Generic food truck. Credit: CatwalkPhotos via Shutterstock
TERRY COWGILL
TERRY COWGILL

There are lots of issues the government has no business being involved in. Locally, the latest example of government overreach is in Torrington, where the city can prohibit food truck vendors from doing their jobs unless they qualify for sainthood. I exaggerate, of course, but to my surprise, I learned recently that the city of Torrington has an ordinance on the books that allows police to pull the licenses of food truck vendors who are lacking in “good moral character.”

You heard it right. Public officials and law enforcement personnel, too many of whom are themselves lacking in good moral character, are the arbiters of virtue for Torringtonians who want to sell food out of a vehicle. This vaguely worded ordinance is so wrongheaded that it doesn’t even seem fair to the good cops who, under the law, are charged with making decisions that are clearly above their pay grade.

The 30-year-old ordinance, reports my colleague Bruno Matarazzo Jr. of the Republican-American, contains language that allows a vendor permit to be revoked for anyone convicted of a crime or misdemeanor involving “moral turpitude,” or that is considered to be vile and an “intentionally evil” act. It appears that the ordinance is a ham-handed attempt to keep sex offenders, who are all listed in a state registry, out of the food truck business.

The problem is that not only does it force the police to make subjective judgments – the less subjectivity, the better in police matters – but it holds street vendors to higher standards than conventional restaurateurs.

To that end, food truck operators descended on City Hall to give council members a piece of their collective minds before the ordinance itself is expected to be completely revised.

“If there’s going to be accountability for food trucks, there should be accountability for restaurants. You can’t have one without the other,” said Ryan Batchelder, owner of Batchy Brew, a coffee truck seen often at various venues in the city.

A police officer provided the example: what if a sex offender operated a mobile food vehicle and could potentially interact with children? But how would a child be any safer with a sex offender who works in a toy store or in an ice cream shop?

If I had to guess, I’d say the clause about “moral turpitude” was inserted at the behest of restaurant owners who detest the food trucks because they present lower-priced competition. I saw this firsthand when the subject of regulating food trucks came up in Berkshire County, Mass.

“We don’t need more food in this town,” the owner of the Great Barrington Bagel Company told the Board of Selectmen in 2013. “We barely make it through the winter. We do not need more competition from food trucks.”

As they consider revising the food truck ordinance, Torrington officials should either scrap the morals clause, sharpen the language to make the types of criminal convictions more specific, or expand it to include all retail businesses. Better yet, broaden the scope of the law to include public officials themselves. Then the morals clause will disappear faster than you can say Philip Giordano.

Threading the Needle

Running as a Republican for state or regional office in Connecticut – or most anywhere in New England, for that matter – requires the skill of a political tightrope walker.

Even in primaries, Connecticut Republicans don’t typically try to “out-conservative” one another, lest they have to answer for it in the general election where Democrats and independents are the order of the day.

But when they run against incumbent Democrats, Connecticut Republicans must differentiate themselves without going over the top, so they are careful. This strategy has taken on increased strategic importance in the era of Donald Trump, the profoundly unpopular Republican ex-president, who incited a riot at the Capitol by promoting the fiction that he’s actually the real chief executive because the current president “stole” something that was rightfully Trump’s. Right.

And as the GOP moves farther to the right nationally, as exemplified by the loonies on the party fringe, Connecticut Republicans have to carve out a center-right platform if they want to win a state or congressional office. Invariably, that means distancing themselves from Trump, the “stop-the-steal” movement, the Jan. 6 insurrection, and conservative positions on social issues that most in our state find objectionable.

It’s a tricky business, and as a political observer, I find the contortions painful to watch. But I suspect it’s not much different from running for national office in Alabama as a Democrat and having to distance yourself from the far left of the national Democratic Party. You can ask former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones about that.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski is working overtime to thread the needle. He has acknowledged the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and has stated that he broadly supports existing laws in Connecticut on abortion and guns and that he will not try to significantly change them.

But there have been stumbles, too. Last week, a private fundraiser in the Farmington Valley with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was canceled. Stefanowski attributed the cancellation to a “scheduling conflict,” but it was easy to guess the real reason. Ricketts, who co-chairs the Republican Governors Association, has proposed to seek a ban on all abortions, even those performed as a result of rape or incest.

The decision to cancel was made easier by a planned protest in Canton headlined, “​​Rally for Choice and Gun Safety.” Organizers noted that Ricketts “also opposed common-sense gun restrictions and supported Trump allies in their efforts to audit the 2020 election.” Didn’t anyone in the Stefanowski campaign think to check Ricketts out before inviting him to the state where Griswold v. Connecticut (a forerunner to Roe v. Wade) was decided and where tough gun control measures were enacted after the Sandy Hook massacre? Nonetheless, the decision to back off was a smart move by Stefanowski. Cut your losses and move on.

That’s more than I can say for his GOP colleague, George Logan, who is running against incumbent Democrat Jahanna Hayes for the 5th district congressional seat. Logan exhibited extremely poor judgment by brag-tweeting about an endorsement from hyperconservative upstate New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives who has echoed QAnon language about “pedo grifters” and trafficked in the “great replacement theory” after the racist mass shooting last month at a Buffalo supermarket.

Message to Logan. You’re not running for the Republican nomination anymore. Stay away from the fringes. Voters in the 5th, a swing district carried by every Democratic presidential candidate since Al Gore in 2000, expect more from their representatives in Washington. Perhaps you didn’t know that because you only recently moved to the district.

Terry Cowgill

Terry Cowgill

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

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