By Stephen Knight
This past week, the Record-Journal did a great public service in having back-to-back columns from the two contenders for Connecticut’s 85th Legislative District. First was one from Weston Ulbrich, who is the Republican candidate and has never held elective office, followed up by one written by Mary Mushinsky, the Democrat candidate who was first elected forty years ago.
Some of each candidate’s column was boilerplate. Ulbrich calls for new blood; Mushinsky touts her experience. Nothing new there. If I had been in office for almost forty years, I’d be playing the experience card too. But for Mary Mushinsky to tout that she has been in the majority and has had her hands on the levers of power might just be to her great disadvantage.
What Rep. Mushinsky is really suggesting is this: voters should look at Connecticut, look at the state government we have and remember that she helped build that record. Her party has been in control of the General Assembly for decades, has had a majority of the state Senate for decades, and has controlled the office of Governor since 2011. Voters should take note of the state government’s success and therefore vote for her.
Seriously, that is the record that Rep. Mushinsky must run on. That is what any incumbent with her pedigree – being in the majority for virtually her entire career — must trumpet. She should be very, very proud of what her party has accomplished, and voters in Wallingford should send her back so that she can keep working to keep that record of success, right?
Now many of you (I hope) are wondering “What’s he getting at? Everybody in the state knows how much trouble our state government is in.” Yes, indeed, everyone should know that the State of Connecticut ranks among the lowest in almost every economic index available. And Rep. Mushinsky and her party own that record.
Who will help get us back on track? If you put the two columns side-by-side, you will read what philosophy that, if elected, each would bring to the 2021 Connecticut General Assembly session:
Private sector vs public sector perspective: Weston Ulbrich speaks from the perspective of his family’s business, which grew from a metals scrapyard in 1924 to a precision metals manufacturer of 350 employees today. Mary Mushinsky has been a state legislator for almost forty years. Ulbrich’s day-to-day employment is in a private business; Mushinsky’s has been entirely in state government.
Utilize nonprofits to solve social problems vs state government to solve problems: the last time Connecticut state government faced a revenue problem, the reaction in Hartford was to slash the grant money that it gave to nonprofits in order to protect the state bureaucracy. Nonprofits have smaller, leaner staffs that work closer to the people needing services than the grand, bloated departments in state government. But when choices needed to be made as to which segment would be sacrificed, it was no contest. Despite the obvious efficiency advantage of funding nonprofits, the state bureaucracy won hands down. Who lost? The people needing social services, of course.
Local municipality solutions vs state bureaucracy solutions: During this entire coronavirus pandemic and the economically destructive edicts used to get it under control, which government entities were called upon and why? It was determined that state governments would lead most of the efforts. Why? Because they were smaller and closer to the people, they were deemed to be able to move more quickly, more nimbly and more efficiently that the feds. The smaller governments closer to the problems were preferred because it was thought that they would know their particular issues better than the far-off, lumbering federal bureaucracy.
But here in the People’s Republic of Connecticut, there is no problem that doesn’t command a state solution vs a local solution. Again, the COVID-19 crisis stands as an excellent illustration. Stamford and Stonington, Westport and Woodstock, New London and New Canaan have all been under the command-and-control structure of Hartford, despite light years of difference between the severity of the illness in each place. “Hartford knows best” has been the watchword.
As the “reopening” glacially commences, local municipalities are seeing that Connecticut state officials are loathe to surrender any of the total power this emergency has granted them despite the illogic and unfairness of “We know best” state government. Local government is having to fight to get its rightful authority back, despite the merits of its being closer to the people it serves.
Now, let’s get back to the original topic: the candidate from which party should be sent to represent Wallingford? Is it time for a change? Or should we continue with the same?
In other words, the question for voters in the 85th District is not: “Which person do I like better and why?” The real question is:“How is Connecticut doing … and why not?”
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.