we need to refocus on policies that will create job creation and bring our young people home so that we can have more resources to do that.” She spoke of her own daughters with passion and how youthful they seem at this point and reminded me, in many ways, that our WW II veteran relatives were their age when they were in harm’s way.
“This is a simple question. Social Security is off the table and so is Medicare.”
This is a two-parter. We discussed domestic policy, Social Security, deficit and more. I’ve been under the weather frequently and delayed and waylaid in getting this first installment out. I also want to give her comments the time and attention they deserve as well as the profundity of the issues at hand in the coming election. At the end of our conversation I made it clear to Sue Bysiewicz that she would have my vote for U.S. Senate next year, for what that may be worth. Before the November 6th election, she still has that primary date with two-term member of Congress Chris Murphy, who was actually a resident of Southington before he saw an opportunity to defeat vulnerable incumbent Nancy Johnson and moved to Cheshire to qualify as a candidate for Congress in the 5th District. Sue had genuine residency in her hometown of Middletown (and still does) when she represented the 100th District in the General Assembly from 1992 to 1999, before winning her first state-wide office as Secretary of the State in the 1998 election. Despite Republican gubernatorial wins at the top of the ticket, because of her performance in office and her ability to raise relevant issues in the position, Sue has been a consistent popular figure among Democratic, Republican and independent voters, winning re-election in each successive term in these state-wide Secretary of the State races. She handed over the office to current SOTS Denise Merrill in January 2011. In total she served the state as Secretary of the State from January 1999 to January 2011, twelve years total. Mr. Murphy’s experience beyond his State Legislative district is 4 years representing a district of which he’s not a native. And his record has been undistinguished by any remarkable accomplishments in his brief tenure. He’s not due for a promotion after two not-so-stellar terms. Ms. Bysiewicz is ready for Prime Time and then some.
Her thoughtfulness and command of war and peace issues were impressive, genuine and heartfelt; not at all the knee-jerk opinions I hear so often from pundits and politicians. She’s clearly done her research, understands and has reasons for her deep-rooted feelings on issues of national security. And she is right on these issues for Connecticut and for the teens and tweens who fight our wars on behalf of the staff in the Pentagon.
The day after our conversation, Sue was reflective of our talk, and thorough as I’ve learned that she is, she had her Campaign Manager highlight the following from our discussion of Social Security and the current Debt Ceiling negotiations:
“This is a simple question. Social Security is off the table and so is Medicare. If we want to balance the budget we can do so by ending the war in Afghanistan safely and immediately. In addition we would likely have the money we need to fund all of these programs had we not cut taxes twice while waging multiple wars. We should end the Bush tax cuts to ensure that vital programs can be funded and that we can restore fiscal discipline.”
The Campaign Manager is Jonathan Ducote, and I was impressed with a series of emails I received following our talk, but upon receiving this one highlighting her stand on Social Security and Medicare as well as Afghanistan I had to fire one back right away to Jonathan, I wrote:
“Thanks Jonathan, and thanks to Sue again, she’s an awesome and endlessly energetic woman. I should have half her stamina! I am very appreciative of her concern and this is a great quote to accentuate, and indicates her clear priorities.”
Examiner: We Need THE Woman Who Wrote THE Book On Ella Grasso In The U.S. Senate For Connecticut
We are absolutely certain that Connecticut needs the woman who wrote the book (the only Ella bio ever published I was surprised to learn recently—omg is that a book needing to be written after decades have passed, now that we can truly appreciate her accomplishments so wonderfully highlighted by Sue in 1984) on the best governor in Connecticut history, Ella T. Grasso, back in statewide office and we have a chance to send her to that old boy’s club on the Senate side, where she would be particularly effective, not just yet another Chris Murphy.
For the record, nice matters as well. She is eager and strong, yet understanding, caring and nice. I can see her within the Beltway at the Capitol disarming other members of the Senate with her simple ability to express what she means, mean what she says but to not say it in any mean manner whatsoever. Effectiveness within the U.S. Senate would be refreshing for this Connecticut resident for a change. Chris Dodd had some impact during his last lame-duck term but even he could not run again given his own personal mistakes, and now Joe Lieberman will retire. That’s good for Connecticut at this point. Dick Blumenthal is a freshman, next year we’ll send another freshman to the Senate. For Connecticut and for the nation, Sue is the right woman. Just as Sue Bysiewicz said of former Governor Ella Grasso, I apply her own words to her in endorsing her. If the words seem familiar, look at paragraph number three of this article, and I now say of her what she so admiringly said of Connecticut’s best friend in my lifetime, Ella:
“She [is] a very tough lady in tough times, but she [is] also someone who [is] very, very compassionate, she under[stands] what people [are] going through, she relate[s] to people all around the state—you could put her in Litchfield and she could meet with the League of Women Voters’ in Litchfield or Greenwich—she would be equally comfortable visiting Italian ladies [at a coat factory in] Middletown, she [is] a people person.”
The Hartford Government Examiner unreservedly and enthusiastically endorses former Secretary of the State Susan Bysewicz of Middletown, Connecticut for the U.S. Senate and encourage all Democrats to support her bid for the nomination, through donations, active involvement, signing up for email alerts and exercising all of your Constitutional ri
ghts on behalf of her candidacy and following her nomination to sweep her and Barack Obama into office on November 6th, 2012! A second article will follow reviewing our talk of domestic issues primarily. The link to the Sue Bysiewicz for Senate campaign is:
New York Times Editorial
The War Away From the Battlefields
Published: July 22, 2010
Suicide stalks the United States military as much as enemies do on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the latest grim data. Last year, 347 military personnel were killed in the two wars, while at least 381 warriors took their own lives. The double-edged tragedy was brought home in recent Congressional hearings that laid bare how much must be done to reach and comfort battle-weary soldiers near the edge of their resources.
Care and prevention programs have been upgraded as the suicide toll has risen across the two wars, with suicide attempts increasing sixfold in the Army, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But currently tens of thousands of reservists return home from battle and fall through the cracks of programs supposedly mandating psychological and physical examinations within 90 days, concerned lawmakers are warning.
Legislation to repair this damage for members of the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve — a category that does not enjoy the unit-based care of other reservists — is again on the Congressional agenda. As vital as this is, the measure was approved by both houses last year but then was struck in a final conference for supposed budgetary reasons, according to one of the sponsors, Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey. A constituent, Sgt. Coleman Bean, was a unit-free reservist who did two tours in Iraq and committed suicide while on a waiting list for post-traumatic stress disorder care.
Considering the two wars were declared and waged with scant attention to their full costs, lawmakers add insult to injury by invoking budget concerns for the traumatic needs of actual warriors. The provision, approved again by the House in the defense authorization bill, deserves final approval in the Senate. An estimated 40,000 reservists miss the mandated check-ups, according to Representative Holt, who told CQ Today the bulk of military suicides may come from these overlooked ranks.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on July 23, 2010, on page A22 of the New York edition…