Electric vehicle illustration (File via Shutterstock)
TERRY COWGILL

Gov. Ned Lamont has been pondering Vice President Kamala Harris’ request, made during a recent visit to Connecticut, that our state take in, at federal expense, unaccompanied minors who had recently crossed the border with Mexico and were being kept at detention facilities there. 

Lamont’s decision to move forward with the plan to house the children at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown has caused a stir — not on principle, mind you, but because of the environment they will inhabit.

Keeping children in a correction facility when their only offense is crossing the border unlawfully is, of course, less than ideal. Some on Twitter insist that housing the children there will inflict trauma on the already traumatized. 

“Taking kids out of cages in the southwest and moving them into cages in the northeast is not an immigration policy,” said Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim, a Democrat.

Indeed, Lamont’s move evokes the horrifying images of children in cages that were so prevalent during the Trump administration. More to the point perhaps, is that states don’t make immigration policy — and at the moment, the Biden administration’s is something of a disaster. It could even harm the political fortunes of Democrats nationwide, so you would think that Democrats who supported Biden’s election would applaud Lamont’s offer to help out the White House.

In situations like this, especially when children are involved, it’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you. These children have indeed been through a lot of trauma, but I’d argue that whether it’s the Middletown campus, which closed in 2018 after a scandal involving its builder and former Gov. John Rowland, or the Southbury Training Center, the more important factor to consider is how they’re treated once inside the facility. 

They won’t be guarded by correction officers. These kids will have better access to health care than they did at the border. They won’t be sleeping on the floor under blankets made of plastic wrap. As Lamont has noted, the Middletown facility is highly secure and, unlike Southbury, it was actually designed to house children.

It’s easy to take shots at Lamont, an Ivy Leaguer who grew up wealthy in Greenwich, as an out-of-touch patrician who has no clue how to treat the disadvantaged. If such were the case, he would have told Harris to get lost.

Zoning Reform

Two other initiatives are also moving forward that would fundamentally alter the notion of local control prized by so many in Connecticut. Both are affordable housing bills but at their core, they’re really about exclusionary zoning.

Both made it out of a key legislative committee last week. One would “establish requirements for zoning regulations concerning accessory apartments” and effectively legalize them, regardless of whether municipal zoning allows for them. The other would create “affordable housing planning and zoning goals for each municipality” and implement “the enforcement of such goals.” The bill would also eliminate the consideration of “character” from local zoning regulations.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of “enforcing” goals, which are aspirational at their core. But you get the point. Some state lawmakers want to get involved in local zoning matters in the name of creating more affordable housing.

As I’ve written before, Connecticut’s lack of affordable housing is a disgrace and most of the efforts to exclude affordable developments, such as those that are happening in my town of Salisbury, are thinly veiled attempts to keep out the underprivileged.

That said, I’m not a fan of having the state getting directly involved in local zoning matters. The current state goal is that each municipality have 10% of its housing stock qualify as affordable, according to state formulas. But it’s not really enforced. The state’s 8-30g affordable housing statute does permit developers in towns with insufficient affordable housing stock to appeal unfavorable municipal rulings to the state, but it hasn’t proved to be much of an incentive for reluctant towns.

A better alternative would be for the state to leave zoning to towns and cities, but have them face real consequences if they fail to achieve the goal by a reasonable period of time. State aid could be withheld for inaction, for example. In the case of the wealthiest towns that receive little aid from the state anyway, fines could be imposed.

You could channel Evanston, Illinois, and call it “Reparations For Redlining!

Tesla Tizzy

ICYMI The Day of New London last week editorialized in favor of retaining the monopoly auto dealerships enjoy in Connecticut over the sale of new cars. As regular readers of this column know, I took the opposite view last week.

The Day has some fine editorial writers, but this is not a very compelling piece. It essentially recycles a lot of the talking points the dealerships have promulgated in opposing the bill, supported by Transportation Co-Chair Sen. Will Haskell and others, that would end the dealers’ monopoly, expand consumer choice and open the market to Tesla and other electric-vehicle manufacturers to sell directly to us without the middleman taking his cut.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose
Click above to vote on SB 127: AN ACT CONCERNING THE SALE OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES IN THE STATE

Newspaper editorials are the voice of the publisher who pays the bills and meets the payroll. Local auto dealerships are one of the few remaining major advertisers newspapers have left. I know this because I used to work at a print-only weekly. Auto dealers love the print space they can buy for those big display ads.

To its credit, The Day editorial board acknowledges this: “So yes, this company benefits if local dealers remain strong. But so too, we believe, does our regional economy.”

Is it safe to say that no one on the editorial board wants to buy a Tesla or another electric vehicle that doesn’t require a traditional dealership? Or is this editorial merely a bow to economic reality during tough times? You be the judge …

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at tcowgill90@wesleyan.edu.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.