For Connecticut’s political watchers, the chaotic Trump presidency and the state’s dire fiscal condition have conspired to consume so much of our attention that we’ve scarcely had time to brush our teeth.
But Tuesday’s elections proved an especially enervating experience and one that could have a profound effect on the state and the nation. The so-called “blue wave” that was supposed to sweep the nation was modest, given the fact that Republicans increased their majority in the Senate. Still, Democrats took over the House and they flipped seven governor’s seats.
Progressives should not underestimate the importance of the nation’s most exclusive club. The fact that the GOP gained two seats in the Senate is perhaps more consequential than the Democrats taking over the House.
As 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s fall on Wednesday night reminds us, the Senate alone will decide on whether to confirm another Supreme Court justice nomination from President Trump. Unlike the first two judges Trump put forward, this one would be a whopper, flipping a staunchly liberal seat to a staunchly conservative one. And also unlike the first two, the nomination of Ginsberg’s successor would be a smoother affair with a pair of additional GOP votes.
But here in Connecticut, the blue wave broke on the beach and flooded a lot of Republicans out of their waterfront homes. Not only did a Democrat replace a Democrat in an open governor’s race for the first time since the 1950s, but Democrats increased their majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Indeed, with a 24 seats to 12 advantage in the Senate, Democrats will have a supermajority there.
My media colleague and fellow Salisbury homeowner Jeff Greenfield remarked before the election that if Democrats do take over the house, the best job in Washington will be that of process server because there will be so many subpoenas flying out of the Capitol in Washington that it will make Trump’s head spin.
If Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski had defeated Democrat Ned Lamont, the best job in Connecticut would have belonged to the guy who owns the factory that manufactures pens for the signing of documents. With solid Democratic majorities in both Houses, Stefanowski would have had to carry his veto pen with him everywhere in the Capitol, ready to pull it out at any moment, lest the Democrats try to slip one past the goalie.
I voted for Oz Griebel, so I guess I don’t really have a partisan dog in the upcoming fight for Connecticut’s future. I am, nonetheless, optimistic that Lamont can do a decent job of running the state. Like my colleague Ken Dixon at Hearst, I don’t think Malloy was as terrible as his detractors insist he was. Malloy actually took some badly needed steps to right the ship but he and the Democratic legislature simply weren’t able to take us to the next level.
Part of it was Malloy’s personality. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times in his office at the Capitol and was impressed by the depth of his policy knowledge. Heck, he even displayed a sense of humor. But as a self described “porcupine,” Malloy could be abrasive and prickly when asked questions he did not like. He alienated thousands of educators across the state with one brash remark. Furthermore, Malloy had been mayor of Stamford and had never worked in the legislature, so building relationships with lawmakers at the Capitol was a challenge for him.
I’m hopeful that Lamont’s personality, his business background, and lack of baggage will allow him to succeed where Malloy has failed. Pay no attention to what was said during the campaign. Taxes will have to be raised — at least in the beginning. The incoming governor will be faced with a projected $4.6 billion deficit in the first two years without the threat of layoffs until 2021, thanks to an unwise agreement Malloy signed with the unions that represent most of the state’s employees. So it doesn’t matter how fiscally conservative you are. The bills have to be paid and, without firing employees, there’s no way to get your hands on that much cash without taking more of it from taxpayers.
The hardest work comes afterward when longer-term structural changes must be made such as those in employee pensions and retiree healthcare. Then there is the state’s oppressive regulatory regime and the need to send a message that Connecticut is open for business again. Oh, and there is that matter of being overly dependent for revenue on Fairfield County’s gold coast. You know, those high net-worth individuals whose incomes can fluctuate greatly from year to year.
To wit, the town of Greenwich only comprises about 1.7 percent of Connecticut’s population, but accounts for 14 percent of the state’s income tax receipts. So when the stock market has a bad year, or the Wall Street bonuses dry up, or fewer of the super rich die, we find ourselves scrambling for revenue and wondering why.
I don’t profess to have all the answers and neither does Lamont. But there are a lot of smart people at the Capitol. Call me naïve, but you’d think they could find a way to work something out. The consequences of failure are too great. Come to think of it, Lamont had better keep that veto pen in his pocket, too
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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