OP-ED | The Downside of Being a Reformer
If he needed a reminder about the downside of being governor, Dannel P. Malloy received more than one this week as his agenda faced opposition from all sides. The state’s powerful teachers’ unions turned the full force of their weight against education reform as evidenced by town hall meetings full of angry teachers. Meanwhile back at the Capitol, the effort to make the state’s liquor laws more sensible is being watered down into meaninglessness. At the same time, reformers finally rose to challenge the unions’ latest money grab. They highlight the difficulty of taking on entrenched power and a warning about the unchecked expansion of it in government.
Mr. Malloy is out on the campaign trail again to gin up support for his mostly laudable education reform initiatives. In town hall meeting after meeting this week, Connecticut’s 88th Governor faced withering criticism from teachers opposing his efforts to change the way teacher tenure is awarded and performance in the classroom is measured. The rhetoric from the teachers’ unions has flipped since January after they realized that Malloy might not trade reforms for dramatically more money. The resistance seems quite curious to the numerous private-sector employees for whom performance evaluations are the basis of pay raises, bonuses, promotions, or alternatively, being fired. The debate continues nonetheless.
Parochial interests are equally amassed at the Capitol against Malloy’s liquor law reform proposals. The horror that would befall Connecticut residents if they were allowed to buy beer from a convenience store, or perhaps even more terrifyingly, get it at a price determined by free enterprise rather than government diktat, is simply too much for some legislators and the lobbyists they coddle. Connecticut has more package stores per capita than any other state in the nation but buys alcohol at one of the lowest per capita rates. Put more simply, the current liquor laws have corroded the marketplace with wasteful inefficiency. But at least at the moment it seems, it will muddle along due to the unwillingness to change in the legislature.
Malloy may be challenging the entrenched interests in education and liquor, but he’s thrown his lot in with them on the unionization of the state’s home day care providers and personal care attendants. The day care providers were herded into line first with a quick, quiet signature drive and then an even quicker and quieter balloting process back in December. The spotlight is now on personal care attendants who’ve been the targets of labor organizers for the last two months. Based on the timeline followed by the day care providers, the vote for the PCAs can’t be far away. The legislature is belatedly trying to enshrine in law what the governor did by decree back in September but even this effort met with resistance at the public hearing this week.
All three issues highlight the difficulty in challenging entrenched power, regardless of whether you are an activist, a legislator, or even a governor. But amid a global economy evolving from an industrial-manufacturing to an information-technology basis, the benefits of change will be most enjoyed by those who embraced them first. With a long history of innovation and entrepreneurship, Connecticut has the opportunity to be faster, smarter, and more dynamic than our competitors around the world but we have to choose to do it. Improving educational outcomes, expanding free enterprise in the marketplace, and embracing change are crucial to our future success. It’s not easy being a reformer but it has to be done.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com