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Date: Fri 26-Dec-1997

Date: Fri 26-Dec-1997

Publication: Bee

Author: CURT

Quick Words:

Powell-McGuire-column

Full Text:

(COMMENTARY) STATE POLICE COMMISSIONER'S RIGHTS FORGOTTEN IN SENSATION OVER

FAX

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

sympathies.

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.)