Private Citizen / 'Crowbar' Bulkeley's storied history as governor
Published 7:29 pm, Thursday, December 9, 2010
Morgan G. "Crowbar" Bulkeley served two terms as governor of Connecticut, from 1889 to 1893. He was only elected to one of them. In fact, for the second term, his name was not even on the ballot.
Mr. Bulkeley was a citizen of distinction. He owned a baseball team, the Hartford Dark Blues, and became the first president of the National League in 1876. He was a four-term mayor of Hartford (1880-88), and later served a term in the U.S. Senate (1905-11). Throughout, for 43 years, he was also the president of Aetna Life Insurance.
His first gubernatorial election was relatively uneventful. In the 1888 presidential election, the Republican, Benjamin Harrison, defeated the Democrat, Grover Cleveland, who had gotten more popular votes. Harrison, however, got more votes in the Electoral College, including Connecticut's five. In Connecticut`s gubernatorial election that year, Bulkeley defeated the Democrat Luzon Morris, who had also gotten more votes. However, since neither candidate had the necessary majority of the votes, the General Assembly had a free hand in certifying the results, and both houses certified Bulkeley the winner. The term he was elected to began in January 1889, and should have expired two years later.
Gov. Bulkeley did not run for re-election in 1890. Morris did run, as did an opponent whose name is lost to history, and again the count was close. Naturally, there were ballot irregularities in -- you guessed it -- Bridgeport. This time, however, a different party controlled each of the two houses of the state Legislature, and they would not agree in certifying a winner. Bulkeley, the outgoing incumbent, decided he had best continue in office until his successor was duly certified. The state comptroller disagreed, and changed the locks on the governor's office. Gov. Bulkeley called for a crowbar, and served for another two years.
No election like this one would be complete without a court case, and the result was State ex rel. Morris v. Bulkeley, 61 Conn. 287 (1892). The Supreme Court of Errors, as it was called at the time, was appropriately reluctant to get involved at all in a dispute that really concerned only the other two branches of government. The court observed, in passing, that "the unpleasant suggestion contained in the [legal] briefs that either house is acting from partisan motives can find no place in the mind of this court." The court concluded that it did not have the power to declare Morris the winner, since only the Legislature could do that, but it also decided that if Morris was not entitled to assume the office, then Bulkeley was therefore entitled to retain it. An equivalent conclusion to Bush v. Gore would have resulted in Bill Clinton remaining president.
I counted three lawsuits in this election season. The first one was by Susan Bysiewicz, a candidate for attorney general, to establish that she was qualified to hold the office. The Superior Court agreed that she was (as did I), but the Connecticut Supreme Court disagreed, suddenly and unanimously. The second was Tom Foley's suit against Dan Malloy, over whether public financing of a gubernatorial campaign was legal and constitutional; it is. And the third was Martha Dean's suit against George Jepsen, over whether he was qualified to be attorney general, in light of the decision in the Bysiewicz case. The suit could not be decided by election time, and was dismissed as moot. Mr. Jepsen will be the next attorney general. The dog that did not bark in the nighttime, however, was the complete absence of litigation over the outcome of the election for governor. For this, Mr. Foley deserves full credit.
We dined out last weekend, and the conversation turned to the ballot irregularities in - you guessed it - Bridgeport. The new voting machines are one of the consequences of Bush v. Gore and the Florida recounts. They work by scanning the paper ballots, which must be of a very particular thickness and are printed on both sides. There is an expense to printing them on the special paper, and photocopying them onto regular paper doesn't really work. (The thinner paper would probably jam, and any candidates on the back of the ballot would lose out.) Add a stingy estimate of the number of ballots required (the city is chronically short of money), stir in a presidential rally to get out the vote (which worked handsomely) and voila: chaos!
I am sure there will be legislation, perhaps specifying exactly the number of ballots to be provided. And where there is legislation, there will be litigation: consider that the three cases this year were about determining what the legislation meant. But when judges decide the outcomes of elections, the result can be unsettling. One must admire Tom Foley, and Crowbar Bulkeley, each in his own way, for sparing us that.
James H. Lee's "Private Citizen" runs regularly in the Fairfield Citizen.