Ep. 3 - Tom Dudchik, CT Capitol Report
Tom Dudchik, a former state representative who currently runs the popular news aggregation site CT Capitol Report – and the host of the television program “Capitol Report” that airs on WTNH every Sunday at 10:00 AM – joins Brett to discuss everything from his upbringing, to who would likely win in a cage match between Global Strategy Group’s Roy Ochiogrosso and Republican strategist Chris Healy, to the upcoming Politics & Pints event that he’s co-sponsoring with the Campaign for Tomorrow’s Jobs on Monday, September 25, 2017.
Here's the full-text transcript:
Brett Broesder: Welcome to the Tomorrow's Jobs podcast. I'm your host Brett Broesder. Our guest today probably needs no introduction to folks who are in tune with the Connecticut political scene. His headlines and choice of photos bring frustration and-
Tom Dudchik: Joy to many people's lives, I'd like to think Brett.
Brett Broesder: Exactly. Definitely. At least to mine. There are many elected officials and politicos who may think otherwise day to day, but regardless they all have a ton of respect and read CT Capitol Report and are huge fans of Tom Dudchik, as am I. Thanks, Tom, for being on the show today.
Tom Dudchik: I'm glad to be here. I'm glad we have fans that read the website and hopefully more and more are watching the TV property Sunday mornings at 10 o'clock on WTNH where in a very spirited way we kick around the issues of the day and have some fun too, as you know.
Brett Broesder: Excellent. Definitely. So, Tom, actually let's start out by telling me a little bit about your show coming back onto the air.
Tom Dudchik: Yeah. So, it was on for three years at Fox Connecticut and got unceremoniously canceled after a great three-year run. Our show was nominated for two Emmy's over the course of three years, and we haven't won one yet but we're determined this time around. When I started the show, seemingly years ago, I had this business model for having a different kind of political television program in the sense that a television program around local politics is kind of boring, for lack of a better word. It was kind of born out of that federal communication, the FCC's, what they call “must carry” rules way back in the '60s and the '50s where to have your license you had to have a certain amount of your programming devoted to "public service" in the public service.
So, every Sunday morning they put these programs together, which would be like the local anchor guy with two potted plants, a couple ferns, right, a backdrop, and it was like you and Blumenthal. You would ask him a question and he'd tell you what he wants and after the whole half an hour was over, no one felt that they were any more knowledgeable of what the hell was going on. Because when you took the politicians, they're scripted. They ask you, "Brett, I noticed that that's a lovely blue shirt you have on right now. Can you tell me about your blue shirt?" "Well, Tom, interesting you mentioned my blue shirt. I was talking about blue because blue is the color of the ocean. There's a serious issue that we're dealing with now with regards to climate change." So all of a sudden, you got from that's a lovely blue shirt you have, where did you get that because maybe I want to buy it, to a discussion of climate change. It's rare that the announcer, the moderator would say, "Well, Senator Blumenthal, that's not exactly what I was trying to get you to comment on my blue shirt."
And so, I decided that as local television grows up and as national television grows up, look there are entire networks that are monetized by politics. Whether it's Morning Joe or whether it's Fox and Friends, whether it's Hannity, whether it's Chris Cuomo's show on CNN in the morning, networks entire programming days all they talk about is politics seemingly ad nauseam. But on the local level, there just was never an interesting program where people would sit around, insiders on both sides of the party on my program on Sunday mornings. I'm kind of the lead guy. I have Chris Healy, my friend who's a Republican. He's state party Chairman, been there forever. Jodi Latina, who worked for Chris Healy in the Senate. Now she is Chief of Staff to Republican mayor Erin Stewart. Those are my two Republicans. Very knowledgeable, have been around for a gazillion years.
On my Democrat side, Roy Occhiogrosso, who was a chief policy guy for Dan Malloy, one of the original Malloyalists. Helped got Malloy elected, and now he's a consultant for a global strategy group. Then the other Democrat is my tip of the hat to the millennials out there Jennifer Schneider, who's the Communications Director for 1199. She's my lefty liberal on the panel.
They're all great. They all like each other. They all respect each other, but they mix it up. That's, I think, what you want in politics. You want to see fierce competition. At the end of the day, you want to know that the people on the panel are probably around Two Roads Brewery, where we are right now, having a pint.
Brett Broesder: Which is great. The cast of characters you got on the show is great. How did you go about getting that group together?
Tom Dudchik: Well, television is a warm medium. You have to watch a television program and you have to like the people that you're on. You have to respect them. You have to know that they're fighting each other, but you have to know that they do deep down like themselves and enjoy each other's company. When I look at Roy who agrees with nothing Chris Healy says, but they genuinely like each other and they respect each other. The same with Jenn, the same with Jodi Latina. You have to have that panel where the audience has to look at them and say “geez, I hate Chris” or “geez, I hate Roy,” if you're a Democrat or a Republican, but at the end of the day everyone's laughing at each other and they go, "You know what, I bet they like each other."
You never want to get into a situation on television where, like we all have, we've been at a bar or restaurant and there's a couple at a table next to you and they're married and they are obviously in a huge marital fight and they're arguing each other and it's just so uncomfortable and all you want to do is get the check and get the hell out of there. So, if you get to the point on TV where you the audience realizes that it's a bit uncomfortable and you change the channel because you have a lot of options out there.
So, we set up a program where it's kind of fun and we just break conventional rules. This last program, which we just taped, at one point Chris Healy was saying something that Roy wanted no part of and he's literally banging his head on the set. He's banging his head on the desk where my director is gleefully getting the reaction of Roy's head on the table banging it as Chris Healy says, "Oh, okay, Roy. Why don't you bang your head on something else?" That's what we want. We want that kind of give and take, that raw politics, that I think is really what drives the political process today.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. So, let’s take a step back for a minute. Tell me a little bit about your upbringing and where you grew up.
Tom Dudchik: Born and raised in the Naugatuck Valley, just a few exits up route 8. Went to Ansonia High School. Graduated '77. For the next three decades, I tried to get out of college. First, started in Washington DC working for, at that point, Senator Weicker. Working my way up through low level intern pond scum opening mail in the mail room and eventually becoming staff and ended up running for a local office in Ansonia. Ran a few campaigns for mayor there, elected some Republicans. I'm a Republican, that's what I served as. In the legislature from '84 to '86. A few short years in the Connecticut General Assembly, which thankfully people still remember my time up there. Then when Weicker became governor, I was Deputy Commissioner of the DEEP for two years. Then finished out my career as Deputy Chief of Staff for two years. So, it's been a lot of fun in politics.
Brett Broesder: Wow.
Tom Dudchik: Yeah.
Brett Broesder: What are your thoughts when looking at it from federal government versus state government? What did you like better? What areas of it did you like better?
Tom Dudchik: Well, I would encourage anybody who wants to get involved in politics to go and start their career in Washington D.C., at whatever level you do. That's the major leagues. If you've been at Capitol Hill and you've worked for a Congressman or a Senator and you've gotten bitten by that Potomac fever, just like sitting outside on a warm night on Capitol Hill and looking at the Capitol dome, its grandeur or sitting out in Lafayette Square sitting on a park bench in front of the White House and just thinking about the grandeur of American politics. Not to get too corny about it, but a lot of that is true. If you're in Washington and you're on a street or you're in a sidewalk bar having a pint of local craft brew oh and there's Marine One. There's the president's helicopter is coming over from just landing on everything ellipse. It's a real cool place to cut your teeth in politics and instill in you that the awe factor in politics. It's what drives people as they say Hollywood for ugly guys. Politics, not the movie business.
Brett Broesder: So, you went from federal to state?
Tom Dudchik: To state, yeah. Because now you want to get elected to something so you run for state representative, you run for mayor or first election. I think that when you look at the democratic stranglehold in Connecticut politics on the federal level, we have all five seats in Congress, we have both United States senators, there's no Republicans in there. So, where that hinders the Republican party in the state of Connecticut is there is no farm team. There's no young kids going down to work for a Republican member of the House and serving as an intern or serving on staff and getting that sense of wonder and awe of public policy and politics and wow this is great. Now, I want to go home, much like I did, and run for local office. Then climb the political ladder.
Now people who are Republicans, they'll either work for Themis Klarides in the House of Representatives or they'll work for Len Fasano or they'll work for a member George Logan in the 17th in the Senate and you'll have interns. But as great as that is, you can't compare to being in Washington D.C. and being with everyone on Capitol Hill who shares your dreams and wants to climb the political ladder and wants to be a better staffer than you and just really feel the sense of awe and wonderment about politics.
Brett Broesder: Are your folks political?
Tom Dudchik: My mom and dad, my father passed away, my mother is in politics. I mean, she's worked as a town committee member and a poll worker for as long as I've known. So there's always been a, they hadn't served in office, they haven't served on boards and commissions, but certainly they've instilled in me the public service, the importance of politics, and the importance of being part of something. As I raise my kids, we have, as you can imagine, fierce arguments at the dining room table about the issues of the day. My kids are very well informed about all the issues of the day because it's important. You have to understand. You have to be a participant.
When one of my kids comes to me with a very liberal viewpoint or a very conservative viewpoint, I try to automatically take the other side of the issue and say, "Well, as fervently as you believe about that, there are people who are as fervently in their beliefs and what they believe as what you believe." So that's important to take the other side and let them understand how you may like that person in school and he or she may believe entirely different than you. You may scratch your head and go, "How could you believe that?" But they do. They're looking at you and going, "How can you believe that?" But you do. At some point, we have to figure out how we get to the middle ground and respecting each other's opinions and still disagreeing fervently.
Brett Broesder: On that note, how do you see the legislature as different today than it was when you were up there?
Tom Dudchik: Oh, I think politics is different today. I mean, by a magnitude of 1,000 just based on social media. In the old days, you'd be able to, when I say the old days 1984 when I was in the legislature, you could and we would routinely go out to drinks and go to dinner with other members of the parties. We weren't looked upon as Republican. We wouldn't look upon our Democratic colleagues as the bad guys. No. We would fight tooth and nail with them. We would offer killer amendments on budget days to make them vote against motherhood and apple pie and cast horrible, horrible budget votes. So, running for the next election we could say, "Representative Brett Broesder voted against feeding dogs [00:13:00] and kittens and closing shelters." Of course, that was just an amendment that you had to vote against because you had to have party discipline and when the budget votes come, everyone votes together.
But nowadays, I mean, I think a lot of people just don't like the other party. I think it's a lot of if you look at the comments on Facebook and you look at some of the Twitter comments when people say something, I mean, it is really a different kind of animal out there.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. What do you think is the biggest contributing factor to that?
Tom Dudchik: Well, I think social media has a great deal to do with it, because in the old days if you were sitting on Board of ... I don't know what Stratford has, I think Stratford has Aldermen?
Brett Broesder: I think Councilmen or Aldermen. Yeah.
Tom Dudchik: Yeah. Represent at town meeting. You would go there and you would have to be super involved in politics to go sit in a Board of Aldermen meeting. Right?
Brett Broesder: Yeah.
Tom Dudchik: You would have to read the newspaper the next day and maybe, if you were really super pissed off, write a letter to the editor. Which you would mail, if you found the stamps. Then you would wait for them to receive it and open it with a letter opener. They would look at it and read it. Then they would put it in type and put it in the newspaper, right, with your name there. Right?
Brett Broesder: Yeah.
Tom Dudchik: So, you have to be super, super engaged and really, really pissed off about something, a playground that is going to be put in your neighborhood right by your house that you don't want little kids hanging around, so you have to be super, super pissed. Nowadays, you probably can watch the Stratford Board of Aldermen meetings online, either live or certainly taped. Then you can go on their Facebook page and you can have a comment and call every member of the board terrible, horrible things with total impunity and you can do it anonymously.
So, it's become a point where the access to the process, which is good, drives people out because now you're sitting there and you're reading these comments, and sometimes extremely poisonous comments, and you're going, “why do I need this?” There's a trend across Connecticut, there's a bunch of articles in the Hartford Courant and the New London Day about people just not running for office anymore. They cite social media. They cite nasty comments. They cite the ability for them to do what they think is the Lord's work and just basically good public service on strap hangers or as Malloy would say people in the cheap seats who are basically picking fights with you and sitting on their butts at home and not doing anything.
Brett Broesder: Yeah, which is crazy. I mean, talking to a number of people, and you talk to several more people than I do, but just the laundry list of folks who are in elected office and upset…
Tom Dudchik: Yeah. Well, see, as interest in politics grows, and as we talked about earlier, people are watching at 7 by 24 on cable news networks. They're talking about it more. They're engaged more on Twitter. They're engaged more on Facebook. We're seeing more political ads. More people are being involved in commenting on the political process, but yet when called to actually serve it's like, “oh well, no, I don't want to do that.” You know?
Brett Broesder: Yeah.
Tom Dudchik: Personally, you couldn't pay me enough to be on a Zoning Board or in the Wetlands Commission, a Board of Aldermen meeting, because the amount of time you take. That's why I always say, when there's a referendum in my town, East Haddam, Connecticut, a small little town, and I know the Finance Board has done their work and voted on a budget, for some reason in town it does to referendum. Now, I always vote for the referendum, because I say to myself, "Well, it occurs to me that it wasn't me giving up my evenings to sit in these Finance Board meetings and go through all the numbers of Public Works Department and Board of Education.” So, these talented men and women who give up their time away from their families on weeknights to do this hard work, who am I to say, “Well guess what? I think I'm not going for that?"
So, I think that's also part of the problem, too. A lot of these decisions are kicked back to the voters who automatically vote no on a lot of these things because it's certainly easier to say no to something than to present positive solutions to the myriad of problems that we have in 2017 in our towns and in our state, which is why it's tough to come to a budget.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. Well, so on that note, in reading about you launching Capitol Report, I know you had mentioned that a piece of it was that where you live reading the New London Day, somebody in Hartford, the fragmentation of the media markets and Connecticut being very parochial seemed to be the catalyst for it.
Tom Dudchik: Right. So that's the print property. Ctcapitolreport.com. When I started in 2010, there was a lot of great reporting out there. That was really before a lot of the teeth of the internet and Facebook and Twitter started coming out. It was just in its infancy. I figured that if I could put together a one stop shop for people who thirst political news on one page in a very un-intrusive way, then I would be able to garner a large and influential audience that I would be able to monetize.
Connecticut is parochial. So, if you're in Greenwich and you read the Greenwich Time, the odds even online in 2017 the odds that you may read Chris Powell's, managing editor of the Journal Enquirer, that you may read his columns, which are great. The odds that you would read it is not that great. Now, if you see it on Capitol Report, and I have a pithy headline, Powell Dan Malloy jerk of the month or whatever it is, right, you'll read that! You'll say, "Wow. I'll read Chris Powell more often now."
Brett Broesder: What have you been most shocked about that you've learned from running the site?
Tom Dudchik: First of all, nothing shocks me. As you would imagine, as a good businessman, I monitor my outgoing links on Capitol Report. So, I'm able to click on a link as it lines up on the top or the bottom of my page and I'm able to see how many people are clicking on that. Google Analytics allows me to do that, if I choose to, in real time. So, I could move things up, move things down, put a picture on something. It never ceases to amaze me that sometimes I think this is going to be a killer story, I'm really into it, and I put it up high and it has no traffic. Then the one that's really killing it is really interesting. So now I change things around. I move it around and drive more traffic to the one that's getting traffic. So, I'm able to see what people like, what they don't like, and that in and of itself is kind of an interesting social experiment.
Brett Broesder: So, with monitoring the news to the degree that you do, I got to think that it requires pretty stringent routine. So, what's that morning routine?
Tom Dudchik: Well, there is no routine. I mean, it is basically I'm a one man show. So, 7 by 24, if I'm sitting on my chair in my living room at 8 o'clock at night or let's say 9 o'clock and I'm watching Rachel Maddow and the Red Sox game, you can bet the laptop is on my lap and someone's sending me a link or a tip of a story or I'm Googling stuff. So, I'm always working. That's a blessing and a curse. I mean, so I'll never complain about the life that I lead working for myself and making a living off of other people's work. So, I'm eternally grateful for the talented men and women who are reporters who provide me the content, because again it occurs to me I'm not the guy out covering the Planning and Zoning commission in Manchester that I link to. I'm grateful to the reporters who do the incredible hard work that I basically coast off of by putting on my website.
The flip side is I'm driving tremendous traffic to their newspapers and to their websites and highlighting their great works and getting them read in a far greater way than they would have parochially in their own audience.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. I mean, certainly it's such a critical one stop shop that wouldn't exist otherwise.
Tom Dudchik: Right.
Brett Broesder: So you talked about the website, got the television show. I was really flattered when you reached out to me and reached back about joining this Politics and Pints series.
Tom Dudchik: Yeah.
Brett Broesder: Tell me a little bit about that?
Tom Dudchik: Well, I did one Politics and Pints up at the Wood n’ Tap in Hartford under my last show and it was wildly successful. Again, it's that, see, I want to have fun. I want to the group to have fun. I want people to enjoy politics and discourse. We have a great tradition in America of going to saloons and bars. If you look at the great history of Irish politics in Connecticut, Irish saloons where everyone would argue about politics, an extension of your living room. I thought that, much like my website, which aggregates news, I thought that it'd be fun to aggregate people from both sides of the aisle, journalists, Republicans, Democrats, politicians, non-politicians. Get them together in a bar and talk about the issues in a relaxed way, which I think is missing in politics.
It gets back to your point, Brett, about the impersonality of politics. We sit there and we tweet and we Facebook message, we Snapchat. How about putting down the computer and your iPhone for a little bit, right? I'm not saying put down forever, because I make my money that way. But come out to a brewery. In this case, we're Politics and Pints on September 25th in Two Roads Brewery here in Stratford, and have a beer.
As I was thinking about this, how great would it be if in Stratford here at Two Roads Breweries on a Monday night or a Tuesday night, the Democrat Town Chairmen and Republican Town Chairmen agree that they would have their town committee meetings here? Now, in separate rooms obviously. There's enough rooms here. Republican Town Committee is over there in that room. Democrat Town Committee's over here in that room. You make a pact that it's only going to be an hour and a half. After an hour and a half, both town committees they get together in the main anteroom here where you and I sit now and even though we're kicking the you know what out of each other privately, now we're having a good time talking about beers.
Brett Broesder: Definitely.
Tom Dudchik: And about something of the things that divide us and bring up together in community in Stratford, our kids go to school together, we pay the same taxes, we drive on the same roads, hopefully, we're drinking the same beer. But in many cases, politics in parochial. We stick to our own people. It's an echo chamber on Twitter. It's an echo chamber on Facebook. Our feeds, our designs by Mark Zuckerberg to reflect our own biases. If you're a liberal on Facebook, you're served liberal stuff. You have liberal friends who hate the Republicans. If you're a conservative on Facebook, you are served NRA stuff. You're served gun stuff. You hang out with people that you agree with. It's usually never the other way. I think it's good if we do get to that point where we are, like I tell my kids, you may not agree with that person. He may fervently disagree with everything you believe in, but it doesn't make him a bad person. Right?
Brett Broesder: Definitely. On that note, we've talked a little bit about your time with Weicker and dealing with the budget when the income tax went through, but the discussions across the aisle, as you said earlier, was just a different atmosphere. How do you think something like Politics and Pints can help get back to that collegial situation?
Tom Dudchik: Well, I think you got to start somewhere. As I said in talking about this concept with you and thinking about this and the incredible explosion or proliferation of breweries back in Connecticut again, where it was in old days when I grew up in Ansonia and Derby there was an Ansonia Brewery. It was called Birmingham at the time. There were breweries there. Now, more breweries are coming. It's clear that the breweries now are becoming public spaces. So, they figured out they couldn't just brew beer in a sterile environment and then ship them. They had to create community. So, kind of a public space. A lot of these breweries that I'm sure you've been through and I've been through and the listeners have been through are large spaces.
I have a brewery in East Haddam, which actually it's across the bridge in Haddam. It's a small little place. It's nowhere near where you and I sit now. Even in that small location, they bring bands. They have bring your own food. People bring in pizzas in there. They have their dogs there with dog dishes and everyone's sampling the beer. They're creating jobs. It's a good thing.
So, as this trend for breweries increases in Connecticut, it shows no sign of stopping, the town square, the soapbox in the old days, is now turning into the brewery. People are gathering in these spaces. A lot of them don't have food. It's just about coming with your friends, having a pint, you can bring something in, refill your growlers, and get together. I think that's a good thing. I think that so maybe with alcohol as opposed to libraries because in the old days you'd get together with the town committee meeting at a library or something. I always said the way to get people to come to more meetings is to have them in a bar.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. On the political side, the farm brewers permit is one of the only bills that passed and signed into law that received unanimous support on both sides of the aisle. These breweries are popping up in old factories that receive brownfield funds. I mean, right? Where we're sitting received a lot of state funds for that. That's something Republicans and Democrats agree on. It seems as though there are several levels to it.
Tom Dudchik: It's also agnostic as to where it's happening. It's happening in rural Connecticut. It's happening in farms. It's happening in eastern Connecticut where my friend Lee Elci, who's a conservative talk show host. It's Trump firebrand out there. They're sitting around in breweries, too. Here we are, in Stratford, on the doorstep of Bridgeport. There's breweries in our inner cities where it's a whole different demographic. I suspect there's more liberal beer drinkers in the cities than there are conservative beer drinkers. I think that's a great thing.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. What do you see at the key audience for Politics and Pints?
Tom Dudchik: How about drinking age? If you're 21 and you want to come and have a beer, you want to talk about politics, that's great. I think that this is an extension of before the whole brewery thing came a thing, it was coffee houses. Coffee houses kind of got together and people bring their guitar and sit around and drink coffee. Listen, I love coffee like the next guy, but I'd rather sit around and have a beer.
Brett Broesder: Yep. You can sleep afterwards.
Tom Dudchik: Right. Especially now that there are just so many different kind of varieties and the alcohol content and just interesting flavors and tastes that everyone is coming up with. I think it's an exciting time to be in Connecticut and to be here. And, it's a positive thing. We should get Malloy here to Politics and Pints and have Malloy talk about breweries and how successful the whole industry has been in, as you point out, one of the few success stories that we have as far as the Malloy years. They've grown.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. Tripled.
Tom Dudchik: Tripled. Right.
Brett Broesder: So, you've got kids in school.
Tom Dudchik: Yeah.
Brett Broesder: Grew up in Derby. Went to public school, I would imagine.
Tom Dudchik: No. We live in East Haddam. So my kids are-
Brett Broesder: When you grew up. I'm sorry. Grew up in Derby?
Tom Dudchik: Yes, Ansonia. Right. The 104th district.
Brett Broesder: Nice.
Tom Dudchik: Yeah.
Brett Broesder: I would imagine you've seen a lot of changes from both being in public office, from growing up in public school system, having kids in school, and right now obviously the budget fight is having an impact on that. From your background dealing with these issues, how do we figure out this budget mess?
Tom Dudchik: You know, I don't know how you do it. I think that on the Capitol Report TV program today, which we just taped, we had Joe DeLong, who's a Connecticut congressman. He was on for what I call Capitol Report “After Hours,” where you kind of sit around and sat in pajamas, smoking jackets and kick around in a digital environment, so we don't have the pressures of the clock and taping. Joe basically believes there's structural changes that need to happen in Connecticut. I mean, one small example is that, when I served as Deputy Commissioner of the DEEP, the state runs fish hatcheries. They raise salmon. They raise trout. Right? The question becomes, structurally, is that something the state of Connecticut should be involved in or should the private sector grow fish and then the state should perhaps buy them from them.
But every time you talk about shutting down those hatcheries and the fish and game community comes in as well, do you know that sportsmen in the state of Connecticut who are fly fishermen bring in X number of millions of dollars. We pay for the price of those things 10 times over. Right? Or should we just have three state parts, Hammonasset, Rocky Neck, and Sherwood Island, on our lovely sound, and close everything else. Those are structural changes that have to be made if we are to continue as a state. Now, if money were no object, that'd be a different program.
The biggest problem is the raw politics of it. So, if the Republicans and the Democrats, they sat down in their caucuses and they had this moment where they sat down, leadership said look here's the deal. We're going to have this moment. It's going to be like a Jonestown moment. We're all going to drink the Kool-Aid. We're going to raise the taxes. We're going to make draconian cuts. It's going to be brutal. It's going to be so brutal that none of us, Republicans, Democrats, will come back. They'll vote us out of office. It'll be so unpopular. But you know what, we can sleep at nights because we would have known that we did the right thing. Right?
Now, guy in the back of the room raises his hand and says, "So if we do that and we get beaten and the state gets on firm footing and we start running surpluses, so you're telling me the guy that took my seat he's going to get to spend all that money on the things that I want to spend it on?" Then all of a sudden everyone in the room goes, “Yeah, we're not going to let that happen.” Then here we go. Then around and round and round and round we go.
Brett Broesder: That's so bad.
Tom Dudchik: That's so true, Brett. That's so true. That's what happens. You know? Through the Weicker years, we developed a surplus, albeit we had an income tax. We started lowering other taxes. The Rowland administration came in and it was like goody goody gumdrops. We're running surpluses. Along with him and Speaker Ritter at the time, they just carved it up. They go okay you get this part and Republicans get this part and budgets get voted on in nice tidy fashions and bonding money goes out. All of a sudden, state government's putting lights on athletic fields and building skating rinks in people's districts because money was flowing in. Times were great. Instead of putting money into teachers' retirement system and other things that's strapping us right now, let the good times roll. Yeah. Well, we're paying for it now.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. So not to go off track here, but I always find DEEP to be such an interesting department. The crazy issues that you deal with. Dennis Schain, who's a great guy, talked to him about how wake up one day and have to deal with bears.
Tom Dudchik: I know. The bears. Well, when I was Deputy Commissioner of DEEP, it was split into two divisions. One was kind of all the icky stuff. It was the water pollution, the air pollution, the air quality stuff. It was called environment equality, EQ. The side that I was Deputy Commissioner was called environment conservation. That was the great side. That was parks and forests. That was fish and game, Long Island Sound, open spaces, all the really good stuff. Just to give you an example of the difference. In 1990, I was Deputy Commissioner. I had a standing order with my conservation officers, the police that patrolled. I go if you ever have to tranquilize a bear, I want to be called so I can see the bear, obviously, totally unconscious. I'd take their ears, of course this was before selfies and iPhones and if you can believe this, but I wanted to have someone take a picture of me. This is before even digital cameras. Take a picture of me with real film. Then take a picture of me open the jaws of the bear and put my head close to it. Right? From 1990, Brett, to 1995 January when Weicker left office, how many times do you think I got called?
Brett Broesder: Not once.
Tom Dudchik: Not once. What do you think that would be today? Like every other day.
Brett Broesder: Yeah. Exactly.
Tom Dudchik: So that's how much that's changed. You know?
Brett Broesder: That's nuts.
Tom Dudchik: It's truly nuts. At that level, when you're a Deputy Commissioner, you're able to really get on the ground. I always tell these people the story about how you can make government work. I was in my 30s at that stage. I still thought that I could keep up with a lot of my lifeguards. I would run in biathlons with them. My wife would always look as I'm half mile in Long Island Sound basically just making it as 21-year-old studs fly by me in the water. But because I was able to go talk to these lifeguards and have a relationship with them, I'd ask them, "So what can we do for you that we don't do? What can government do?" Again, management walking around seeing what works and what doesn't work.
So, because these kids had enough balls to talk to the boss, one of them said to me, "Well, you know, Commissioner, we have whistles we use to signal out people that are too far out in the water. But they have peas in them and when we blow real hard the pea gets stuck in the whistle. Right? So, there's this whistle called the Acme Thunderer. We cup our hands. It's a pealess whistle and you can hear it for a mile. He goes, "Commissioner Dudchik, I know it's not a big thing. I'm not asking for money. I'm not asking for better suntan lotions. We want better whistles." Now, this is something that obviously would be very easy to do. I get back to Hartford and I call my Bureau Chiefs in. I go, "You know what we need? We need the Acme Thunderer. These kids are underpaid. They're not making as much money. They're understaffed. For Christ sake, all they want is a whistle. A whistle! That they can blow to warn kids that deadly turtles are approaching them or jellyfish." Right?
My Parks Chief, he's looking at me. You can see him going Acme Thunderer. He goes let me get back to you on that. To make a long story short, there's this they call it the Depot. It's like the warehouse for the DEEP. If you can picture the last scene in the original Raiders of the Lost Ark where they're putting the ark in this big warehouse, that's what this thing looks like. So, he sends someone to the Depot, and way on the top shelf, way, way, way back and buried in decades of dust were two cases of Acme Thunderers that they had bought years ago. But they never got out into the field. Because one kid, a college kid, had enough balls to come to me and say, “You know what we need Commissioner?” Then, I was able to go back to my guys and they went back to their staff and their staff went back to their staff to go and find them because they realized they had them.
That's a small example of how government can work. As opposed to the federal government, which has a lot of gridlock, you can do something in state government. You can do something as a Deputy Commissioner at DEEP or Deputy Commissioner of Motor Vehicles or the Governor in the state of Connecticut. You can call your Commissioner like Weicker would do and say, "Here's what we're going to do. We're moving the police barracks from Westport to downtown Bridgeport." They're like but, but, but, but, but, but, and Weicker made it happen just because he wanted to, because he could. Can't do everything, Brett, but you can do a lot.
Brett Broesder: Actually, as Hartford's going through its fiscal situation, you were there in Weicker's administration when the last city was going into bankruptcy. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Tom Dudchik: Yeah, Bridgeport. Yeah. Was in terrible shape. Weicker spent a lot of time. He moved offices to Bridgeport. He spent time there personally. He brought the state police barracks to Bridgeport. The state paid money for Beardsley Zoo to get more money into Bridgeport. We brought the community college to downtown Bridgeport. There was a lot of Bridgeport stuff going on. My friend, Joe Ganim talks about those years like he was the guy that did it. I always point out to him, I said, “No, it was mostly Weicker that did it.” With a promise that they weren't going to declare bankruptcy and the state was going to help him out as best they could. The problem is there was money back then. The difference between now, in Hartford, is there is just no money around.
Brett Broesder: Yeah, understood. What would you give as advice to somebody young, going into running for office or now clearly with the political environment being what it is, folks that really want to jump into the arena? What would you tell somebody who's looking to do that?
Tom Dudchik: Well, I would tell anyone who wants to get involved number one to get involved. Don't be a straphanger. Don't sit and bitch on the sidelines. Get involved. Get in the ring. Get messy. Get dirty. Learn the political process. I think is what we'll talk about when it's Politics and Pints, is get along with people and realize that, what we talked about when we started this interview, is that the other guy's not bad. He just doesn't agree with you. That's okay, too. As I tell people, I don't agree with my wife all the time. Doesn't mean I don't love her. That doesn't mean she's a bad person. I don't agree with her. I'm sure she doesn't agree with me on a lot of things. But we just don't take our ball and go home. Right? We still got to raise kids and have a marriage. I think a lot of that is the way we need to look at politics. People just need to figure out how we can get along together.
The important thing is this is that there's a difference between getting along together and this whole thing about bipartisanship. Look, there's a lot of things that as a Democrat or as a Republican I am not going to vote for. You're not going to sit there and say, "Oh, well. We just need to work together on this." Go no, no, no. I don't agree with you. I will fight you to the death to stop you from doing that because I don't believe in you. So, all this kumbaya stuff about, I know David Walker, he has this coalition about, I don't know what is it called, Lieberman's involved in it. It'll come to me. They want people to work together. But you see, you may agree so vehemently with the way the other person is doing that, you're not going to work together now. Doesn't mean you won't work together on other issues.
Getting back to the whole Politics and Pints stuff is that a lot of politics is the Acme Thunderers. It is the round off stuff. It's the nuts and bolts to the stuff you can get done and you can agree on. There's a lot of stuff that you're not going to agree on. I'm not going to convince anybody that the death penalty is good or if I believe it's bad. I'm not going to convince anybody that abortion is good if I believe it's bad. Right? There are these core issues that we're not going to convince anyone to change their opinion. But on issues, for instance, on farm breweries or economic development in our inner cities with breweries, then yes, we should be able to come together. Now, we may disagree as Republicans, Democrats between what is termed as corporate welfare, state aid for this versus that, in a limited amount of money pool, but those are the issues that there are enough that we can work together on.
Brett Broesder: That's great. Going to just shift gears on you here. What's a book that you would give to somebody more than any other book?
Tom Dudchik: A book? You think that I have time to read?
Brett Broesder: Maybe as a gift though even if you don't.
Tom Dudchik: As a gift?
Brett Broesder: Yeah.
Tom Dudchik: So, now as a politician aren't you're supposed to say the Bible? Right.
Brett Broesder: That's a good answer. That's a very good answer.
Tom Dudchik: Well, most people when confronted with that on TV, in a debate goes, "Oh, well I'm thinking the Bible."
Brett Broesder: That's great.
Tom Dudchik: So that would be my answer.
Brett Broesder: Favorite superhero?
Tom Dudchik: Favorite superhero? I don't know. I like Iron Man. I mean, see I was never a superhero guy. My wife and I adopted boys later in our life, so I went through all the superheroes. But I think Tony Stark, that's pretty cool. He's a normal guy. He's a rich guy. But he straps a suit on, flies wicked fast, and is able to kick some serious ass when he has to. I would definitely go Iron Man. I mean, I can't see any downside of Iron Man.
Brett Broesder: That's a good answer, very good answer.
Tom Dudchik: I mean, I cannot see a downside. Even if Tony Stark decided to hang up the whole Iron Man deal and not be the superhero, he still has a cool life.
Brett Broesder: Yeah. Definitely.
Tom Dudchik: There you go.
Brett Broesder: You're much along the lines of Chris Rosario who said Bruce Wayne.
Tom Dudchik: Bruce Wayne. That's not bad. See, I think as Bruce Wayne you have to deal with Robin a lot of times. There are probably times you wouldn't want to hang around with Robin. You're sitting around like with your friends and there's Robin hanging around you. You know? And Alfred, too. Alfred's always around, too. Tony Stark doesn't need to slide down a pole. He just goes. Right?
Brett Broesder: So, as we're in Stratford with Bridgeport right next to us. I know you had the Live Nation folks on your show recently.
Tom Dudchik: Yep.
Brett Broesder: What do you think about that situation?
Tom Dudchik: Well, I mean, I think talking to Jimmy Koplik from Live Nation, it's clear that if the Bluefish were drawing like the Yard Goats are in Hartford, there'd be baseball in Bridgeport. It's strictly business. It's strictly economics. No one's choosing music over baseball. People chose music over baseball by not showing up for the baseball games. I think that's okay, too. I think anytime you can shift a business model as things change, listen, we have to change in life. Things are not static. Just because you did it that way 10 years ago doesn't necessarily mean that you have to do it that way right now.
Brett Broesder: Definitely. Tom, you got anything else you want to add?
Tom Dudchik: No. I think we're good.
Brett Broesder: Excellent.
Tom Dudchik: Now, you and I need to retire to the bar and have a few more pints.
Brett Broesder: Yes. We certainly do. Tom, thank you so much for being on. Honor. Pleasure. Do you want to make another plug for Politics and Pints?
Tom Dudchik: Yes. First of all, we want everyone to go to ctcapitalreport.com, number one. Number two, we want them to go to watch the TV programs Sunday mornings at 10:00 on WTNH Channel 8 right after This Week with George Stephanopoulos, a rollicking half hour. If you thought the local TV politics was boring, you're going to be in for a treat on this. Then on September 25th, Brett and I will be here, pint in hand, talking about much of the same things with beer. So, how good is that going to be? From 5 to 8 here at Two Roads Brewery. I want to see a lot of people here.
Brett Broesder: Fantastic. Last question. Cage match, who wins? Chris Healy versus Roy Occhiogrosso?
Tom Dudchik: Well, see Roy probably fights dirty. Healy has more weight on him. I think in the octagon, I think if Healy got him on the ground, I think he'd probably have him. But Roy's not beyond biting him, I don't think. So, you know. Plus, I think Roy has a few other moves that Healy probably has not seen yet. It'd be very entertaining. I can tell you that.
Brett Broesder: On that note, thanks so much, Tom. Really appreciate it.
Tom Dudchik: Thanks, Brett.