What started three months ago, ended last night—the 2022 Legislative Session, and what a trail of lefts and rights; thrills of victory and agonies of defeat; facts and myths, and the fun and not-so-much-fun.
That’s the best way I can summarize this session. Once again, for the third year in a row, what started out one way ended another. In 2019, the world was normal, it was a year of the dreams and hopes of a new administration and a new legislative class. There were a lot of learning curves with newly elected Governor. His course was abruptly rerouted as he was forced to lead Connecticut through one its most challenging crises.
2020 was the moment that politicians were defined. During a crisis they listened, learned, and led. They quickly learned that you either lead, follow or stay out of the way depending on each and every reaction to the fast paced changes. They listen to the people with the best information, the folks in the eye of the storm and then people on Main Street. And they lead with heart, a path forward and a calming voice.
With Connecticut barricaded corner-to-corner, people isolating with only their core families, worksites shuttered with no expectation of return to a normal workplace, shortages of almost everything on the shelves of the local grocery and drug stores, Connecticut families surely struggled. The legislature too was struggling, and within days, shut down for the remainder of the 2020 Session. The Governor stepped in and became a leader.
After a campaign season of limited person-to-person interactions, the 2021 legislature arrived in Hartford with almost 1/3 of the newly “seated” legislature only serving as a State Senator or State Rep for less than two years. A look back saw the 2021 session struggling with all the new committee chair match ups, the large group of newbies to the process, the lack of in-person interactions, issues adapting to virtual platforms, deciding how to lobby without ever walking into the LOB and Capitol and issues with legislators trying to collaborate without in person meetings. How we all got through it is still a wonder. As the summer arrived everyone took a breath and with a vaccine proliferating throughout the state, things started to get better.
The Governor was leading and so were the people in the street. After rallying around the caretakers, the healthcare workers and the first responders, people all across the state were restless about the continued isolation at school and work places. Restaurants were up and running again, retail stores re-opened for business and local governments opened their doors. But, state agencies and the state government was still limited in access and working in a hybrid fashion. They focused in July on the strange new accessory, the face masks. For the Governor, the pressure was on. By the end of the summer, with the positivity rate dropping, the Governor lifted the mandates and left decisions about personal safety up to the individual and local officials.
I thought it was important to reflect back on how we got to the 2022 session in order to figure out what happened during the 2022 session, since it would be the second year of limited access to the decision makers. In the halls of the Capitol and the LOB, intelligence gathering is critical to figuring out the temperature of our issues. It is an important part of staying in-tune with the side bar conversations between committee chairs, across-the-aisle discussions, and even talks between the House and Senate members that could change the course of a piece of legislation.
We started out with access to only the first floor of the LOB and the Capitol as committee meetings and public hearings went virtual once again. Halfway through the committee process, we gained access to hybrid final action votes for some committees, as well as access to the second floor of the Capitol and the cafeteria. As the session gaveled out on Wednesday, we still were restricted from the Senate's floor and any committee meetings on referred business, as they were back to virtual in order to accommodate legislators who needed “to take care of business in the district”.
During a day of R&R on Thursday I looked back on how the session went. It went kind of well to be honest.
Lessons learned from the 2020 session helped get our game play in shape. We focused on networking during the interim. We continued our culture of being there before the gavel opens the session, and staying there until after the gavel closes business each day. We had our highs, our victories, our restarts, our disappointments and even our war story moments. When things weren't looking so good, we pivoted and we doubled down. With grit, determination, street smarts and a lot of teamwork, we left the Capitol early Thursday morning with heads high and knowing that we used every arrow in our quiver, turned over every stone, and as is the Sullivan & Leshane way, we had our last three bills hit the consent calendar in the Senate at 11:55 P.M. just as the House and Senate were about to gavel out. Nothing better than that.
We used our test run of the 2020 session by using texts, emails, zoom calls and in-person one-on-one lobbying to set up our last move on the chess board. It felt good, it felt seamless, and it was definitely a fun last night of session. BUT enough is enough of this.
On Opening Day 2023 we will see two thirds of the legislature with four years or less of service. With the passage of legislation which would almost double the compensation for legislators, there will be plenty of freshmen legislators who sought the office with a focus on making changes, making a difference, and breaking down old traditions, having the ability to work full-time toward their goals. I’m wondering if the good old days of public service, the days of working together to find a solution, might be challenged with many of the newly elected folks arriving with a clear agenda as to what the solution is for the problem, rather than listening and learning the traits of leadership.
We will have to wait and see. Come November 8th (Election Day). I’m really hoping I’m wrong.