Another Tempest In Bysiewicz's Tea Pot

The wonder of it is that anyone is willing to run for public office and serve. That’s my first reaction to the latest scandal to surface in Connecticut politics. I call it “Listgate” because the politician involved has a name that does not lend itself to a cognate jingle.

It turns out that Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz kept a list of who is naughty and nice in her office. There are some 36,000 names on it. Judging by the reaction of state politicians, you would think she’s transforming the sleepy state office into a Connecticut KGB.

First, a confession: I have a soft spot for Susan Bysiewicz. And that soft spot may well be the result of being on her list.

I don’t think I have ever met the Secretary of the State. But from time to time I get a card from her in the mail congratulating me for one thing or another.

The last time I got such a card I marveled. “This woman is a master politico,” I thought. “Imagine the energy and commitment it must take to generate such cards.” I wondered how many she sent in a year. It struck me then, and strikes me still, as an inexpensive way to build goodwill. Call me a 41 cent date.

According to The Hartford Courant, Ms. Bysiewicz has been keeping a list of folks in her office. The State Republican Party Chairman, Chris Healy, calls the list “political intelligence ... paid for by the taxpayers.”

I suppose that is what it is. But this intelligence is not being used to round up people and arrest them for espousing unpopular views, as was done with another list when a free-lance journalist was arrested for taking pictures of the governor at her inaugural parade. That raised troubling constitutional questions. Do similar questions arise here?

The list does contain personal information. The ethnicity of some folks is noted. Political connections are noted. There are notations about people’s medical conditions. I suspect this list consisted of her notes for working the electorate.

The problem is that these notes were subject to the Freedom of Information Act. And now her adversaries have more ammunition to use against her.

One competitor for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General contends that this a shocking violation of “people’s right to privacy.” “No one should be concerned when they seek assistance from the state that their personal information will be publicly displayed. This database ought to be deleted.”

Another candidate for the office of the Attorney General calls the list “a misuse of state resources and taxpayer money. She violated the personal privacy of the citizens who approached her office for help – she owes them an apology.”

The rhetoric is overheated. Not wrong, mind you, just overheated.

It is cynical in the extreme for one politician to out another for keeping demographic lists and notes on potential contributors. Politicians live and die by polls, and they pay small fortunes to others to mine data about potential voters. Bysiewicz is guilty of being a politician; so are the other contenders for the office of Attorney General.

The Secretary of the State did not mine confidential state files for information about contributors. She kept running notes about the people she spoke to. She no doubt planned to use those notes to build her campaign. I suspect I am on that database. It strikes me as quaint, but not offensive.

But she was foolish to keep those notes on a state computer system, thus making them subject to the Freedom of Information Act. It is simply unwise. Better that she had kept a separate computer for her own personal use.

Of course, had she used her own computer folks would accuse her of hiding things and using public time for private affairs: as the line between public and private cannot be so easily drawn for those who give their lives to public service. So, again, I wonder why anyone is willing to run for public office and serve.

This tempest spoils my taste for tea.


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