OP-ED | Special Session Full of Assaults on Democratic Process
Warning to readers of this column who are fond of labeling me a Democratic Party apparatchik: have your smelling salts handy. Please ensure they really are smelling salts and not “bath salts,” because all the “zombie apolcalypse” human cannibalism stories are seriously bumming me out.
I was reminded of Alice through the Looking Glass as the Special Session unfolded this week.
In moving for passage of the Emergency Certification Bill calling for the special session, House majority leader Brandan Sharkey, D-88th District, said the “special session will be limited to bills needed to implement the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 of 2012.”
I imagine when one has control of the Governor’s office, the House, and the Senate, one’s definition of what is actually needed to implement the state budget is significantly broader than the average Connecticut resident, party registration notwithstanding.
Take, for example, the language to exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act: “All records obtained by a state agency or a quasi-public agency related to a request for assistance from a business or organization seeking to expand or relocate to this state, provided the disclosure of such records could adversely affect the financial interest of the state, the business or organization.”
What is this, Soviet Russia? While I understand the need for businesses to protect commercially sensitive information, whoever wrote that clause was clearly aiming to provide the most shade against the necessary sunlight the press provides.
After the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, a coalition of media organizations, raised objections with the administration, the provision was withdrawn from the bill, but not before we were treated to conflicting stories about both where the language originated and who actually decided to pull it.
But there were more assaults on the democratic process waiting in the bill. Clearly frustrated with the ruling by the State Supreme Court in February that its takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education was illegal, the administration decided to use — how shall we phrase this? — “monetary persuasion” by attaching a provision that the city would not get a $3.5 million loan unless state education commissioner Stefan Pryor has a hand in selecting the candidate for Superintendent of Schools.
Time to reach for those smelling salts, folks. I’m in complete agreement with Senate Minority leader John McKinney on this one:
“We couldn’t take over the Board of Ed” but would now play a key role in approving the next superintendent in Bridgeport, McKinney said. “Now, we’re making an end-run. … I think everyone knows my brother has taught in the Bridgeport public school system for over 20 years. I know that section never had a public hearing … But we’re going to do it. Why? Because we can. Instead of being the most transparent administration, maybe it should be ‘we’re-going-to-do-it-because-we-can administration.”
Where was CABE, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, in all this? One would think they’d be up in arms but the organization has been completely silent.
A Bridgeport resident emailed this late on Tuesday night:
“This is indeed a sad and tragic day for those of us who still believe in democracy. I would like to suggest that we consider holding a memorial service to mourn the death of democracy in Bridgeport and the state. It should also include a funeral march; along with remarks and speeches made by the friends of democracy.”
My 19-year-old son, who will be voting for the first time this November, expresses his disgust with both political parties, which he sees as driven by corporate interests rather than what is best for the nation as a whole. I can’t disagree.
I’m constantly reminded of the final sentence in George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.