Big achievements, big disappointments and political musical chairs
It was a week of big achievements for some, big disappointments for others; and, in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, musical chairs.
For the Connecticut “dreamers,” Wednesday night’s 91-59 passage by the House of a bill making certain undocumented immigrants eligible for college financial aid was the culmination of a long campaign and cause to rejoice. Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the bill Friday, calling it good policy and positive politics.
Similarly, the nomination of Richard A. Robinson to become the state’s first black chief justice gave hope to members of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus that the minority community’s concerns about racial disparities in criminal justice would be addressed.
There was also a little progress on improving the availability of affordable housing.
On the other hand, the Board of Regents for Higher Education and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, were, to use Ojakian’s word, “devastated” when their plan to consolidate the state’s 12 community colleges was rejected by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, was irritated when Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, his personal physician and embattled choice to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew his name from consideration following harsh criticism of his professional conduct. “I don’t want to put a man through a process like this.” Trump said. “It’s too ugly and disgusting.”
Neither was a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee – including four Republicans – happy about Trump’s recent televised remarks that the Russia investigation is “a disgrace.” On a 14-7 vote (including that of Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal) they approved a bill that would (if it were ever passed) protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without good cause.
On Friday Republicans on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee issued their final report on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections — a report that generally clears the Trump campaign of any wrongdoing. But Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said the 253-page document “does not correctly portray the harm done to the American people by the investigation’s premature cessation.”
Speaking of presidential elections, the Connecticut House held a close, but affirmative, vote on having the state join the interstate compact committing its seven electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote.
In Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, the cast of candidates vying to replace U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty was changing on a daily basis, starting when Dr. William Petit, R- Plainville, said he would not run on the Republican ticket. His announcement was dittoed by state Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel, who also decided he would rather seek re-election to his seat in the Connecticut legislature.
Not to worry, however, because their retreats made room for Simsbury Republican Liz Peterson and fellow Republican Ruby O’Neill of Southbury to announce their interest in the 5th District seat. On the Democratic side, Rabbi Shaul Praver, who served as spiritual leaders of Newtown’s Congregation Adath Israel for 13 years, has joined the race. Two others won’t: Sandy Hook Promise founders Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden.
The field in the race for governor also slimmed by one when Democrat Jonathan Harris dropped out and endorsed Ned Lamont, the candidate former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz appears to have sized up as her biggest competition. The race for state attorney general also lost one competitor when Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, dropped out and endorsed fellow Democrat William Tong.
In Connecticut budget news (which is seldom good news these days) House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, confirmed that the legislature’s move to prevent the City of Hartford’s bankruptcy will, temporarily at least, max out the state’s ability to borrow.
Republicans and Democrats are sharply divided on how the state should budget. While they share some common ground involving municipal aid and health care for the elderly and disabled, major disagreements persist over labor costs, higher education and other issues.
Problems in those disputed areas are likely to be painful to solve. Take, for example, the demands for higher wages and financial support for the workers who care for the disabled. They have voted to strike May 7 if legislators don’t approve an $11.4 million package recommended by the Malloy administration.
Neither party wants to fully fund the Medicare Savings Plan and have offered proposals that will cut off tens of thousands who’ve come to rely on the program.
On the revenue side, highway tolls, if they are ever approved, are years away at best, and so is a federal law that would allow Connecticut to collect millions in sales taxes from online retailers who sell goods here, said an angry Kevin Sullivan, commissioner of revenue services.
Meanwhile, there are other non-budget issues that are still on the agenda: a bill aimed at controlling high prescription drug costs. Following the death of an autistic Hartford teen last year, the state’s child advocate also wants lawmakers to set up some form of regulations intended to protect the safety of children who are being home schooled.
State legislators also have yet to finalize the appointment of 32 judge nominees — the last two of which Malloy nominated Friday.
In Washington, Sens. Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney, are waiting for the results of an Inspector General’s investigation into why the Department of Interior is not acting on a request by Connecticut tribes to approve changes to their gaming compact needed to win state support for a new casino in East Windsor.
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