HARTFORD -- Call it the photo seen 'round the world. It's the one that captured two southwestern Connecticut lawmakers playing solitaire on their computers in the hall of the House late Monday, at the height of the debate on the new budget.
Another computer, in front of an unidentified lawmaker's seat, shows a baseball highlight.
[IT'S ESPN WEBSITE]
The picture, apparently depicting two House members dissing a high-ranking GOP leader, went from the front page of Connecticut newspapers to global web sites like the Drudge Report on Tuesday, an apparent symbol of legislative indifference -- and indulgence -- during the state's budget crisis.
The Associated Press picture, shot from behind first-term Rep. Barbara L. Lambert, D-Milford and veteran Rep. John F. Hennessy, D-Bridgeport, features House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. in the right-hand corner, gesticulating his criticism of the Democratic majority's budget, which passed the House late Monday night and the Senate early Tuesday morning.
Neither Lambert nor Hennessy would apologize for their game-playing Tuesday and Cafero, R-Norwalk, didn't ask for any.
In fact, during a typical debate, many of the 151 House members and 36 senators are on their computers reading bill analyses, responding to constituants' e-mails, scanning online newspapers, keeping up with baseball scores and, yes, playing a little solitaire, which is programmed into every legislative laptop.
Lambert believes it was the
"We had a lull and I had it on my screen," said Lambert, adding that she had thoroughly studied the various budgets introduced over the last few months and there was nothing Cafero could say to change her mind from supporting the Democratic package.
"You do not have to look at Larry to know exactly what he's doing with his theatrics," Lambert said. "Larry wasn't discussing anything that was new. My mind was made up in our caucuses. I knew what our changes were and what the governor proposed." Lambert said she was fully aware of Cafero's argument.
"I was still listening to him," Lambert said. "I asked Jack what he was doing and this is probably the first time I've played solitaire. I have no excuses because I work very, very hard and I was certainly listening intently, but Larry was really going on. I respect Larry as an individual. He's humorous. There's laughter when he's talking. He should know I always look at him."
Hennessy, a member of the legislative Finance Committee, said he was also paying attention. "I was listening to every word that Larry said," he said in an afternoon phone interview.
"I've heard it all before," he said. "I've been engaged in the budget process all these months. I knew how I was going to vote. There was certainly no disrespect to the minority leader. It's easy to pay attention. It was a 13-hour day and at the moment in time, I was taking a little a break."
Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, recalled Tuesday morning that the House began its day at 11:30 a.m. and the final vote didn't occur until more than 12 hours later.
"Both members of our caucus were there during the debate," Donovan said in a phone interview. "They certainly weren't insulting the minority leader at all. They might not have liked what he had to say. People are entitled to take a break every once in a while. People are reading papers, too, but they are very cognizant of what's going on. They're prepared to vote."
Cafero, speaking to reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday would neither say he was offended, nor let Lambert and Hennessy off the hook.
"I think a picture speaks a thousand words," said the veteran politician, who has filed papers with election officials to explore a statewide candidacy next year. "It speaks for itself."
He admitted a certain Luddite streak. "I don't know how to turn my computer on, I am embarrassed to say, and I certainly would not know how to get on a solitaire site is there is such a thing, I don't know."
He also belied a certain vanity. "They were playing solitaire," Cafero said. "Maybe I was boring. God bless them. What you want from me? I hope they won the game. I don't know how they played. They don't owe me an apology. The picture speaks for itself."
"I think it is symbolic of their frustration," he added. "Like, what the heck are you guys doing up there, you don't get it, and I think that is why it is getting the reaction it is."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, speaking to reporters after announcing that she would let the Democratic budget become law without her signature, said Lambert and Hennessy should have been paying better attention. "I think if they spent less time playing computer games and more time looking for spending cuts, then we would have been out of here a lot sooner," Rell quipped.
CONNECTICUT>>>VOTE THEM ALL OUT! AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT...DEMAND THAT ALL THE GAME SOFTWARE BE REMOVED FROM THE STATE PROVIDED LAPTOPS!