OP-ED | State Reps Need to Grow Up and Model the Behavior We Expect From Our Kids
When I read that the Judiciary Committee spent most of Monday infighting over a nasty email instead of doing the people’s business, my head exploded. This is the kind of behavior one would expect to see in a middle school cafeteria, not at the state Capitol when important legislation that really matters to people’s lives is at stake.
To recap the situation briefly: On Saturday, Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, sent an email to a woman lobbying for family court reform telling her that Republican Rep. Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck was “fighting for her pocket not for the people like you and others the [sic] are suffering. She is cold with no heart.”
As CTNewsJunkie’s Christine Stuart reported:
Gonzalez was referencing an exchange that took place between Rebimbas and a person who testified about her experience with the court system during a contentious nomination hearing for Chief Justice Chase Rogers. Self-represented parties and those involved mostly in family court matters complained before the committee about their struggles with the court system throughout a hearing that lasted several hours Friday night into Saturday morning.
Gonzalez ended the Saturday email saying, “always remember that every pig has his Saturday.”
The email was copied to many members of the Judiciary Committee, including Rebimbas herself.
I can understand being upset about getting unpleasant online correspondence. As a columnist and author, I’ve been barraged with vile emails and social media communications that have included the worst language available as well as quite a few threats.
If you’re a woman with an opinion online, chances are you’ve probably been called the C or W word more than once. It doesn’t make it any more pleasant, but you get used to it.
As I and so many other women have learned, the police can do little in these situations other than write up a report. I’ve got plenty of other horror stories of what it’s like to be a female author and columnist with the online presence that is necessary for your career, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.
My point is that despite everything, I continue to do my job. My multiple jobs, as a matter of fact.
Yet because of this one admittedly inappropriate email from Rep. Gonzalez, committee leaders spent most of the day Monday trying to broker an apology, when they should have been passing bills out of committee. Rep. Gonzalez eventually sent an apology, but apparently it was not up to Rep. Rembimbas’ specifications.
I also reached out to Rep. Rebimbas for comment, expressing my surprise that she appeared unable to continue her job the way I continue to do mine. I find this particularly astonishing since she is being paid to do this job with our taxpayer dollars, a fact I’m especially reminded of this week when those dollars left my bank account on their way to the state of Connecticut’s.
This is the response I received: “It was the Chairs’ decision to convene at 3:30 p.m. We had previously identified close to twenty (20) bills that would likely have been consentable by both sides. They chose to bring out a bill that clearly created questions and concerns for some members and was not a consentable item. They could have passed over that bill at any time, but chose not to.”
However, this isn’t the story that I am hearing from other sources at the capitol, who tell me that Rep. Rebimbas arrived late and refused to consider any legislation until she had an apology that met her approval.
I emailed to try an clarify this discrepancy in the story with Republican leadership and received this reply:
“Rep. Rebimbas stands by the statements she previously released,” and added, “We have a lot of work to do in the legislature, which is my main focus. The deplorable behavior that was demonstrated by a sitting State Representative speaks for itself.”
Yet another source with knowledge of the situation states: “The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee repeatedly reached out to Rep. Rebimbas during the day to see if they could run the business of the Judiciary Committee under the JF deadline on the day. And they repeatedly told us ‘no,’ not until she received an apology.”
This source also confirmed that Rep. Rebimbas didn’t arrive at the building until 1:30 p.m. despite the committee meeting being scheduled for 10:30 a.m.
If you look at the brief meeting minutes, you’ll note that a 17-minute break for caucus was called at 3:42 p.m. I am told by my source that during this time the Democrats asked if there were any bills that could be put through of the 42 waiting, and were told “no” by Rep. Rebimbas, after which the meeting resumed at 3:59 p.m.
And there you have it, taxpayers. Your legislature at work. Or not, as the case may be.
Does this sound more like a middle school cafeteria to you than the state Capitol? It sure does to me.
My latest young adult novel (BACKLASH, shameless plug) is about cyberbullying, and it has apparently inspired one middle-school reader to start an anti-bullying club at her school. Out of the mouths of babes, anyone? Maybe the General Assembly should call her to organize one in Hartford as well.
Rep. Gonzalez, before you send another email like that, remember that you are a public servant and young people look up to you. Trust me, I understand how enraging it is when you feel like you are the underdog fighting against a vastly more powerful political and economic structure and being disparaged for it. It happens to me nine out of 10 times I write a column. But when kids see you treating people people with disrespect, they’re going to think it’s okay for them to do it, too.
Rep. Rebimbas, if you have such thin skin, perhaps you should reconsider the idea of being in public office. If I stopped working every time I got a “disrespectful” or “deplorable” email or comment, I wouldn’t be able to pay my mortgage — or my state income taxes. You’re receiving my taxpayer dollars to work for the people, so for heaven’s sake, get on and do your job.
Teenagers, at least, have a neurological basis for their irrational behavior. What excuse do our lawmakers have for theirs? How can we expect young people to learn negotiation and conflict resolution when they see adults bickering and holding up important legislation because of schoolyard fights?
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.