One-Party Politics in Connecticut: The Elephant Not In the Room
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The closeness of other Democratic-controlled states means that there’s more regionalization of policies. “Take minimum wage—that new policy doesn’t really work unless you have pretty much all of the New England states controlled by Democrats—and now the governors of these different states are pledging to do this,” says Quinnipiac University political science professor Scott McLean. “It’s interesting that not just a state becomes tilted in one direction—it’s interesting when an entire region becomes that entire way—they start to cooperate to fill in the gaps where Congress doesn’t fill it in. It leads to much more of a sense that we’re not so much talking about 50 different states, but we’re talking about five or six different regions as kind of economic policy laboratories.”
Hartford, when viewed through the lens of politics, looks nothing like Washington, D.C. Despite the occasional threat toward the end of a session of the General Assembly, there aren’t serial filibusters or the promise of gridlock on every vote.
Democrats say one-party rule has allowed for things to get done, and claim that Republicans aren’t shut out of the process. Republicans disagree on that notion—but not everyone’s opposed to one-party rule. They’re just opposed to the party in power.
“One-party dominance in Connecticut has allowed the state government to step in where the gridlocked federal government is unable to act,” says McLean. He points to the state’s health insurance exchange and gun-control laws as evidence. “I think the whole series of issues like that we’re starting to see the state, or at least our state, pick up a lot of these initiatives that the nation has talked about pursuing. It’s really the old idea of states making policies.”
The current U.S. Congress has been rated among the most ineffective in history. You can’t say the same for Connecticut. If graded on a scale where just change is measured, and opinion on that change is muted, Connecticut’s Democratic majority has accomplished much.
In the three years since Malloy took office, Connecticut’s legislature has repealed the death penalty, raised the minimum wage, allowed drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, decriminalized marijuana, mandated paid sick leave and enacted stricter gun control—all in a time when Congress couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do the same.
Democrats say that’s reason to celebrate—that one-party rule has worked to create progressive policies wanted by constituents.
“Look at the complete gridlock that exists at the national level, where Congress has been basically reduced to being a debating society and not doing any business,” says Democratic Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney. “Here in Connecticut, we’ve been able to do a number of things that have been important.”
That’s because Republicans, outnumbered in the Senate 22 to 14 and in the House 98 to 53, don’t have the votes to do such a thing. It also means the Democrats don’t have another party to blame for any failures.
In Washington, when Democratic-sponsored votes are stymied and Congress is at a standstill, there’s Speaker of the House John Boehner or Tea Party Republicans in the House to point the finger at. When Connecticut residents are unhappy, Democrats have no choice but to look in the mirror—a fact Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. is hoping voters will remember the next time they go to elect their state legislators and governor.
“The Democratic party owns Connecticut’s economy,” Labriola says, who concedes that one-party rule might not be a bad thing if Republicans were in charge. In fact, he acknowledges that it might be necessary “to correct the excesses” from Democratic rule. He and his fellow Republicans offer a litany of studies to point to and argue that Connecticut’s economy isn’t doing well.
Democrats refute such allegations, suggesting that they’re doing the best with what they inherited.
Gov. Malloy noted this during his state of the state address in February. “Our work hasn’t been easy. No person—and certainly no government—is perfect. Lord knows I’m not. All of our progress has come with setbacks along the way,” he said. “But together we’ve proven that positive change, while hard, is possible. That progress is possible.”