January 6, 2021 - What a day.
Opening Day at the State Capitol in Hartford brought with it the first ever outdoor swearing-in ceremony for the 187 newly elected legislators, a rowdy crowd (to say the least) of about 1,000 protesters calling for Governor Lamont to fully reopen the state, the legislature to avoid the removal of the school-age exemptions for mandatory vaccinations and the U.S. Congress to negate the recent election results. Less than a full house of newly minted state legislators arrived at 10 a.m.—some needing to quarantine, some with health concerns and some who felt their age was a deterrent to attending a large group outing. All in all, the day went smoothly. Sworn in were the top leaders of the House and Senate—New Haven’s Martin Looney as President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Matt Ritter of Hartford as Speaker of the House. Some legislators were accompanied by their families, and also roaming the Capitol campus were a small cadre of reporters, a handful of lobbyists (Patrick and I being two of them) and a dozen or so state party leaders.
The noisy and rambunctious demonstrators gave the newly elected senators and representatives a living example of the mantle of democracy they were taking on: respect freedom of speech even if you disagree, and protect our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was somewhat uncomfortable and loud for all, but such is the pageantry of democracy.
Hartford compared favorably to Washington, D.C., where unruly crowds were whipped into protest not over issues such as human rights or racial injustice, but by a President unwilling to accept the result of an election. Before the sun would set, protesters would batter their way into the U.S. Capitol and drive the Congress into lockdown in the midst of their certifying the election of a new president.
2020 was a year of protests across the world. Carnegie Mellon’s Endowment for International Peace tracks protests across the world, reported recently that many of 2020’s global protests centered on the core issues that have driven the global protest wave of recent years—corruption, judicial reform and violence against women.
The United States and the world saw protests over police brutality and systemic discrimination, from the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States to Nigeria and France. Electoral manipulation and political transitions sparked worldwide protests, as well. Protests about vote rigging and corruption in Kyrgyzstan led to the downfall of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, while in Peru, demonstrations over an unpopular impeachment forced the interim president to resign after only five days in office.
But let’s face it: Afghanistan and Peru are a long way from Arizona and Pennsylvania, and lost elections have no comparison to lost lives. And while we will have a new president, we should understand that unresolved pain, fear and economic stress felt by all Americans is still smoldering, and it’s not unlikely that protests will flare up again if our political leaders don’t take aggressive efforts to forget the blame game and focus on reversing this anxiety.
Joyce Meyer says, “We don’t grow when things are easy – we grow when we are challenged.” We need to take up the challenge of listening, working together, creating a place where we can disagree and oppose others’ opinions, but respect that everyone has a responsibility to fix the problem. In Hartford, the newly elected leaders made some poignant points on how they intend to lead their caucuses.
Connecticut’s legislative leaders showed this week that they understand this by the things they said. Among them:
Speaker Matt Ritter spoke of the need of building respectful relationships that enable you to fight your cause—not each other.
“We all need to identify our red lines—where we can’t go—and then roll up our sleeves and figure out where we can go together to make it work. Relationships make it work—get to really know those you will work closely with. Being popular isn’t as important as being respectful. Make an effort to get to yes, but if someone can’t follow your lead, respectfully fight like heck to pass the bill. Then grab a cup of coffee and start anew.”
House Republican Leader Vin Candelora spoke from the heart about his family and all the sacrifices that Connecticut has made to manage the epidemic so far. He spoke about the honor he felt being elected to represent his party in the House and also committed to set a strong course of “open dialogue, honest debates.”
“Find where we can agree and respect where we can’t. We need to avoid the tug of right or wrong opinions. Opinions are comfortable or uncomfortable but they belong to the person who holds them.”
Majority Leader Jason Rojas summed up the House leaders movingly. When addressing Vin Candelora he said:
“You are conservative, I am a fiscal moderate and liberal in my social policy. But we have worked together for years finding the right direction because we trust each other, we respect each others’ opinions and see what’s best for the state at the end. We might not vote the same but I know we have the same motivations and goals—we’ll just get there sometimes a different way.”
Rojas addressed his Republican counterpart and his House with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “’A leader does not search for consensus... a leader molds consensus,’ and that you can count on from me in the sessions ahead.”
Their words made me proud to be in Connecticut and work as a lobbyist. We all are Connecticut. We can’t look back, we need to move forward with a sense of history and passion about making all our residents a better tomorrow. In the words of Governor Lamont as he wrapped up the day’s Opening Day ceremonies: “These are Connecticut values.”
Let’s do it, the clock starts now - 148 days and counting…