Former Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, who did not seek re-election last November, emerged from retirement today to become embroiled in the ongoing debate at the capitol over what the Senate should do about two Democratic members guilty of election-law violations.
In 2007 Nickerson served on a bi-partisan committee appointed by the Senate to consider punishing former state Sen. Louis DeLuca, R-Woodbury, for asking a member of the mob to rough up his son-in-law and for failing to report a bribe offered him during an undercover F.B.I. investigation.
DeLuca resigned from the Senate before the panel took final action.
Today Nickerson and the two other Republicans involved in the DeLuca review – Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen and Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford Springs – in a letter urged the Democratic majority to likewise investigate Sens. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, and Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge.
The two were found guilty by the state Elections Enforcement Commission of misusing political action committee funds and forging names on campaign-finance applications.
Gaffey and Crisco were fined and the SEEC last week closed their investigations. Republicans have been unsuccessfully urging Democrats to consider additional penalties within the Senate.
In the letter, Nickerson, Roraback and Guglielmo wrote: “A legislator faces few circumstances more difficult than passing judgment on the conduct of a fellow legislator, particularly when that legislator is a member of their own political caucus. All of us, as members of the 2007 Senate Bipartisan Committee of Review charged with making appropriate recommendations with respect to former state Senator Louis DeLuca, know this first hand. We … put the institution before political considerations and personal sentiments, and acted in a fair, open and bipartisan way in order to protect the integrity of the Senate. Together, we must meet this challenge and responsibility once again. The misconduct admitted to by state Senators Tom Gaffey and Joe Crisco rises to a level where silence on the part of the Senate erodes public trust and the integrity of the institution and all of its members.”
Since the Democrats have not established a permanent legislative ethics committee to address such issues, Nickerson, Roraback and Guglielmo suggested the Senate revive the DeLuca model to review the conduct of Senator Gaffey and Senator Crisco and recommend appropriate action.
I spoke briefly with Nickerson this evening and he acknowledged a retired Senator’s lending his signature to a letter from active colleagues is unique.
“Everything about it is unique,” Nickerson said, from the DeLuca case and the Senate’s handling of it to the actions of Gaffey and Crisco. He could not recall any lawmakers being found guilty of similar election law violations during his 22 years in the General Assembly.
I asked Nickerson if he hoped his involvement might convince some Democrats to take the letter seriously and not simply dismiss it as partisan politics. Yes, Nickerson is a loyal Republican, but he does not have to get involved in this situation and he was generally well-respected by both sides of the aisle, which is why he was chosen to sit on the DeLuca committee in the first place in 2007.
He said that would be “fine” but added “I don’t flatter myself to think my signature changes the world.”
Nickerson said he is disappointed in Senate Democrats for not pursuing the Gaffey/Crisco issue.
“There’s no justification for it,” he said.
Although acknowledging unlike DeLuca neither is so far guilty of a crime, Nickerson said there is evidence of “significant malfeasance” on the part of the two Democratic Senators. He said by choosing to ignore the issue Senate Democrats undermine the public trust.