It’s hard not to feel that we are in a period of especially partisan divisiveness. No matter where you look, folks are using disparaging terms to describe others based on their beliefs. It’s everywhere from political advertisements to the conversation at local restaurants, tinged with disdain for fellow men and women despite our sharing the same species and, in many situations, our many similarities with each other. It would be so simple for us to put aside our differences and work together where and when we can – but, of course, it is also simple for me to make such a statement.
I understand where this mindset and line of thought comes from, but I also believe it is an overly simplistic line of thinking, one that pits us against each other on political battle lines unnecessarily, especially if we allow it to become our daily state of mind. This is especially true of the hard work that tirelessly continues in the State Capitol among state legislators. Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, the men and women around our dais and under our golden dome work together much more than they oppose each other, with most major bills seeing members cross the aisles to come together in the name of the greater good. For us to continue to fall into the trap of partisanship devalues the many times legislators reach across the aisle to work with colleagues – and threatens to draw away from the positive results of their hard work.
This is nowhere more apparent than in review of recent legislative sessions. From 2013 to 2021, the state Senate, for example, has had a Democratic majority for seven of those nine years. One would think such a disparity would lead to staunch opposition from Republicans during that time, but you would be surprised. In those nine years, Republicans joined the majority in the Senate, on average, 86.4% of the time. In 2021, just three of 36 Senators did not cast a single vote against their party; in every other instance, Senators voted their conscience or against legislation they did not agree with at least once, a display of bipartisanship and pragmatism that can easily get lost in a partisan mindset.
These trends hold up when reviewing individual votes. There are pieces of legislation every year that receive purely partisan votes from legislators, but a majority – some would argue a vast majority – of votes held each year receive bipartisan support. For example, looking at Senate priorities this year, many of them found approval from both sides of the aisle. Just two Senators voted against Senate Bill 1, making vital and needed investments in school health services; the bill received support from 33 of the 35 sitting legislators who considered it. Only one Senator voted against Senate Bill 2, which provides important investments to protect children’s mental health during formative years; that bill received 34 votes of approval of a maximum 35. That’s far from the red/blue acrimony many expect and assume when they think of the Capitol.
More contentious issues, including bills supporting the state budget, environment and shoring up abortion protections, passed with some Republican support, even if only from one Senator. Dozens of bills received unanimous support from both parties, many of them borne from detailed, significant efforts to find better solutions for all state residents. Our reliance on partisanship and party alliances is important at times and unconstructive at times; when it comes to the long-term viability and strength of the work and policies coming out of our legislature, I would argue partisanship is relatively unconstructive.
This isn’t to say party alliance and allegiance isn’t important. This November, there are a number of federal and state positions that voters will cast ballots to fill, and in that environment, partisanship can determine the outcome of our state for years to come. What this approach misses is that, beyond the posturing and campaigning, once they are elected, the people in these roles will need to work together to pass bills. Cooperation and collaboration is a vital part of the job. We cannot allow the partisanship of election season to seep into the day-to-day responsibilities of office holders, nor can we allow these seasonal attacks to skew public thought and consideration of the hundreds of men and women who are tasked with finding solutions to the problems facing our state and our communities. At the end of the day, public officials are elected by the public to represent and support the public. A constituent’s voting registration is not what matters; only that they are a constituent. Partisanship detracts from that.
State Senator Saud Anwar represents Connecticut’s 3rd District, which includes the towns of East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington and South Windsor.