Former state Sen. Art Linares. Credit: File photo

Few things in life are more delicious than politicians who have a change of heart on matters of public policy because they see an opportunity to make some money on the enterprise in question.

The latest example of such naked hypocrisy lies in the case of former state Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, who was an outspoken opponent of the legalization of recreational cannabis. While serving in the Senate from 2013 until 2019, Linares employed the same talking points supporters of pot prohibition have used for decades, calling weed “a gateway drug” that “has really desensitized our youth” and is “harmful to their brain development.”

I thought Linares was wrongheaded at the time and still do. But fair enough. I knew he was entitled to his opinion and would defend to my grave his right to express it. Now, however, it appears the then-senator was simply striking a pose.

Turns out Linares, who voted noisily against legalization, owns a company that is funding a cannabis cultivation operation recently granted a license by the state’s Social Equity Council. “Why the change of heart?” asked CTInsider (I am paraphrasing), which broke the story connecting the dots between Linares’ new venture and his past positions on cannabis as an elected official.

“Over time, my views have evolved with the changing landscape and research regarding medical and recreational cannabis,” Linares told CTInsider. “I discovered that cannabis wasn’t the problem, rather it was a solution for some problems. For example, cannabis products help people address anxiety, insomnia and can provide a sense of well-being.”

Linares sure got the last few words right, for if his new venture takes off, the cannabis business will surely “provide a sense of well-being” to Linares and his wife, Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons. Moreover, why is it when politicians change their minds, they proclaim that they have “evolved,” as if swept up by the inexorable force of Darwin’s Theory itself?

It’s now clear that either Linares was trying to please Republican Party bosses or culturally conservative voters in his district — or perhaps both. A post-political-retirement epiphany on the benefits of cannabis defies common sense and has made Linares the butt of jokes in the industry. And in the irony department, the CTInsider story was published on April 22, two days after 4/20, a holiday celebrating cannabis and its legalization.

The good news is that it’s unlikely Linares, who left office in 2018 after an unsuccessful run for state treasurer, will run for office again. After all, how could he explain away his reversal with a straight face? And even if he succeeded, no one would believe him.

The Fight Over Affordable Housing

As lawmakers in Hartford push to take measures to increase the state’s stock of affordable housing, a social media war is boiling between housing advocates and those who want the state to mind its own business. Strategies for advancing the two positions are being developed and articulated by interested parties.

Leading the charge for the pro-housing side on Twitter is the estimable Sean Ghio, the senior policy adviser at the Partnership For Strong Communities and a policy nerd who once worked as a town planner on Cape Cod. As you might expect, Ghio is quite persuasive and has an array of facts to support his point of view.

Then there are a variety of voices trying to preserve “local control” over zoning. The one that caught my attention recently was CT 169 Strong, which has been bombarding the Twittersphere with attempts to debunk ideas coming from the affordable housing crowd.

Unfortunately, CT 169 Strong does not identify itself. There is no link to a website in its Twitter profile; nor is there any indication as to who is leading the movement. A YouTube video featuring CT 169 Strong identified it as “a grassroots advocacy organization educating the people on housing and zoning policies.” After doing some research, I finally stumbled upon a website, but I could not find a name attached to the group. The contact page contains a simple form with no email address and no actual named person to contact. So I did a little detective work.

YouTube video

In order to find names, one needs to view the aforementioned video interview, produced by an odd group called “Teaching Liberty,” of CT 169 Strong’s founders Maria Weingarten and Alexis Harrison. And I later located a webinar hosted by CT 169. Weingarten is a real estate agent and a member of the New Canaan Board of Finance. Harrison sits on the town of Fairfield Planning and Zoning Commission.

They contend that state attempts to control local zoning will never work and are a pathway to ruin. They also believe the news media aren’t doing their job because there is insufficient coverage of legislative efforts such as “Desegregate Bill HB 6890” and “Fair Share Bill HB 6633.” The former bill is the brainchild of Desegregate CT, an affordable housing advocacy group founded by Sara Bronin, whose husband is outgoing Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.

Though I might disagree with many of CT 169’s tactics, I actually sympathize with some of what they’re saying, as I made clear in a column last year. Still, I will offer some unsolicited advice: a group of influential people, top-heavy with white residents of Connecticut’s well-to-do shoreline towns arguing against state efforts to increase affordable housing, is probably not a great look.

Bad Bears

I hereby repeat my plea to lawmakers, first made on these pages last October, to reconsider their reluctance to permit a limited bear hunting season in the state. Support for bear hunting has been stymied repeatedly by those who believe there are more humane ways to deal with the crisis of bears attacking humans and livestock, or entering homes and helping themselves to the refrigerator.

Recent events have driven home the need for returning some sense of balance to the bear population, which has grown steadily with the regrowth of forestland throughout the region following the abandonment of most of the state’s farms during the late 1800s.

Last October, a boy was attacked by a black bear while playing in his backyard in Morris. Earlier this month, an Avon woman was attacked and bitten by a bear while walking her dog. A few miles from my Salisbury home, a 400-pound male black bear broke into two homes and helped himself to all the goodies he could eat. In all three cases, officers from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection euthanized the beasts.

Currently, the only permissible way of using deadly force against an aggressive bear in Connecticut is if you are protecting yourself against an imminent attack. You can also apply for a permit to kill a bear causing damage to farm crops and livestock.

As I wrote last fall, opinions on the issue seem to break down along the lines of those who insist changes in human behavior can adequately address the problem and others who want to control the bear population with a hunting season. Why can’t we do both?

EDITOR’S NOTE/CORRECTION: The original version of this op-ed described Sara Bronin as a leader of DesegregteCT, but she resigned from the group in 2021 after being nominated by President Joe Biden to Chair the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and now leads that agency.

Terry Cowgill

Terry Cowgill

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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