A Real Choice at the Polls

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When it comes to public policy, I have always been a strong believer in looking at the numbers and learning what works and what doesn’t. Politics is not just words and slogans; it requires clear goals and the right tools and ideas to achieve them.

In this year’s gubernatorial race, this by-the-numbers, just-the-facts approach is especially important, mainly because one of the candidates has a record of accomplishment and a positive agenda, while the other is offering only vague promises and ideas that have consistently failed elsewhere.

During his first term Governor Lamont accomplished a great deal. I already have written at length on why WFP has endorsed him this election cycle, so I do not want to repeat myself too much. Still, it is worth stressing that if anyone had told any of us five years ago that Connecticut would have the two strongest years of job creation since the early nineties, a massive budget surplus, and be paying down pension obligations at a record pace, we would have been laughed out of the room. How we got here, as well, is even more impressive, as Connecticut implemented a well-designed, comprehensive paid family and medical leave bill, raised the minimum wage to $15, expanded access to healthcare, and passed a transformative child tax credit. And all that happened without budget trickery or shortcuts.

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The “how,” in this case, can’t be separated from these strong economic outcomes but explains a great deal about why Connecticut is doing well in the first place. Lamont was very explicit, from the get-go, that his priority was building an economy where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. These are the policies that help build a strong economy, because when everyone has a chance to live to their full potential, we all thrive.

The funny thing about Lamont’s policies is that as effective as his policies are, their success is not a surprise. We know that a surefire way to grow an economy is to invest in people and govern for the many, not the few. It is no accident that the states with the highest education spending, most solid labor and worker protections, broadest healthcare coverage, and strongest safety public assistance programs also happen to be the wealthiest, safest, most dynamic places in the country. There is a reason Massachusetts, Connecticut, or California have low poverty rates, high school achievement, and higher income than Arkansas or Louisiana. It is not thanks to our low taxes.

All this makes the stubborn Republican insistence that Connecticut should cut its way to prosperity all the more baffling. Bob Stefanowski, as all GOP candidates before him, has this one idea in mind that the way to go for Connecticut is to replicate the “reduce spending first, ask questions second” strategy favored by many conservative-led states. That strategy might be wonderful to attract glowing praise from Fox News and Wall Street but does little to create widespread economic prosperity – and he never wants to talk about which essential or popular programs he’d actually cut.

His education plan follows a similar pattern: lots of cultural grievance politics, Trumpian strawmen, and moral panic to hide bigoted intolerance, paired with failed policy ideas on school achievement. School vouchers have been touted as the magic solution to academic achievement for five decades and have yet to produce any meaningful results. Meanwhile, Connecticut ranks second on school achievement in the nation (behind Massachusetts) thanks to the old-fashioned combination of well-funded schools, small class sizes, and good teachers. Education disparities, the true weak point of our education system, are the result of racial and economic segregation and persistent underinvestment in urban areas, but of course the GOP has little to say about any of that, besides supporting policies that keep them in place.

We have, then, a clear choice not just about ideas, but about ideas that work and ideas that don’t work. The Republican ticket supports the latter, Lamont has proven, over his first four years, that his platform delivers on the former.

There is, of course, a lot to be done. We need new policies to ensure that Connecticut workers are treated with respect in their workplace and have predictable schedules. We need to expand healthcare coverage and further reduce costs by providing a public alternative to private insurers. We need to do a lot more to reduce education disparities, starting with quality, affordable early childhood education. We must act to make housing more affordable; the one policy issue where red states outperform us. Lamont has a clear roadmap for most of these issues; Stefanowski does not.