U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy stepped off on his annual “Walk Across Connecticut” listening tour Monday amid a tumultuous moment in international relations due to an emergent war in Israel brought on by a deadly Hamas attack over the weekend.
Murphy’s trip, which began in the north central town of Stafford and is expected to conclude four days and more than 60 miles later in East Haven, represented the senator’s seventh consecutive trek across the state to field questions and concerns from constituents.
This year’s journey will require the two-term senator to remain unusually connected as he monitors the situation in Israel and Gaza, where Hamas militants killed nearly 1,200 people in a startling attack that began Saturday during a Jewish holiday, according to the Associated Press.
“This will be a different week in that I’ll be pinging back and forth between the walk and working on trying to build consensus support in Congress for Israel,” Murphy said as he made his way along a narrow shoulder on Crystal Lake Road in Ellington.
The trip had been delayed once already due to a late-August COVID diagnosis, which required Murphy to table plans to hike 20 miles a day along Connecticut roadways.
It was chilly Monday morning and the senator wore a light jacket as protection from a bitter wind. Murphy said he debated postponing the trek again but concluded there wouldn’t be time to reschedule before cold weather made a cross-state hike untenable.
So instead, the senator was multitasking. Between chats with constituents, Murphy made phone calls from the road to White House officials and staff. He planned to hike as far as Manchester before taking a break from the walk to attend a West Hartford rally for Israel. Meanwhile, he had organized an evening conference call with Jewish leaders across Connecticut.
Murphy, who chairs a foreign relations subcommittee on the Middle East, was also working to ensure the quick confirmation of a handful of diplomats to the region whose appointments were awaiting action in the Senate.
But between all that, he shifted gears to hear the more local concerns of residents in a largely rural patch of northern Connecticut. He chatted with a man who moved back to the state to help care for his aging parents; a construction worker taking his kids fishing on a day off from work; a young clerk working behind the counter of a local deli.
“This walk is always a good grounding exercise to make you realize that the same things tend to matter year after year, despite what may be in the headlines,” Murphy said.
Inside Ellington Depot General Store, Murphy talked with owner Sibylle Rogalla and her daughter Julianna, who was tending the register. They told the senator of the challenges posed by navigating the necessary rules, permits and licenses required to sell deli food and soft serve ice cream out of the small store.
“You go to the Big Y, they don’t have each individual donut bagged up and labeled. It’s us. The little guy,” Sibylle Rogalla told the senator. “It’s killing us.”
Murphy commiserated, telling the shopkeepers that his mother left the teaching profession earlier than she planned as a result of ever-expanding paperwork requirements. He offered his card and promised to have his staff follow up for more information about their difficulties.
Their state and local regulation troubles fall outside the U.S. senator’s wheelhouse. But Murphy said afterward he would look into their complaints and address them with state officials.
“It seems a little silly that you need a bakery license to warm up cookies in a small oven,” Murphy said. “That’s the kind of story you definitely would not hear if you weren’t out doing this. An important perspective from a small business.”
Murphy left the store and headed westward on Route 140. After he was gone, Julianna Rogalla said she was happy to talk with the senator.
“It’s great to see him getting down at this level and keeping it real, talking face-to-face and getting to hear the climate of small business,” she said.
For his part, Murphy, who is seeking re-election to a third term next year, said he hoped to continue making the trek every year for the foreseeable future.
“This is obviously a strange thing to do, spend a week walking the state, but it’s a mechanism for me to try to display to people how much I care about the opportunity they’ve given me,” he said. “It sounds corny but I sorta fall in love with this state every time I do this.”