CHRIS POWELL: Epidemic might not benefit governor politically anymore

Published on Wednesday, 5 January 2022 20:50

For months the prevailing view about the forthcoming election for governor has been that Governor Lamont's handling of the virus epidemic in Connecticut would be a big advantage for him, since the state was getting along better than other states and, in exercising emergency powers, Lamont has been less imperious than other governors.

That view must be questioned now that new virus infections are breaking records, hospitals are stressed again, "virus-associated" deaths have risen sharply, and commerce, schools, and municipal governments are reimposing restrictions that the governor has declined to reimpose himself under his responsibility-shifting local-option policy. The main amusements of the state's winter, the University of Connecticut men's and women's basketball seasons, are being destroyed.

What had seemed like progress against the epidemic has quickly turned into regression, compounded by last week's embarrassment arising from the governor's touting delivery of virus testing kits that didn't show up as planned and then arrived only partially. Amid the competition for epidemic-related supplies and the disruption of supply chains, this should not have been so surprising, but Lamont's touting what he was unable to achieve impugned the special competence that had been attributed to him.

In some recent public appearances the governor has looked exhausted, as he is entitled to be with the epidemic entering its third year, and he was criticized for taking a vacation to Florida, though it had been well-earned.

Meanwhile the public mood is souring again, with murders rising and lesser bad behavior more noticeable. Of course this isn't peculiar to Connecticut, but state residents may hold their governor accountable for anything.

National affairs aren't helping the governor, as President Biden now seems less popular than former President Trump, which is doubly astounding insofar as the Biden administration, governing with the narrowest Democratic majorities in Congress, has flooded the country with trillions of dollars in seemingly free money that state and local officials can use to buy political support in the name of epidemic relief. Accordingly, last week Lamont ordered $75 million in bonuses paid to recipients of Connecticut's earned income tax credit even as hospitals were reporting shortages of medicine needed to treat virus patients.

The governor and other Democrats in Connecticut may boast of having increased the state's minimum wage and created a program of paid family and medical leave. But, in part because of all that "free" federal money, inflation continues to run far ahead of wage gains, and that paid leave program is only a system of self-insurance that, like the "free" money from Washington, also may reduce living standards for more people than it helps.

The number of Democratic U.S. representatives declining to seek re-election is rising as polls predict that the next House will shift to a Republican majority. Being equally divided between the parties, the Senate could shift to a Republican majority too.

But Connecticut remains a heavily Democratic state. Could state residents ever be so dissatisfied with their Democratic regime as to elect Republicans again, even if the state's senior U.S. senator, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, just spoke at a Communist Party rally and the state Supreme Court devises more competitive congressional districts?

No criticism of the governor and Connecticut's members of Congress will be entirely fair if it neglects to offer alternatives to their policies.

What different policies might have gotten the state out of the mire of the epidemic by now?

And as awful, incompetent, and politically correct as the Biden administration may be, Republicans in Congress are characterized more by Georgia's nutty and incendiary Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is seeking re-election, than by Ohio's thoughtful and consensus-seeking Sen. Rob Portman, who is retiring.

But criticism doesn't always have to be fair to work politically. People have a right to be sore and feel cheated, especially now, and to vote on that basis alone. If the people of Connecticut were asked Ronald Reagan's famous question from 1980 – Are you better off today than you were four years ago? – they well might say no.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 5 January 2022 20:50. Updated: Wednesday, 5 January 2022 20:53.