MERIDEN, CT — One of the big reasons why U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy does his “Walk Across Connecticut” tours, he said, is that he gets the kind of interaction and conversation with constituents that he never has sitting behind his desk in Washington.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m in my shorts, sneakers and T-shirt or what it is,” Murphy said Tuesday afternoon, as he hit the midway point of his five-day, 21-town walk, stopping for a press conference on the Meriden Green before he had some lunchtime pizza and hit the road again.
“Sometimes when I approach someone to talk to them, people kind of do a double-take, like they aren’t sure I’m their senator,” Murphy said. But he said once people realize he is, indeed, one of the state of Connecticut’s two United States senators, the conversations he has with his constituents are fulfilling.
“In Washington, a lot of time the phone calls you get tend to be from people who are very active politically,” Murphy said. “The conversations I am having this week tend to be more real. People don’t have political agendas.
“It (the walk) is the most fun I have in this job.”
The walk also reminds him of the beauty of Connecticut.
“You fall in love with the state all over again when you walk the state, and that’s everywhere, every town and city I travel through.”
Murphy started the walk on Sunday morning in Killingly. By the time he ends the walk on Thursday in Danbury he will have traveled 103 miles, knocking off about 20 miles a day.
At the end of each day’s walk, which starts at around 6 a.m., Murphy holds what he calls “pop up town hall” meetings in whatever town he winds up in for the night.
This is the second year Murphy, who just turned 44 years old, has done the walk. Last year he walked the Connecticut shoreline, from Voluntown near the Rhode Island border all the way to Greenwich, a 128-mile trek.
As he hit the halfway point on a hot, muggy Tuesday afternoon in downtown Meriden this year, Murphy admitted he was tired.
“This year’s walk is harder than last year,” the senator said, explaining that “there aren’t that many hills on the shoreline trail I took last year. This path is a little different, a little harder.”
As to what he has been talking to Connecticut residents about along his walk, Murphy said while there has been conversation about the two big national issues currently in the news — North Korea and the white nationalist rally on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia — those issues haven’t been the sole focus of his talks with people.
“Truthfully, people are focused on two things,” Murphy said. “They are worried, and glad that the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has so far failed because they’re concerned what it could mean to their health care in Connecticut.”
The other issue is more parochial.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of concern about the state’s budget problems and what it may mean to their towns,” Murphy said. “I think part of that is the start of school is only a few weeks away and there is a lot of worry about school funding.”
Murphy said one other thing that has struck him about this year’s walk versus last year’s is that the “pop up town hall meetings” have been much better attended.
“Last year I’d say the average crowd was about 50 people at the meetings,” Murphy said. “This year so far we’ve had three or four times the crowds.”
Murphy said one other constant theme he’s heard from people on the walking trail — and the town meetings — is that people would like to see Republicans and Democrats work together to solve problems.
“When are we going to have bipartisanship government,” is a question he’s heard repeatedly on the walking tour, Murphy said.
Murphy, who along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, have been at times among Trump’s harshest critics, said there are times when Republicans and Democrats do work together but that it often doesn’t get the kind of news coverage that squabbles between the parties do.
He cited the bipartisan Mental Health Reform Act, which he co-authored and passed with bipartisan support last year, as an example of good legislation that both parties supported and President Barack Obama signed.
The legislation, among other things, included spending $1 billion to combat the opioid addiction crisis in the country.