Political party heads face off at SHU
Published 1:10 am, Friday, October 30, 2009
The state Democrat and Republican chairmen, Nancy DiNardo and Chris Healy, respectively, visited an American Government class at Sacred Heart University Monday morning. They had been invited by adjunct instructor Chris DeSanctis to share their experiences in this election season.
"On a local level, you can really get involved in the process and it can be a lot of fun," said DiNardo. But if one is planning to have a career in politics, is planning on being out in the forefront, DiNardo said it helps to have a thick skin.
"I think it is so essential to get active on some level so you understand how politics applies to real life," said Healy. Whether attending a rally or going door-to-door talking to voters, "It`s a great form of interaction and you get vested and rooted in your community."
Healy added that his oldest friends, most of them, have come from his involvement in politics. He also noted you find out who your true friends are from a campaign.
Political parties pull together disparate groups of people that will support their principles, he said, adding that the role of a party chairman is to try to "promote our principles, our ideas," as well to encourage and support people to run for office.
DiNardo said she, in her role as Democratic chairman, has to travel around the state supporting town committees with training and the like.
DiNardo and Healy talked about everything from last year`s presidential election to Connecticut`s economy, to having to adapt when it comes to trying to get voters to the polls to vote for them. They used to make calls on slow-dialing rotary phones. Now they`re using Facebook and Twitter to get their messages to the masses.
"You can have all the tools but you have to have something to say," said Healy. Sen. John McCain, in part, lost the election to Barack Obama because he didn`t take advantage of social networking sites like Pres. Barack Obama, Healy surmised.
"When I got to the party we had no Internet capability," the 52-year-old said.
DiNardo said the older generation of politician is slower in getting involved in the new media. Obama, under 50, embraced it. However, it was really Howard Dean who first took advantage of the Internet, she said. -- Obama took Dean`s lead and ran with it.
"Barack had a lot of insight to have a lot of young people on his staff," said DiNardo, who added that more people between 18 and 35 voted in last year`s election than did people in their 60s and older.
"More young people came out than ever before," she said.
DeSanctis asked the party chairmen why they chose being a Democrat over a Republican and vice versa.
Healy said there`s an old joke that you start out as a liberal Democrat and then, as you get older and have children you become a Republican. He encouraged the students to figure it out for themselves what political party they want to be affiliated with.
"Read a lot," he said.
DiNardo said she tends to say that the Democratic party is the "party of the people," and she believes that all politics is cyclical.
Healy told the students as they get older to think about the impact they want to make in the world and the freedoms they want to enjoy.
DiNardo pointed out that politics is cyclical: Before Obama, George W. Bush, a Republican, ran the White House. Before him, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, ran things. Before Clinton, there was another Bush.
"The best thing to happen to the Democratic Party, after Barack Obama, was George Bush," said DiNardo. "McCain could have been the best candidate in the world but because of George Bush he wasn`t going to get elected."
Politicians today, said Healy, operate in a world where news is constant. It used to be people got their paper at the door, went to work, then didn`t get any more information in the day until they got home from work and turned on the television. Those days are long gone.
"We`re in a 24/7 information age," said Healy. "It makes things more volatile but also more exciting as well."
When the topic of health care reform was brought up by a student, Healy and DiNardo had different views.
Healy said the Democratic plan "would put the government in a role it shouldn`t be in, as a competitor to private insurance."
DiNardo said the purpose of having the public option is to make insurance companies more competitive in keeping the costs down.
She noted when costs are lowered, people are more inclined to visit a general practitioner and get treated sooner for various things sooner rather than when it`s too late.
For example, when Massachusetts had public health, she said, the number of people that went to a general practitioner went up dramatically and diabetes was discovered early, cancer was diagnosed early.
"[Public health] saved people`s lives," said DiNardo.
Asked how it felt to be the first woman to hold the title of Connecticut Democratic party chairman. She said she was often the "only female in the room" when she served as the first female town chairman in Trumbull. She was also the first Italian state Democratic chair.
"I think everyone before me was Irish," she joked.
Relaying an anecdote, she said she once received a phone call from former President Bill Clinton to endorse his wife in a bid for the presidency. She told him she couldn`t do it. Her reason was that she wanted both candidates to feel that they could have access to the state party without feeling that this was compromised because she endorsed one candidate over the other.
"I just felt the whole process was important and that`s why I stayed out of it," she said.
On the issue of the state`s economy, Healy said there have been no net job increases in the last 10 years.
"That`s not good for any of you that want to stay in Connecticut," he said, adding that many college graduates from this state are seeking careers outside the borders of Connecticut because there`s no jobs here.
"That`s not good. We need you here," he said before purposefully pointing out that the legislature has been "controlled by the Democrats" in all but a few years over the last 30.
DiNardo said Connecticut ranks 50th in producing jobs and added the Nutmeg State needs more "modern jobs," such as in biotechnology.
The state also needs an active governor who will reach out to businesses to come to Connecticut, according to DiNardo.
In analyzing the hour the party chairmen spent with his students DeSanctis said, "My students have a better understanding of why political parties are important to our democracy. Parties help field candidates, prepare them, and work to keep the process as civil as possible, among other responsibilities. It was a great example of that civility having two high ranking members from both major parties in Connecticut, in the same room, sharing their experiences and differing viewpoints."