Single party rule is approaching the end of its second legislative session, and how it’s going? Less well than before, perhaps, but still better in many respects than divided government.
The short legislative session is rushing to a close and even though there’s still doubt about the fate of education reform, there is no doubt about the accomplishments of the General Assembly elected in 2010.
In terms of bills actually passed into law, this legislature has been one of the more progressive and productive in memory. Need proof? Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley’s think tank has exhumed the corpse of initiative and referendum, a bad idea that was last killed in 2008 when voters rejected calls for a constitutional convention. It’s hard to blame Republicans for feeling utterly helpless as bill after bill is passed and signed over their objections, and looking for long-shot solutions like this. The one problem? The legislature would have to act upon it to make it happen.
People who are annoyed about Democrats not enacting huge cuts in government spending and passing a package of business tax cuts have been griping about “one party rule,” which is a technically accurate way of describing the current status quo. It’s also somewhat simplistic, since having a wide majority and a governor from a single party doesn’t mean Democratic leaders can do whatever they want.
The negotiations over the governor’s education bill, a surprising defeat for a medical malpractice bill, and the uncertain fate of a relatively small minimum wage hike are good examples of how different factions among Democrats can give leaders headaches. But, on the whole, the past two years have been all about Democrats governing without a real check on their power from Republicans for the first time since the 1980s.
The list of this legislature’s achievements is long, from the governor’s budget and his “First Five” economic incentives package last year to Sunday sales of alcohol and the repeal of the death penalty this year. Despite all this, if polls are to be believed, the people aren’t fans of legislature no matter what they’re doing.
The one universally popular thing that the government has done this year is probably Sunday liquor sales. But, if we assess the General Assembly’s effectiveness by how much they accomplish in terms of legislation that actually impacts life in the state, the past two years have been above average, at the very least. If nothing else, it’s a change from the way things have been running since the Rell years began.
So does one-party governance work? It’s hard, given the list of legislative achievements above, to deny that at least in some respects it does. Surely it’s more productive than divided government was during the last decade. At the national level, one-party government was more effective in this way than the current divided government, and bipartisan cooperation is often overrated anyway. But is government now more responsive? More effective? More in tune with the needs of the state? That’s very hard to say. Republicans would claim that it isn’t any of these things, and in some ways they are probably right. Hence the renewed interest in ballot initiatives.
On the whole, however, the past two years have seen a productive legislature working together with a very active, reform-minded governor. Love or hate the policies that are coming out of Hartford, things are getting done. I’d give them a solid “B.”
Malloy and the Democrats have two more years, barring some kind of shocking Republican surge in the 2012 legislative elections, of having things their way. At that point the governor will have to make the case for government by one party continuing. So far he has plenty of good arguments in favor.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner of CT Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.