Gov. Ned Lamont at a COVID-19 news briefing (FILE/CTNewsJunkie)
Susan Bigelow head shot
SUSAN BIGELOW

I bet you’re sick and tired of the pandemic. Believe me, I am, too. But thanks to the delta variant and sluggish vaccination rates on the part of our fellow Americans, here we still are, a year and a half after the governor first assumed his emergency powers and the first shutdowns began.

Gov. Ned Lamont is seeking a sixth extension of those emergency powers, which are set to expire at the end of the month. It’s likely the legislature will give it to him, too, which means the governor’s executive orders requiring, among other things, that state employees, teachers and state hospital workers be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, would stay in effect through the start of the legislative session in February.

The last time the legislature extended the governor’s emergency powers, back in July, protesters and Republicans questioned the need for an extension because the pandemic was “over.” Therefore, “King Ned” needed to get off his throne and let everybody get back to normal.

This time, the reaction has been muted at best. A rally at the Capitol opposing mask and vaccination mandates drew only sparse attendance, and the “King Ned” talk has mostly died down. Republicans looking to 2022 are still trying to keep outrage stoked but there’s little sign the public is on their side.

The politics of a long emergency like this one can be dangerous for politicians who amass so much emergency authority that they become the face of the entire disaster response. Even before Andrew Cuomo was finally chased out of office for being an awful, gross creep, New Yorkers had soured on his handling of the pandemic. Even Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, who has enjoyed rock-solid support for most of his tenure, saw his approval ratings tumble due to the pandemic.

That hasn’t happened in Connecticut, as least as far as we know. Nobody polls this state much anymore, so Lamont’s approval rating is a mystery, but the lack of any real opposition to his executive orders speaks volumes. Even Republicans are less concerned with the actual orders than they are with the abstract use of emergency power in general.

So far, the politics of the pandemic in Connecticut have been very quiet, all things considered, and that’s good news for Democrats and the governor. It’s very easy for people to look at the dumpster fire that is the rest of the country outside the Northeast and think, ‘Man, glad we don’t live there.” 

Connecticut enjoys one of the highest vaccination rates in the country and the impact of the delta variant here has been a lot less severe because of it. Our hospitals aren’t overcrowded, case counts have been high but mostly stable at around 4,000-5,000 per week instead of going through the roof, and quasi-normal life has largely been able to continue. While some schools have had to shut down over COVID-19 concerns, most of the state has been able to continue having in-person classes. 

That doesn’t mean the governor is a lock for reelection, as some have been confidently predicting. There’s a lot of potential political danger out there.

So there are two general scenarios that will happen over the fall and winter, and there’s danger for the governor and his party in both of them. The first is that the pandemic gets worse — much worse. As people move indoors and windows start being shut due to cold weather, transmission could skyrocket much as it did during the fall of 2020. If that happens, we could be looking at the reimposition of restrictions on schools and businesses and none of that is popular. The little pieces of normality we’ve been able to cobble together since the spring might fall apart.

And while the delta variant has been bad, there’s always the possible emergence of a much worse variant that is both highly transmissible and resistant to vaccines. There’s some research suggesting that the mu variant might have some of those characteristics, though it’s way too early to tell.

Right now, people in Connecticut seem to be placing the blame for prolonging the pandemic on the unvaccinated — and rightly so. But public opinion can turn quickly, and if frustrated voters start blaming the government for either being heavy-handed or not doing enough things could get very ugly.

The other scenario is that the pandemic gets better and that by the spring of 2022, we’ll largely be out of it. The danger for Lamont there is that, before COVID-19 hit, he was very, very unpopular. Voters could, once the emergency is done, remember why they disliked him. If the 2022 election is about crime, tolls or the economy instead of the pandemic, Lamont could find himself losing to a populist Republican “change” candidate.

In the meantime, the legislature and the governor are ready to approve the extension of emergency powers so they can focus on our awful redistricting process. It’ll be good to have a mess that isn’t about the pandemic.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.