Women crowded around Gov. Ned Lamont at a day care Tuesday for a ceremonial signing of bill intended to increase diversity of state commissions and candidates MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG
Women crowded around Gov. Ned Lamont at a day care Tuesday for a ceremonial signing of bill intended to increase diversity of state commissions and candidates MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

A ceremonial bill signing Tuesday in a day care used by executive and legislative parents marked progress in making Connecticut’s political world more hospitable to working mothers — and the failure to make the General Assembly better reflect the population it represents.

Gov. Ned Lamont was gently chided for initially failing to address women’s issues in his transition and then roundly complimented for embracing women’s issues and gender diversity, both in legislation and his appointments to executive and judicial posts.

The bill he signed codifies a court decision overruling a prohibition of the use of campaign funds for the care of a candidate’s child, and it establishes a process for using census data to make the state’s boards and commissions reflect the state’s racial and gender makeup by 2026.

Only one-third of state legislative seats are held by women in Connecticut, a share of power that has little changed in recent years. The legislature now ranks 17th nationally in gender diversity.

“Connecticut needs to catch up. And this legislation is going to be a big part of changing that,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, the mother of a girl born since her re-election to a fourth two-year term in 2020.

The bill reflected the recommendations of the Governor’s Council on Women and Girls, the entity that grew out of a push by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and state Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport. Moore recalled Tuesday complaining to Lamont in a post-election phone call about his early inattention to women’s issues. 

“Marilyn, I think your description of our first phone call was pretty accurate,” Lamont said. “And Susan was pushing hard as well. And I want to tell you something  — you were pushing on an open door.”

The women crowded into the Capitol Child Development Center applauded.

The majority of Lamont’s judicial nominees and at least 45% of his top executive nominees have been women, though his senior staff at the Capitol is nearly all-male. The governor urged private sector chief executives who look “a little like me” to be open to a more diverse workforce.

“You are a lousy leader if you do what the CEOs in this country have done for the last 100 years. They’ve generally said, ‘Round up the usual suspects,’” Lamont said. “You lose a lot of amazing talent with that, and you set your company behind, and you set your government behind. You set your-not-for-profit behind, and we’re not going to stand for it in Connecticut.”

Bysiewicz said she was a rarity when elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 as the mother of an infant.

“It’s so important to have women who have children serving at the legislature, because they speak for the families of our state and the concerns that so many families have,” Bysiewicz said. “And when I got to the legislature, I was the youngest woman, and there were not other legislators that had young children.”

Connecticut is only the 13th state that allows candidates to use campaign funds for child care, said Sarah Hague, the political director for the Vote Mama Foundation, a non-profit founded by a Democratic congressional candidate who convinced the Federal Election Commission in 2018 that child care was a legitimate campaign expense.

“The first step to empowering a diverse pipeline of working mothers to run for office and win is for candidates to no longer have to consider the cost of child care in weighing their decision to run for office,” Hague said. “By making this simple structural change, we can completely change the way working parents, especially mothers, run for office and transform the political landscape here in Connecticut and across the nation.”

The State Elections Enforcement Commission declined to follow suit in 2019. Responding to a legislative candidate, Caitlin Clarkson Pereira of Fairfield, the commission concluded that publicly financed candidates for state office in Connecticut cannot use campaign funds for child care under current rules. 

Pereira sued in Superior Court and won.

The bill also requires the state to track the race and gender of appointees to boards and commissions and sets a goal of 2026 for equity.

“It matters who has a seat at that table. And for far too long. It’s been the same group of people sitting around those tables,” Flexer said. “This legislation will change that. It’s changing who’s making decisions on boards, who’s making decisions on commissions, and who’s making decisions in our Connecticut General Assembly.”

CORRECTION: The Vote Mama Foundation was incorrectly identified in this story as originally posted.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.