While presidential campaigns become increasingly consumed by ideological excesses, and the federal government is run by men whose ambition eclipses their volition, the future of this country may be safe in the hands of very effective and capable public servants. Public servants like Ned Lamont.
Let us start with two words that are to Republicans what a Luigi’s cannoli is to me – fiscal responsibility. After inheriting an unsustainable deficit, Lamont engineered a $4 billion record surplus while also lowering taxes. In a remarkable display of sound governance, the governor restructured pension contributions to decrease financial risks and annual payments, while operating with more realistic return projections, as he pledged in his 2019 budget address. The astounding results are clearly painted in the 2023 budget whereupon 60% of all Connecticut tax filers will enjoy tax cuts and tax credits.
This is a stark contrast with the fiscally irresponsible federal government that unnecessarily spent $28 million on camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army to amuse the fashion tastes of a single Afghan official when most of Afghanistan happens to be a desert. Or that rather recent flagrant picture of status quo—think Reagan—politics exemplified by Florida officials using $140 million of pandemic relief to break ground on a high-end hotel.
Perhaps, they need not be as diligent as Ned Lamont because unlike him they can just print more money.
Beyond fiscal responsibility, Lamont’s record stresses his commitment to community revitalization. For example, the Connecticut Communities Challenge Grant program will allocate $5.5 million to the Parkville Arts & Innovation District project – a redevelopment initiative in Hartford aiming to build a more sustainable livelihood for its residents. It will be complemented by another $16.5 million to build 57 rentals in a new five-story building where 30% of all units will be reserved for lower-income households. These projects are only the initial fruits of this commitment, as $810 million over the next two years will be disbursed to enhance housing development efforts.
Furthermore, the synergy of community revitalization in distressed areas and small business support continues to project business confidence and lead Connecticut’s new normal recovery as more than 40,000 new businesses were registered by the first half of 2021. These commercial establishments will benefit from a $46.6 million investment to augment small enterprises assistance across the state and the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund that has already loaned $10.8 million, of which 61% was allotted to minority and women-owned businesses.
Notably, Governor Lamont not only endeavors to create a business climate that attracts corporations and spurs small business growth. His administration has demonstrated the seriousness of its pledge to job creation initiatives. As evidence, the Innovation Corridor program administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development is in possession of a $100 million arsenal to be distributed over five years to generate a minimum of 15,000 new jobs in advanced manufacturing, data science, and other emerging industries through the selection of transformational placemaking proposals in regional economic centers. This and other successful initiatives have catalyzed the recovery of 99.9% of April 2020 COVID-19 job losses as reported by Connecticut’s Department of Labor.
Job creation necessitates a concurrent pursuit – a 21st Century Ready Workforce. To this end, the Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development launched the Tech Talent Accelerator looking to build CT’s workforce as to meet the high demand for tech skills in software development, cybersecurity, digital analytics, et cetera. Amongst the list of programs, Quinnipiac University will offer an advanced cybersecurity program for professionals in healthcare, finance, and tech; Mitchel College, a cybersecurity accelerated package for advanced manufacturing and defense professionals; and the University of Hartford, an accelerated software development course for mobile apps led by Infosys for large enterprises in Greater Hartford.
Lamont’s approach to workforce development is not isolated, it is comprehensive. It begins with little ones as his effective education plans illustrate. For instance, Lamont’s administration is laboring to increase school staffing, having thus far led a 4% increase in staffing levels between 2018-19 and 2021-22 school years with a 3.2% increase in the percentage of teachers of color to 11.%. As Lamont’s administration champions these results, his and the cabinet’s leadership reflect a pursuit of robust development standardized across the state.
Connecticut is not only building its people, it is building itself. Infrastructure investments has too been one of Lamont’s key priorities as evinced by the actions taken by the Transit-Oriented Development Grant Program. One of their infrastructure projects is a $2 million grant to, inter alia, install underground utilities, crosswalks, repair sidewalks, and manage stormwater in Norwalk. Analogous grants and policies to facilitate them are rebuilding the physical outlook of the state to display its booming stage.
I hold that Lamont’s effective and multidimensional governance record is a byproduct of his data driven decision-making approach to the state’s most complex issues such as COVID-19. In a remarkable display of leadership, Lamont devised advisory panels constituted by microbiologists, virologists, and business leaders to pursue practical solutions for the state devoid of ideology. As others fell prey to political divides, Lamont collaborated with both the Trump and Biden administration to minimize disruptions to manufacturing in the state. The results speak for themselves, Connecticut had one the lowest death rates in the nation, and 64% of CT businesses posted profits in 2020 when only 47% projected a profitable year at the height of COVID.
This is leadership!
But truthfully, it is that refreshingly rare elixir of political courage in him that I truly admire. Lamont’s record of politically unpopular positions and proposals is quite substantial for a candidate who was not elected on a mandate when he first took office. In fact, he was the fourth most unpopular governor in the country. And yet when the legislature pressured him to abandon austerity measures as COVID-19 ruined the state, he held steady. And today, the state enjoys a budget surplus.
They don’t make them like that anymore. They just don’t!
If the above is not sufficient evidence for Lamont’s smart governance, his state rewarding his first term mired in COVID-19 with a 13% margin difference in the 2022 election must be enough.
As a 23-year-old despaired with the ominous outlook of elected officials at all levels and the high office wannabes who are not only incapable of representing most of the nation, but evidently incompetent to run it, I am consoled and encouraged to see Connecticut thrive. The innovative policymaking in the state can be a reminder to purple states that the Democratic party is a lot more than “purple hair.”
Though much is left to be done in distressed communities like Bridgeport, modern-day Connecticut is reminiscent of the pioneering spirit that originated the state. Almost 400 years ago, the democratic quest in the West was advanced when a Connecticut Colony adopted the Fundamental Orders, one of the first democratic constitutions ever written. And so, the Constitution State was born.
There are too many firmly affixed American roots in Connecticut for this state not to emerge as a blueprint to rebuild cities, states, and God forbid, our nation.
In Lamont, the Constitution State can become the seed for a new model of governance for mayors and governors to run the extra mile presidents unworthy of the office can not and will not.
And, perhaps, then, the country will begin to hope once again.
Milton Mondlane lives in Bridgeport.