Three years ago, I ran for Senate because I believed our nation’s priorities had veered severely off track. During that campaign, I stood up time and again to say that the decision to invade Iraq was not only costing our country in blood and treasure, but also sucking all of the oxygen out of facing the critical domestic reforms we needed to make on issues like energy, healthcare, and education. Now — three years, one Presidential election, and one historic economic crisis later — those challenges have grown significantly.
I know that if President Obama had even one or two more allies in the United States Senate, his job would likely be immeasurably easier. But while we need good, principled people representing us in Washington, the problems piling up at home demand our immediate attention. I am convinced that state government is where political entrepreneurs can have the most significant impact on the everyday lives of those we hope to serve. And I believe we need to confront the catastrophe now facing our states with the same moral urgency that we exhibited when confronting the catastrophe of a misguided war of choice three years ago.
Today, in a scene familiar to many states across the nation, Connecticut finds itself facing immense fiscal challenges as our working families and small businesses continue to bear the brunt of the economic downturn. After years of unfocused leadership, our state is sorely in need of a chief executive who will focus like a laser on creating jobs and getting our economy back on track.
My beloved state is almost financially bankrupt, relying on one-time revenue sources and borrowing to plug long-term shortfalls. But even worse, I see a Connecticut bankrupt for new ideas — the types of ideas that prove that government can be a constructive partner in creating good paying and stable jobs.
While Washington lumbers along, we need to remember that it is the states which have historically been the incubators for real change. Many of the agencies in FDR’s alphabet soup of job-creating reforms were based on models that began at the state and local level. Today, we need our Governors need to be true entrepreneurs who have the political courage to begin the reforms that will make a real difference in people’s lives.
Connecticut may be the land of steady habits and slow to change, but the fiscal crisis is forcing all of us — families and government alike — to reevaluate how we do business. I truly believe that a Governor with an entrepreneurial approach can be the difference that restarts our jobs engine and refocuses our priorities. Small businesses are often at their most innovative when they have the least money, and there is no reason Connecticut can’t be as well.
• With some of the highest energy costs in the country, Connecticut businesses are moving elsewhere — hitting our workforce when they are already down. But, since we also have a relatively high percentage of World War II-era housing, there is no reason we should not be at the forefront of residential energy efficiency. We should be educating the next generation of energy entrepreneurs so that they will be prepared to capitalize on federal and state funding to retrofit our oldest housing, reduce homeowners’ bills, and reduce peak loads. It is critical that we have this type of comprehensive vision on energy that would both invest and institute reforms to create jobs and save everyone on their monthly energy bills. Instead, Connecticut is currently raiding these same energy efficiency funds to fill budget holes.
• While educating our children for the 21st century job market is an obvious priority, Connecticut currently has the highest achievement gap in the nation. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently visited our state and announced his “Race to the Top” funding for states that are enacting bold education reforms. Secretary Duncan saluted the city of New Haven, where a courageous Mayor, John DeStefano, and a bold President of the American Federation of Teachers, Sharon Palmer, together negotiated an agreement that will give New Haven kids the best chance of competing for the jobs that will be in highest demand in the 21st century. Forward-thinking efforts like those happening in New Haven could be duplicated throughout the state — doing so would ensure that we give the next generation the tools they need to thrive.
• Connecticut has one of the oldest populations in the country, and, consequently, some of the highest health care costs. While we hope that President Obama and Congress succeed in reforming health care in a way that brings down costs, we can’t afford to wait to find out. Between the state’s share of Medicaid funding and the willingness of labor unions to be part of the solution, Connecticut can be a significant driver in implementing new incentives, rooting out waste, promoting health and wellness, and making health care affordable for all of our citizens. And doing so in the insurance capital of America would send quite the message.
Our states have long been the birthplace of new solutions in government. Governors can make a real difference in this effort — you can see it in the difference between the states that continue to fall behind, and those that innovate and reinvent themselves. I firmly believe that Connecticut can and must lead by example.