It’s not a stretch to say that our American democracy was invented in Windsor. The concepts of a representative government by the people for the people were likely penned by candle light in a settlement home close to the convergence of the Connecticut and Farmington Rivers.
It all started in 1633 as Windsor’s settlers – people from Connecticut’s first town – played key roles in getting it all started.
The first precursor to this state’s government structure was formed in a land settlement and trading compact that was negotiated by representatives from Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield with the Massachusetts Bay Company. By 1639 Connecticut – and early America – were more formally launched as the Fundamental Orders were adopted by the settlements effectively initiating America’s beginning for democratic process and structure.
Early Windsor natives like John Mason, Henry Wolcott, and Roger Ludlow – who likely did most of the drafting of the earliest concepts for our Constitution – were key players in inventing our state and nation and advocating for a government process that made sure people close to home played a key role in having their issues and desires represented effectively.
In the centuries following Windsor’s people maintained their original commitment as participants in local and state government, always with an involved role of having a say in shaping Connecticut’s laws, government, direction and future. Whether it be in the early forms of government among the settlements or the evolved and amended process in place today – someone from Windsor was there marking their name and town of origin whenever the roll was called.
Limited historical records, including those at the Connecticut State Library, list Windsor’s representatives as far back as the list goes. In every term of office over hundreds of years, as the government and legislature wound its way through different eras of representation by town and more recently by districts Windsor has had representation.
At times, as rules created representation opportunity, some terms had as many as 3 Windsorites serving in the General Assembly at the same time. Along with Governor Roger Wolcott (1750-1754) the town has also sent many other citizens to serve in higher offices in executive and judicial positions for the state.
In 2009 – with the retirement of Republican Ruth Fahrbach, who was elected in 1980 and served until January 2009, the 376 year streak—one just a tad longer than that of the Husky women—Windsor’s winning record of direct involvement in Connecticut state government ended.
Up until the 1960s every town had a representative in the legislature and additional representation came with larger populations. The rules changed and districts became more equally divided by population overall and then cut across town lines.
For more than 300 years Connecticut was very town-centric when it came to representation. Our state Constitution places high emphasis on having towns wholly within districts. And no surprise, we put a lot of stock in home rule and towns involvement in decision making as a key part of the commitment to our representative government.
In 1980 the rules changed again. The state’s requirement to put towns wholly in districts came to odds with federal requirements to divide them up as equally as possible, emphasizing one person one vote concepts. That meant town borders were not as important to the evolving US Constitutional interpretations as they were to the early Windsor inventors of the Constitution.
That started the beginning of the end for Windsor’s political contributions to Connecticut.
In the 1980-1982 census/redistricting cycle, that coincided with Gov. Bill O’Neill’s, re-election effort, Windsor’s last Democratic State Representative, John Pier, ended up supporting O’Neill’s opponent, House Speaker Ernest Abate. Coincidentally, as the campaign and redistricting process ensued, Windsor was carved into 3 districts by the redistricting commission whose majority wasn’t too keen on Abate’s plan to keep Windsor in 2 districts.
As district rules substituted representative by town rules in the 1960’s, Windsor had been apportioned 2 districts with a solid numerical majority in one of them. After the 1981 plan and the 3 district carve up – none of them contained a majority of Windsor population putting the town at a major electoral disadvantage in any legislative contest.
That act effectively ended the town’s ability to participate at the legislative level in future open-seat elections and for 1982 Pier had coincidentally been redistricted out of a job as Windsor Democrats got locked out of the Connecticut’s legislature.
While we all know that politics never plays a role…… in making sure our citizens are allocated to fair and just voting districts …. this one just seemed a little more political than fair.
The redistricting plan went to the courts, the legal questions were asked about intentions and design. The courts, based on information at the time said it was okay to politically neuter representation from a big town such as Windsor.
After three decades and census cycles passed we are still trying to make it right. We have realized the effect of being carved out of Connecticut’s legislative decision making process and are now relegated to spectator bleachers as our representatives who live in small surrounding towns come by occasionally to visit Windsor and see how we’re doing and pass along our stated desires.
We’ve challenged the process and challenged the incumbents from the smaller towns to try to get back our representation rights, but Windsor is still outnumbered and shut out when it comes to offering up its people to represent our town and contribute to our state as we have over three and three quarter centuries.
We’re in a new census cycle, the time when districts can be changed.
Connecticut’s 35th largest town has close to 30,000 residents, centuries of direct government participation, and a true and tested commitment to founding principles. Now it’s become the state’s largest town with no majority district and has odds-off chance by electoral numbers to offer any of its talent and representational commitment at the table where important decisions are debated and decided for our state.
If history, our size and shape, our town’s contributions and commitment to this state and nation have any bearing on how we can and should be represented, surely Roger Ludlow, America’s inventors, and the hundreds of Windsor contributors to our democracy would not be pleased with this outcome.
It’s time to fix this representational injustice and correct our almost four centuries of participation …lost – but we’re in this fight for them and for our future and won’t quit until we get it right – even if it takes another decade until the next change cycle opens.
Leo Canty is a Windsor resident and chairman of Windsor’s Democratic Town Committee.