Date: Fri 26-Dec-1997
(COMMENTARY) STATE POLICE COMMISSIONER'S RIGHTS FORGOTTEN IN SENSATION OVER
By Chris Powell
Governor Rowland's interim appointee as state police commissioner, William T.
McGuire, disclosed himself as bullheaded, reckless, and blustering by
launching and leading an investigation into an anonymous facsimile machine
transmission that accused him of making disparaging remarks about a lesbian
former state trooper who is suing the department for illegal discrimination.
If McGuire had had any political sense, he would have ignored the fax or left
it with a simple denial instead of treating it as if national security
required tracking down and prosecuting for harassment the "gutless wonder," to
use his phrase, who sent it. The governor had to withdraw McGuire's
appointment when confirmation by the General Assembly became impossible in the
face of suspicions that he was power-mad, had no sensitivity to conflict of
interest, and was so prejudiced against homosexuals that he could not separate
his prejudice from his official duty.
Still, when the partisan agenda of McGuire's critics -- mostly Democratic
legislators and the National Organization for Women, both always glad of a
chance to point out a weakness in a Republican administration -- is stripped
away, it is easy to see the commissioner himself as the only real victim here.
The fax seems to have been sent to at least three places, including the state
police affirmative action office and a news organization, and the unknown
person who sent it was called a "whistle blower." But this was a misnomer -- a
politically useful and probably deliberately misleading one -- because the
fax's author did not come forward to corroborate the accusation and because,
indeed, there was no way to corroborate it. A "whistle blower" knows something
about his accusation and stands behind it, and there is something to it. That
was not the case here; an anonymous fax of this sort could be anything.
A newspaper political cartoon depicted McGuire in a state police car pursuing
his investigation of the fax by smashing through the wall of the quick-copy
shop from which the fax was sent. That sort of Keystone Cops fascism is
exactly what didn't happen; instead the state police simply asked for and were
given permission to review a surveillance tape at the shop.
A state representative from Brookfield, Scott Santa-Maria, declared that
McGuire had state troopers looking for compromising information about him to
retaliate for his political criticism of the state police. But when the
governor asked for evidence so that an inquiry into what indeed would be an
abuse of power could be started, Santa-Maria refused to provide it in
deference to sources he claimed required confidentiality.
Whether a public official can put aside his prejudices and treat people fairly
as individuals, in accordance with their rights under the law, irrespective of
their sexual orientation, is always a good question, and it may have been a
compelling question for McGuire. But the controversy that undermined his
appointment also posed a question about a right that is more basic, so much so
that it's in the Constitution: the right of people to confront their accusers.
Democratic legislators and maybe even members of the National Organization for
Women might recognize it if the accusation in the anonymous fax against
McGuire wasn't that he did something that is politically incorrect today --
that he disparaged a homosexual -- but that he did something that used to be
politically incorrect -- say, that he had been a Communist or had Communist
Of course then, if McGuire had been scurrilously attacked from the political
right instead of from the left, his critics might have been more concerned
about fair play and more forgiving and less concerned about scoring political
points against him. They might even have rushed to his defense and made
excuses for him as a victim of what used to be called McCarthyism, defamation
by uncorroborated and uncorroboratable accusations usually based not on
anything the victim has done but rather on his accusers' dislike of his
supposed political or social views.
Yes, McGuire may have been unfit for his post; he should have known better
than to get baited this way. So should have Connecticut's own Paul Robeson, a
courageous genius who made serious mistakes too but who soon may get a theater
named after him and his image on a postage stamp.
(Chris Powell is managing editor of The Journal Inquirer in Manchester.)