It was 27 minutes into the governor’s 30-minute long State of the State address when he delivered these few lines: “Our state has a long legacy of acceptance, compassion, and fairness. Regardless of whether your family settled in Connecticut 300 years ago or three days ago, you are welcome here. As the people of Connecticut navigate a changing national landscape, we will continue to ensure that every state resident is treated with dignity and respect. That will not change. Not now. Not ever.”
Those words reminded me of something I would hear in America’s Declaration of Independence, in our Bill of Rights, or see inscribed on the base of our Statue of Liberty. Fairness, equality, civility, respect – all hallmarks of American democracy and Connecticut’s rich history.
You see, it was only an hour earlier that day when I saw two of my Senate Republican colleagues rise to welcome their families, both who fled Communist countries – one even escaping martial law – in order to ensure that their children and grandchildren would be safe and able to grow up in a free country. There’s a lot to celebrate in a state where we have these kind of stories.
But there is much to be cautious of and to fight against, too.
Republican members of the Connecticut legislature are fond of saying that they are “Connecticut Republicans” and not “Washington Republicans.” That’s supposed to be code for being politically “moderate” and rejecting the extremism that we see in the halls of Congress.
Some days I can buy that. I’ll even put aside for a moment legislation proposed by Republicans to require the President to provide an original copy of his birth certificate in order to be placed on the ballot, to eliminate Ronald Reagan’s Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, and to zero-out funding for Planned Parenthood.
However, like in school, there is always one big test to determine a passing or failing grade, something that will show the public whether your actions match your rhetoric. Opening day of the legislature – during the governor’s address and at that moment when he said those words – was the exact time.
Hearst columnist Ken Dixon was right to ask the rhetorical question of why Connecticut Republicans would sit in silence. Is there really a bright line between Hartford and Washington Republicans? Does their silence mean some sort of tacit approval of the harmful rhetoric spewed nationally over the last few months? They should have stood up, embraced the inclusive remarks, and united our entire state behind our leaders. If I were a teacher, I would have to give my friends on the other side of the aisle a failing grade.
Connecticut has 3.5 million residents. Two thirds white, one-third non-white, and one out of seven are foreign born. We are all due acceptance, compassion and fairness, dignity and respect from each other.
I believe most sincerely that these are American virtues worth standing up and applauding for.