A new working-class star shot briefly across the Connecticut stratosphere last week — a fiery meteor intent on airing his angst to the state’s ruling class. And he took no prisoners.
The 2008 presidential election featured Joe the Plumber, the laborer who became a working-class cult figure when he objected to then-Sen. Barack Obama’s insistence that “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
And three years later we have Frank the Baker. Frank Cavaliere, owner of Cavaliere’s Bakery and Deli in Portland, gave lawmakers an earful during his brief appearance Oct. 12 at a small business forum sponsored by the House Republican Caucus at the Legislative Office Building. If you’d like to hear Cavaliere’s remarks, watch the video below. But brace yourself.
When Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero called for questions from the 50 invited business owners on the assembled panel, Cavaliere raised his hand immediately and proceeded to blast public officials in both parties for making his life miserable.
“If you really want to help, stop helping,” Cavaliere said. “Every time you pass a piece of legislation, you cost us money.”
Adding that he was “leaving Connecticut because I’m frustrated,” Cavaliere angrily invoked a litany of demands and complaints about the poor business climate in the state, ranging from onerous taxes and regulations to the abolition of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Of the media accounts of the forum I could find, all led with Cavaliere’s snarky diatribe, even though there were several other speakers during the two-hour-long event. As you might have expected, Frank the Baker also booked an appearance on WTIC’s State and Church radio program with former Gov. John Rowland, who has been highly critical of the Democratic-controlled legislature for enacting the largest tax increase in state history earlier this year.
What’s going on here? Did Cavaliere’s harangue really merit such coverage? Or was it a slow day in Connecticut’s newsrooms? Yes and no, in that order. I’d say Cavaliere and the other business owners who participated in the forum got the coverage they deserved.
Like other better organized groups across the country, Frank the Baker and his colleagues have tapped into a vein of resentment and captured the imagination of lawmakers, the media and, by extension, the public.
Up to now, the coverage of those hurt by the wretched economy has focused largely on foreclosures, the hard-luck stories of the unemployed and organizations such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street — both of which have hosted demonstrations in Hartford and elsewhere in the state.
But apart from the public relations office of the button-down Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the hand-wringing from package store owners who don’t want us to buy booze on Sundays, I haven’t heard a whole lot this year from the state’s small businesses, especially those working in the trenches, facing taxes and mandates that cut into their already meager profit margins.
And with perhaps “the worst permitting regime in the country,” according to UConn economist Fred Carstensen, Connecticut’s small businesses have few resources to combat the state’s sclerotic compliance web.
Meanwhile, state government spending rose five percent this year and huge corporations, such as the Hartford-based United Technologies, report rising profits. Some, including those in Gov. Malloy’s First Five program, along with others like Jackson Laboratory, have been selected to receive literally hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to establish a presence in Connecticut or, in some cases, to simply remain here.
Look, I know businesses of all sizes have a bad habit of complaining even when it’s not warranted. But there’s got to be a reason why Connecticut has the worst record in the nation for creating new jobs over the last two decades.
They say three’s a crowd, but if small business owners could unite and make as much noise as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, they just might emerge from between a rock and hard place. Certainly, their grievances are just as compelling.
And to think it all started with a baker named Frank just down the road from Portland’s famous rock quarries. Talk about throwing stones …
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at email@example.com.
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