Way back in March 2020, Gov. Ned Lamont asked for, and received, unprecedented emergency powers to keep residents safe from a deadly pandemic spreading rapidly across the globe that we knew little about. We did not know how it was transmitted, how deadly it was, when it would hit Connecticut or if we were sufficiently prepared to deal with it. The original grant of authority made sense.
Over the past 16 months, Connecticut residents, families and small businesses have adapted their lifestyles to deal with the virus, keep their businesses running, work remotely and homeschool their kids. With a current positivity rate of less than 1 percent, the crisis, at least for now, seems to have subsided. People are working hard to get back to business as usual — and we should expect nothing less from state government. Yet remarkably, Democratic leaders are expected to ask for another six-month extension of the governor’s emergency authority. There is little justification for the need to extend such extraordinarily broad powers.
Rather than treating the ongoing pandemic response with such a broad brush, the governor should instead be acting with precision, exercising only the authority he needs, when he needs it.
There’s nothing stopping Gov. Lamont from declaring another emergency if things change. It seems, however, that for this governor, the benefits of his unilateral control outweigh the costs.
Gov. Lamont’s administration has abused relaxed contracting standards, giving millions of dollars in no-bid state contracts to the politically connected. He’s also openly enjoyed not having to deal with the Legislature. In a surprisingly candid moment earlier this year, the governor admitted it, saying, “Obviously, this last year has been very different. I mean, the Legislature went home. That was amazing. We got a lot done.” Then laughing, he added, “You know, I kind of liked it.”
Emergency powers were never intended to avoid the normal checks and balances put into government by the framers of the Connecticut Constitution. These authorities are intended for emergencies, and while there is a public-safety crisis plaguing many communities across our state, not enough is being done to stop it. Shootings, car thefts and other neighborhood violence are on the rise, and yet the governor has failed to use his executive authority to address them.
The incidents are growing increasingly violent. Last week a teenager stole an SUV and struck and killed a man jogging in New Britain. At 17 years old, this young man had been arrested 13 times in the last three and a half years. A week ago, another teenager was arrested for shooting at a homeowner in Glastonbury while attempting to steal a car. In Wolcott, two teens ransacked the senior center, which was supposed to be used for a cooling center. Then they went on to steal a vehicle and crashed it into a telephone pole.
Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. The system in place is failing everyone, and lives are being shattered as a result. It is heartbreaking to look at daily reports of homicides across our state that are on track to make this one of the deadliest years in years. These are not statistics, they are people. They are not an “uptick in violence,” as the governor tried to rationalize. They are families and communities being torn apart.
The governor’s answer to an issue threatening the lives of Connecticut residents each and every day is a ridiculously low $5 million grant to community organizations and police using federal COVID-19 relief funds.
When you consider the millions of dollars doled out to well-connected insiders for everything from a public relations campaign to a football field for a retiring legislator, this is a startling double standard. It is the definition of hypocrisy. And it is an absolute embarrassment to the governor and his administration.
Rather than focusing on another broad-based extension of emergency powers that are set to expire in less than two weeks, the governor should use his existing authority to keep families safe. Call the Legislature back into session, today, to work across the aisle to enact meaningful reform. Allocate a responsible level of funding to police and community organizations to help them do their jobs.
There is a time and a place for governors to utilize their executive authority. Keeping communities, businesses and families safe from a wave of violence that is spiraling out of control should certainly be one of them.
Bob Stefanowski was the 2018 Republican candidate for governor of Connecticut.