Hailed by some for crossing party lines to vote for major Democratic priorities this session, State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, emphasized that the state will need greater bipartisan buy-in to protect the environment in Connecticut.
Hwang was the only Republican in either chamber to vote for a package of policies aimed at speeding up the transition to electric cars, trucks and buses in order to reduce emissions – which proponents dubbed the “Connecticut Clean Air Act.”
Hwang, who was also the only Republican lawmaker on a League of Conservation Voters post-legislative session panel on Friday, said the environment should not be a partisan issue, and praised the league and environmental advocates who have taken the time to explain environmental issues to him.
Hwang said he believed collaboration was key to bridging the partisan gap.
“Unfortunately, as we got closer to the finish line of a short session, some entrenched ideas – maybe falsely – got to be the dominant conversation,” Hwang said. “I miss the opportunity for us to be able to sit in a room, and collaborate and work with each other.”
Hwang suggested that part of the issue with the legislation was its complexity, and that measures aimed to stop the spread of COVID at the Capitol had reduced opportunities for lawmakers to share ideas, listen and reach consensus.
Hwang said that for Connecticut to truly make the changes it needs to protect and sustain its environment – deeper changes in how people function and live in the state – both parties need to be on board, and need to communicate that to the public.
Without public and “marketplace” buy-in, Hwang said, it’s just lawmakers fighting against themselves.
“It is amazing to me that I was the only Republican in the Senate and the House to support [the “clean air” bill], because it really shows you how deeply embedded partisanship has become,” he said.
Hwang said it’s also crucial for Connecticut to work with other nearby states in a “collaborative regional effort” to address environmental issues, which he said hasn’t been achieved yet.
Hwang said that voting in favor of the “Clean Air Act” and another bill that codified goals to eliminate emissions in power generation by 2040 was his way of saying that it is time for Connecticut to take the lead, and encourage other states to follow.
“I think if we work harder, and cultivate relationships, and don’t go to our corners – look, we may agree to disagree,” Hwang said. “But I think if we see that disagreement and try to reach compromise and collaboration, I think we can succeed in a true bipartisan effort.”