christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie
The Hartford Courant on Broad Street in Hartford (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie)
TERRY COWGILL

Won’t we Nutmeggers ever learn? Our leaders run for higher office promising not to raise certain taxes during an economic crisis. We either believe them or we shrug and assume that lying to us is something we deserve.

My first recollection of this phenomenon was almost 30 years ago. In his campaign for governor in 1990, Lowell Weicker turned a promise on its head, vowing no change to Connecticut’s position as one of only two New England states without a personal income tax. After winning, he promptly did his best imitation of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady: “Never mind.”

More recently, Gov. Dannel Malloy promised not to raise taxes while running for re-election in 2014. After a narrow win, the following year he signed one of the largest tax hikes in state history, prompting a cry from erstwhile opponent Tom Foley for a recall election, which isn’t even an option in Connecticut.

When gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont promised last year not to support broad-based tolling on the state’s roads, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, Lamont is an independently wealthy businessman who doesn’t talk like a politician. His career in government was limited to mostly volunteer positions like the board of finance in Greenwich.

Then, safely ensconced in his corner office at the Capitol, Lamont penned an editorial on Saturday supporting electronic tolls on all vehicles, along with congestion pricing. Even if you support tolls — and I think they’re inevitable — you should at least be disappointed in Lamont’s brazen dishonesty.

I feel a little like Charlie Brown once again trusting Lucy to hold the football, only to have it yanked unceremoniously away from me at the last instant. Couldn’t Lamont at least have been transparent about his duplicity? He could have channeled Weicker and insisted that the introduction of broad-based tolls would be like “throwing gasoline on a fire” — the phony metaphor used by candidate Weicker to describe the effect of the imposition of an income tax during a recession.

The Courant’s Future

I was surprised on a couple of levels to see that journalists at the Hartford Courant have organized a union to represent them. First, I was not aware that the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper wasn’t a union shop to begin with. Second, forming a newsroom union when the property is almost certainly for sale will surely make the Courant less attractive to a potential buyer.

One Courant reporter, Kathleen McWilliams, complained of the newsroom being “decimated and demoralized by buyouts and layoffs” as “workloads increase without commensurate compensation” and “corporate managers take home $5 million bonuses.”

The newspaper guild might have something to say about workloads and newsroom compensation, but no corporation in its right mind would, in a collective bargaining pact, agree to limits on layoffs or executive compensation. The United States Post Office agreed to union contracts that forbade layoffs and it’s one of the reasons why the post office faced a mountain of debt. Workers were essentially paid to do nothing even as demand for their services dropped.

Despite multiple rounds of buyouts and layoffs (the newsroom staffing is said to be less than a quarter of what it was at its peak in 1994), there are still many fine journalists left at the Courant. But this move to organize has the whiff of desperation.

The Courant has lost some star journalists to the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, including, most recently, Dan Haar, Jeff Jacobs and Colin McEnroe.

All three left the Courant after long stints and had developed loyal followings. The layoffs and loss of talent have occurred as print circulation has dropped 32 percent over the last three years alone.

Perhaps nowhere is the Courant’s diminishing influence more apparent than in the aforementioned Lamont’s decision to break the news about tolls this past weekend by penning an op-ed in the Hearst papers.

The Courant will likely be bought in the next year or two, perhaps by Hearst itself. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. In 2017, Hearst acquired three major dailies in the state, including the New Haven Register, giving the company ownership of 19 newspapers with a reach of 470,000 households and a monthly digital reach of 1.4 million visitors. Adding the Courant might give Hearst near-monopoly status.

But in the end, there may be no other way out for the Courant, unless a predatory hedge fund like the much-reviled Alden Capital swoops in and makes an offer. In that case, I’ll root for Hearst. At least it values good journalism.

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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 thenews@hotmail.com.

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