Ned Lamont, nice guy, piano player, and battle of the bands judge, is about as unpopular as sewage in the state he governs. His approval rating, according to a Hartford Courant/Sacred Heart poll, is a measly 24%. That’s one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the country.
Imagine how bad it would be if he’d done anything to actually deserve it.
Oh man, I can hear the comments coming in now. Tolls! New taxes! My precious plastic bags!
And sure, I get that people don’t like those things. Republicans despise the guy, and independents aren’t too hot on him either. But that doesn’t explain why only 40% of the people in his own party approve of him. After all, the plastic bag ban is a big-ish deal for the environment, and paid family leave — a longtime progressive goal — passed. There’s probably going to be some regional deal on marijuana before Lamont’s term is up. Even tolls are part of a badly-needed transportation plan that pretty much everyone agrees we desperately need. We only disagree on how to pay for it.
So why the overwhelming hate?
Given, the governor has done a lot to alienate people in his bumbling, pleasant way. Progressives have soured on him for not soaking the rich. Moderates and conservatives hate the taxes and the tolls proposal. He’s seemed inconsistent and wishy-washy.
But Dan Malloy, who faced a much more difficult climate and made some deeply unpopular moves, didn’t hit this level of unpopularity until the end of his second term. In short, there’s “I raised your taxes” unpopular, and then there’s “I ran over your cat and sent you a picture of it” unpopular. Ned’s drifting into the cat one.
Other governors are disliked, for sure. Matt Bevins in Kentucky is another of America’s least popular governors not because of policy, but because he is an unbearable jerk. Kate Brown in Oregon is unpopular in part because she’s unapologetically making waves.
Lamont, on the other hand, is a decent human being who, despite all the anger and frustration, hasn’t made any real sweeping changes.
So what gives?
Some of it is leftover hate from the Malloy era. Some people just replaced “Malloy” with “Lamont” in their Facebook rants. It’s easy, it doesn’t require a lot of thinking, and it’s sure to draw lots of positive reactions.
Another piece of this is that people in Connecticut desperately want the kind of change that Lamont thus far hasn’t delivered. Expectations for big, dramatic breaks with the past are usually way too high, especially given the limited tools at the governor’s disposal. The basic reality of a state with a sluggish economy and an ongoing budget crisis would be difficult to budge no matter who is in charge. Still, it’s frustrating to have a new governor and still feel stuck in the same old mud.
In addition to that, ever since Dan Malloy took office and the current era of unified party control of government began in 2011, the governor has become the big, easy target. Everyone can vent the entirety of their anger and frustration at the guv. Unfortunately for both Malloy and Lamont, Connecticut government is nothing if not frustrating.
It was easier for governors who weren’t in the same party that controlled the legislature. M. Jodi Rell and John Rowland could make a lot of hay out of opposing the legislature. Malloy and Lamont don’t have that option.
But I also I think there’s something else at work here, tied to our miserable perception of ourselves and of the place where we live. Our gloomy outlook on life, our envy of places just over the horizon, the endless parade of “I’m leaving” editorials, our utter lack of faith that things could ever get better, those are all of a piece. The governor gets to be the scapegoat for our existential grief.
In the old Bible story, the Israelites would confess their sins to the goat so that it bore them all on its back, then they’d lead it out into a solitary place and let it loose.
We load up our own goat with our sins and send it off, but it just comes right back. Of course we hate it. No matter what we do, we can’t escape ourselves.
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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