Lamont Failed to Protect Lives and Livelihoods. Why Extend His Absolute Rule?

Governor Lamont has extended his emergency powers through February 9 of next year, despite his disastrous results so far in wielding those powers. Connecticut has sustained the fourth highest state death rate from coronavirus (126 per 100,000 citizens, according to Statista).

Does this record justify the longest extension of emergency powers in the nation? According to National Governors Association data this past week, no other state governor has emergency powers extending into 2021 and only two are empowered even into December.

The challenge in exercising extraordinary executive authority is to limit the spread of coronavirus while inflicting the least possible economic damage.

Lamont has achieved a particularly poor balance. He has overseen an extremely high death rate, while imposing one of the strictest business shutdowns in the nation, undoubtedly with ultimately dire economic impact.

Lamont does not have the excuse of the three states with deadlier outcomes, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts with their large densely populated urban centers. Connecticut is a suburban and rural state.

Lamont mishandled the most obvious and most lethal threat. At the very start of the shutdown in early March, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced in press conferences on national TV  that data out of both China and Italy showed that the coronavirus targeted older citizens in dramatic disproportion. This has proven accurate, with well over three-quarters of national fatalities being over the age of 65, an age group accounting for only about one-sixth of the population.

It was clear from the start that it was imperative to protect senior populations, particularly those living in congregate care facilities. The first outbreak in the U.S. occurred in the Life Care nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.

Lamont’s results? The highest nursing home death rate in the Northeast (and, likely, the nation): 91 per 100,000, according to a state commissioned study. Citizens over age 60 account for over 90% of the Connecticut’s Covid-19 deaths.

Lamont failed to protect seniors. To say so is not to subject him to harsh or unfair criticism after the fact. The threat to seniors was crystal clear from the very start.

Not only did he fail to grasp the primary threat, but he missed its corollary. Statistically, younger people are virtually immune to the virus. So, the education of schoolchildren and an economy powered by working age citizens could proceed normally.  

Instead, Lamont has pursued a uniform one-size-fits-all shutdown policy. So has most of the country, but that is no excuse.

Thankfully, Lamont has delegated decisions about school reopenings to local officials. My hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut has demonstrated that there can be different strokes for different folks. Local officials reopened schools two weeks ago with parents having the choice of sending their children to school for in-person instruction or keeping them home and signing them up for remote learning.

On the teacher side, older teachers and those with health risks could opt out. Opt-out teachers are providing remote instruction to stay-at-home learners. This is an optimal solution, protecting the vulnerable and enabling the vast majority of students and teachers with low risk to proceed with largely normal schooling and lives.

Lamont’s record simply does not justify such a long extension of absolute executive authority. His extension required the approval of the General Assembly and that means the consent of his fellow Democrats who dominate the body. Democrats could have, and should have, reasserted the legislature’s constitutional authority and responsibility. They didn’t. They abdicated. They are complicit in Lamont’s lamentable record and the worrisome risks under his continued weak leadership.

While the part-time General Assembly is not normally in session at this time of year, these are not normal times – the body is meeting in special session this week and next. Why exercise legislative authority only in special sessions and only over very limited agendas? Why cede all other law-making authority to the governor? After six months, the overall dimensions of the pandemic are broadly known; legislators should weigh in on policy.

Now, after sustaining a tragic public health outcome, Connecticut citizens face primarily economic risk, likely in the form of the greatest economic devastation amongst the fifty states. Just this week, yet another study has come out revealing the state’s perilous fiscal condition. A Truth in Accounting study ranked Connecticut 48th with over $50,000 in liabilities per taxpayer (number 47 has about $31,000).

This summer, Lamont had a chance to save the state $150 million by cancelling or suspending a 5.5 percent pay raise for state employees.  Lamont had said that it was unfair to award a pay raise to these employees who have enjoyed a no-layoff guarantee for a full decade – and still do – while hundreds of thousands of private sector workers have lost their jobs in the shutdown. Yet he shrank in fear of public sector union bosses and declined to use his emergency powers even to delay the raise.

Connecticut citizens deserve better. This November, voters should throw out Lamont’s enablers, the Democrats in the House and Senate. Then, in two years, voters should jettison this incompetent and cowardly state chief executive.

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