TERRY COWGILL
TERRY COWGILL

Besides being the state’s chief executive and the commander-in-chief of the National Guard, Connecticut’s governor has something else in common with the other 49: he’s the booster-in-chief who tries to market the state to potential investors, entrepreneurs, and existing businesses looking to relocate.

With its relatively high tax and regulatory burdens, traffic jams and expensive fuel and electricity, Connecticut doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for being business-friendly. It used to be, but that all started to change about 30 years ago, not long after the state income tax was rammed through the General Assembly by then-Gov. Lowell “Gasoline On A Fire” Weicker.

There’s a lot of politics and PR involved in marketing any state for business. You have to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,” as the old Johnny Mercer song reminds us. In his latest marketing effort, Gov. Ned Lamont is trying mightily to do just that. 

But there is a twist to it. Instead of touting Connecticut’s great business environment, which would be difficult to do with a straight face, Lamont is trying to exploit unfavorable reaction to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade by bragging about the fact that abortion is safe and legal in Connecticut, and that it will remain that way if he has anything to do with it.

Along with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Lamont recently penned an open letter aimed at states where abortion has been banned or severely restricted. Lamont also went on camera to make his pitch directly to disgruntled business owners in the affected states.

“So this may be a time for you to think about taking a look at Connecticut as a place to move your business – a place where your employees feel more at home, perhaps you feel more at home, your customers can better identify with our values,” Lamont said.

To his credit, Lamont did not stop at abortion rights in branding Connecticut as “the most family-friendly state in the country.” He also emphasized the state’s paid family and medical leave program, its mostly well funded public education system, and its expansive childcare and worker training networks. 

But Lamont also touted the state’s “stable fiscal environment,” conveniently omitting the fact that the newly-found durability was made possible, in part, by federal COVID relief funds available to all states. He also failed to point out that Connecticut has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation – laws that were followed by a significant decline in gun deaths after the Sandy Hook massacre. But that might not fly well in Texas, where an 18-year-old can buy an AR-15 but abortion is banned after the sixth week of pregnancy.

As you might expect, Lamont’s move has prompted a backlash. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, pushed back. Abortion is still legal in Nebraska, but Ricketts is considering calling for a special session of the state’s unicameral legislature to consider restrictive legislation to protect what he calls “pre-born babies.”

“Nebraska is a pro-life and pro-liberty state,” Ricketts said, according to Nebraska Public Media. “Unlike the high taxes, expensive cost of living, high income inequality, and burdensome regulations in Connecticut, Nebraska is committed to making it affordable and easy to do business in the Cornhusker State.” Ouch.

Right on cue, an editorialist in LifeNews.com, a self-styled “pro-life” publication, thundered: “The purpose of Lamont’s letter was to promote the killing of the smallest family members; yet, he claimed that abortion is a Connecticut ‘value’ and the state is ‘family-friendly.'”

Echoing the words of President Bill Clinton, I firmly believe abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Still, Lamont’s strategy of using Connecticut’s expansive abortion laws as a marketing tool to sell our “family-friendly state” gives me the creeps. It feels like, in the absence of a favorable business climate, Lamont is devaluing abortion rights by using them as a cheap gimmick, less to offer the procedure to desperate pregnant women from red states than as an wedge issue to deploy in the service of some sort of economic war with conservative states.

As observers of Connecticut state government are aware, Democrat Lamont, a businessman by training and career, has occasionally alienated his progressive base by refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy and expressing skepticism about knuckleheaded progressive ideas such as making striking workers on picket lines eligible for unemployment benefits.

It’s almost as if Lamont is playing a game of good-cop/bad-cop. Perhaps he’s trying too hard to reassure progressives that he’s one of them. And you know what they say about overcorrecting: you often wind up pleasing no one.

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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