Chris Donovan says he’ll back jobs bill, defends union ties on WNPR
Chris Donovan and Ralph Nader
By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter
Asked about a bipartisan jobs bill he’s been widely credited with killing in retaliation for the state Senate refusing to pass his proposed minimum wage increase, Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan instead blamed Republicans Monday.
Appearing on WNPR’s “Where We Live” program, Donovan also responded to a surprise phone call from Winsted native, consumer activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader by agreeing with Nader’s call for a $10 federal minimum wage.
It was part of a series of hour-long interviews WNPR is conducting with candidates for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat.
Donovan also defended his strong ties to organized labor, and denied that his campaign intentionally arranged for delegates to switch their support to Dan Roberti at the Democratic State Convention to assure a three-way primary in August, thus splitting the “anti-Donovan” vote between Roberti and Elizabeth Esty.
“That’s not true. I don’t know where that came from,” Donovan said. “I was not part of that at all.”
Republicans “talked too much,” Donovan said, as this year’s legislative session wound down, and that’s why the House wasn’t able to get to the jobs bill that passed that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. Republicans’ desire to debate other issues “ran out the clock,” he said.
He plans to support the jobs bill in an upcoming special legislative session. And although he intends to push hard to revive the minimum wage increase that lacked sufficient votes in the Senate, when pressed by host John Dankosky, Donovan said he’d support the jobs bill regardless.
“During the past legislative session, Speaker Donovan’s stubborn stance on the minimum wage stymied an important initiative that would have jump-started job creation in the state,” Roberti said.
“(Senate President) Don (Williams) and I agree on pretty much everything. We were both trying to get bills passed,” Donovan said. “I support the jobs bill. … I think it’s important to keep talking about the minimum wage bill.”
Donovan’s bill would increase the minimum wage 25 cents this year and 25 cents next year, from its current rate of $8.25 an hour. That’s down from his original proposal to increase it by $1.50 over two years.
Nader called in to the program to push Donovan even further on the minimum wage. He said that if it had been tied to inflation, the federal minimum wage would be $10 by now, not $7.25 an hour. Opinion polls and individual politicians from both parties support the concept of tying it to inflation, Nader said, so why has the Democratic Party been so reluctant to push the issue?
Donovan agreed with Nader’s call for a $10 an hour federal minimum wage and said he’d fight for it if elected to Congress.
Donovan said there are 106,000 people in Connecticut getting by on minimum wage, and many of them lack adequate health care, too. He said that Walmart is the single biggest user of Connecticut’s HUSKY health insurance program for low-income families because it doesn’t provide health insurance for a big segment of workers.
Asked by Dankosky about his longstanding ties to labor unions, and employment as a union organizer, Donovan said that it shouldn’t define him.
“I support labor. Labor supports me. That doesn’t see the whole Chris Donovan. There’s a lot more to me than that,” he said.
Donovan said that labor is “among my supporters,” but that the funding of his campaign comes “hardly at all” from labor unions.
Questioned on that statement later in the interview, Donovan stumbled a bit when Dankosky pointed out the large amount of Political Action Committee donations he’d received, with most of them associated with organized labor.
Donovan said that his labor ties won’t hurt him with independent voters, and that labor issues can be mainstream issues.
“Who doesn’t want decent wages and health care?” he said.
On the question of foreign policy, Donovan said he supports withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan faster than President Obama’s timeline.
Asked how a candidate with no foreign policy educates himself about such issues, Donovan said he “reads a lot, listens to WNPR and reads the New York Times” and is approaching foreign policy experts.