By Ken Krayeske • 11:36 AM EST
Barbara J. Ruhe of Wethersfield sent a letter to the Editor at the Hartford Courant congratulating Gov. M. Jodi Rell and I back in March 2007.
Gov. Rell and I bumped into each other at a parade, and we took our picture together. The Courant printed it. What a hoot!
Ruhe wrote: “The picture was the epitome of class on the part of the governor and grace on the part of Mr. Krayeske. Both qualities are rarely seen in the public realm and even more seldom celebrated.”
For that, I sent her Ruhe a thank-you postcard from Malta in October 2007, when I had the chance to express my gratitude to complete strangers who defended me in that hour of need. She didn’t have to say anything at all.
Fast-forward to August 2008, and I get an email from Ruhe. She’s an attorney, a Republican, and she is running for state senate against stale incumbent John Fonfara.
Ruhe and I set up an interview, and at the appropriate hour, I arrived at her law offices. I noticed not just my postcard from Malta, but standard CT GOP paraphernalia, like a signed note from former Gov. John G. Rowland.
Her impassioned defense of Rowland almost made me like the guy.
“John Rowland was the first governor in this state that paid attention to the needs of children,” Ruhe said.
The Department of Children and Families was established in 1973 under governorship of Tom Meskill, Ruhe explained. Meskill had an interest because he was an adoptive parent.
“Until John Rowland was elected, not a single governor who sat in the state house cared or invested time or money that the department needed,” Ruhe said. “When baby Emily was killed, Rowland went to the commissioner’s office and said ‘How do we fix it?’ He tried to work with the legislature. For all his failings, he did that well.”
And that is the kind of woman she is. Ruhe is compassionate, and she cares about people, not just children, although that is one of the main areas of her legal practice.
Ruhe and I met in that policy discipline. Our discussion galloped from the state department of Children and Families to the abolition of high school as we know it.
Who knew that you could like Rowland and subscribe to the innovative educational philosophies of Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College in New York who thinks that high school is jail for teenagers?
“We need to rethink how we are educating kids entirely,” Ruhe said. “We must invest money in early education – kids minds are sponges they learn, they need to be exposed to languages before age 8.”
The whole education system is skewed in that regard, waiting to high school to teach kids languages, Ruhe said.
“Children best learn languages up to eight and 10, after that synapses start pruning,” she said. “Kids should be exposed to more language prior to 8 or 10, pathways stay open.”
Music and art curriculums should be emphasized because of the way those subjects develop the juvenile brain. High school should be done away with, she said.
Her ideas are modeled after Botstein’s, and his venture in Simon’s Rock College in the Western Massachusetts Berkshires. Community Colleges will be the wave of the future, Ruhe said.
“I would start free tuition would be community colleges,” she said. Students should be able to test out of high school.
“There are a couple places in country they allow them to get out early,” she said, and Connecticut should join those ranks.
“If you reconfigured high school to test out of high school, some could finish high school in three years, while some might need six,” Ruhe said. “It should be set up like a junior college – if you can get out, do it. If you need to work for a while, or take a trip, and do something constructive, let them out.”
It is all common sense, Ruhe said. Having smart people in politics can make a difference in policy. She is not concerned that being a Republican in such a heavily Democratic district, particularly in this anti-GOP election cycle, will frustrate her efforts.
“First of all, I believe at the local and state level, yes you run with a party affiliation, but you also run as the person you are,” Ruhe said. “I don’t believe that a party defines who one is as a human being.”
Her approach to talk to people and share her views and her community involvement centers on the liberal hope that people are more broadminded than straight party-lever partisanship.
“I don’t think anyone should ever blindly follow a political party,” Ruhe said. “My mother grew up under Hitler. I am very familiar with people who did that.
If warnings of fascism don’t scare you, she has plenty of criticism for her opponent, Sen. John Fonfara, who unfortunately all too handily beat his Democratic primary challenger Ed Vargas in August.
“John Fonfara has been there 22 years, and I don’t know what he has done,” Ruhe said. “We got some toys, some stupid lights on the football field. We spent $115,000 to get a nicer entrance on Marsh Street.
But Ruhe is more concerned that people in Wethersfield and Hartford may literally freeze to death this winter because the government has moved too slowly on fuel oil assistance.
“When incumbents are not challenged for a long time, they get lazy and sloppy,” Ruhe said.
She decided to run in April, and Ruhe is aiming to hit public campaign financing monies. She is close, as at her last count she had more than half the donations she needed to obtain the taxpayer funded campaign chest.
It would help her tilt at Fonfara to reach the threshold. She would use the money to educate the public about the basic issues, the ones she lists on her website, ruheforchange.com.
Among those, she includes a 3% cap on local property tax increases; elimination of the tax on cars that are assessed under $30,000; strengthening the laws and policies relative to historic preservation within communities; a total revamping of the Department of Children and Families (DCF); smaller, more efficient government; transparency in all government functions and operations.
“I take a pragmatic view to politics,” Ruhe said. “I am not going to promise much of anything to anybody. I believe that there always needs to be a voice that says why.”