“When asked by a reporter whether the [toll] hearing would be opened up to the general public after hearing from experts and guest speakers,” the Yankee Institute reported, “[President of the Senate Martin] Looney said he was working out the details with House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.
“'I’ve not had any discussions with the Speaker as to whether or not it would be structured in a way to carve out a special allocation of time for invited speakers or anything like that,’ Looney said.”
Nuff said. President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney simply did not want a raucous public hearing on tolling, which is very unpopular in Connecticut, before majority Democrats were to vote in a special session on the Democrat’s latest but by no means final toll proposal. Most people understand the latest plan involving the tolling of large trucks only as a measure that would in the future open the door to multiple gantries and the tolling of all vehicles. Looney, some have speculated, did not want a public show of opposition to tolling to divert a pro-toll vote among majority Democrat legislators. If any reporter in the gaggle asked Looney whether he thought avoiding public hearings on important issues of the day were compatible with his understanding of the democratic process, his answer to the question was not widely ventilated in news reports. Someone in the room surely must have surmised that Looney, Arsimowicz and Lamont were insisting on a special hearing to avoid a messy but necessary public hearing.
“A March 6, 2019 public hearing before the Transportation Committee to consider Lamont’s previous, more extensive toll proposal,” Yankee notes, “drew hundreds of people to the Capitol, and the hearing lasted over ten hours.’
In addition to snuffing public hearings, special sessions offer other advantages to seasoned politicians. Bills filed during special sessions fall under the category of “emergency certification,” a designation that shortens to 24 hours the time during which votes are called.
Numbers matter. Democrats now control both houses of the General Assembly. Neither of the two legislative gatekeepers, leaders of the Democrat caucus President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Joe Arsimowicz, are strangers to public hearings.
Former Governor Dannel Malloy was perhaps the most effective practitioner of silencing democratic opposition. Wielding a majority in the General Assembly, Malloy, the first Democrat governor since former Governor Bill O’Neill, simply refused to include minority Republican leaders in budget discussions. After a bit, Republican leader in the House Themis Klarides burst into flame and tagged the governor as someone who was tempermentally indisposed to argue rationally with the Republican opposition party: “It’s his way, or the highway!”
Lamont, a strong Democrat wind at his back, is following in his predecessor's footsteps. Then too, so called "public meetings," the celebrated Town Hall Meetings of familiar Norman Rockwell prints, appear to be disappearing in The Constitution State.
A Town Hall Meeting arranged by District 26 State Senator Will Haskill early in January that was to feature Lamont caught fire and burned to the ground soon after he had arranged to pack the meeting with pro-tollers.
The Wilton Bulletin bravely probed the fraud: “In planning the event, Haskell reached out to a progressive, pro-tolls Westport-based grassroots organization, ReSisters. He said he did so to gauge interest in the forum, as he often does when planning events in his district.
“Melissa Shein, a member of the group, sent an email Thursday that contained the subject line, “TOP SECRET & URGENT: Gov. Lamont Needs YOU in Westport, Tues., Jan. 7, 7PM.” The email asked recipients to keep details of the forum a secret.
“That led a Hartford Courant columnist and a conservative think tank, separately, to accuse Lamont and Haskell of conspiring to quash public participation by tolls opponents — and thereby create the illusion of widespread support for tolls.”
Packing town Halls by means of discreet invitations to supportive groups may soon become the rule rather than the exception in Connecticut. The state's two U.S. Senators in particular, Chris Murphy and Dick Blumenthal, do not appreciate being infrequently hassled by an upstart opposition in meetings opened to the general public. The packing fraud is designed to cast a veneer of public approval over tender issues opposed by healthy minorities. Dancing around public hearings on bills that affect everyone in the state serves the same nefarious ends.
This is how Democracy is throttled – not by cruel masters with truncheons, but by “servants of the people” who have grown accustomed to serving their parties rather than their constituents.
Belatedly, Connecticut Democrats decided to hold a public hearing on tolls – this Friday, 1/32/2020.