We interrupt your regularly scheduled worrying about the decline of American democracy to remind you that the Connecticut legislature is still completely hopeless.
The General Assembly gathered this week to try to override some of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s seven vetoes, including a popular bill that would have prohibited the governor from unilaterally cutting education cost sharing grants to towns. That bill, HB-5171, was passed with the necessary two-thirds in the House, and was looking good for the Senate because they’d passed it unanimously the first time around. Easy, right? Of course not. They failed, and all of the governor’s vetoes stood.
How did the Senate go from unanimously backing a bill to failing to give it two-thirds? Ten Democrats broke ranks and voted against the override, which was supported by all of the Republicans. Some were worried about their districts losing funding, some were anticipating some phantom special session that might rear its head later in the summer, and some just thought the governor made a good case in his veto message.
It didn’t help that several legislators were absent for the vote, either. I guess that’s what happens with a part-time, badly underpaid legislature full of lawmakers who think their seats are perfectly safe.
Barring that vague promise of a special session sometime before next January, this may be the last time we see the 2017-18 Democrat-controlled legislature. It’s fitting that they go out with a whimper, and that their last acts are nothing but inept flailing.
After all, this is also the legislature that has next to no signature achievements, no real solution to the unbearable financial crisis that’s been battering us for a decade, and absolutely no sense of how angry and frustrated people outside the Capitol are feeling.
Well, let’s be fair, they were good at one thing — keeping the son of UConn’s football coach in his job.
Sometime before the end of the regular session, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz sneaked an amendment into a long, boring, unrelated bill that would allow family members to be employed in the same state employee unit, and even for one family member to supervise another. The amendment wasn’t debated, wasn’t publicized, and wasn’t even discovered until recently.
The amendment was written specifically for UConn football coach Randy Edsall and his son, Corey. See, in 2017 Edsall hired his son to be an assistant coach. The State Ethics Board then ruled that this violated state rules on nepotism.
In any sane universe, the athletic director would have brought Randy Edsall into an office and shouted, “You cannot hire your own son, why would you even think to do that?” at the top of their lungs before firing Corey Edsall, and that would have been that.
Instead, Edsall and UConn decided that the State Ethics Board was wrong, and appealed. Corey Edsall got to stay on through the season and collect his $95,000 salary. And now, after Edsall convinced Aresimowicz and other lawmakers that this was all terribly unfair, Aresimowicz dropped a rat into a last-minute bill making this blindingly obvious case of nepotism legal.
So yes, that’s what they accomplished. Nice job.
This is not just a case of a single abnormally inept legislature. Connecticut’s been cursed with short-sighted, weak-willed governance for years, which is part of the reason why we are where we are. Is it any wonder that people don’t trust the government to do anything but make our lives worse?
Our legislature is picking a very bad moment to hit bottom. Connecticut’s crisis of governance is part of a worldwide loss of faith in democratic government and institutions.
All around the globe, people are coming to the conclusion that democracy cannot solve their problems, and are turning to authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan of Turkey. Here in the United States, a recent poll found that Americans see our democracy as “weak” and getting weaker.
Democracy works best when people have good choices to make, and when our representatives take their duty to the people and to our form of government seriously. Unethical legislation, partisan fighting, and legislative paralysis do nothing but erode our trust further.
It’s time to wake up. Democracy deserves so much better. Mr. Speaker, resign. The rest of you, shape up or go home. This is serious, this is about more than just you, and it’s high time you realized that.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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