Stephen Fusezi Jr. Set the GPS on a new course
Gov.-elect Ned Lamont has launched an extraordinarily open and energized transition; unprecedented people and ideas outreach. Ned recognizes that transition must be much more than refreshing who sits in the key administration seats in Hartford. Connecticut voters already shuffled the balance of power in the Legislature. For our beloved “land of steady habits,” Connecticut of the 21st century needs to traverse new paths.
This is a pivotal moment. What are the core principles and implementation reforms that promise an impactful long-term transition?
We drive today guided by GPS. Just a decade or so ago it was a mysterious device that replaced foldup maps. GPS works on two inputs: where we are and what destination we want to reach. Error or failure to input either makes the GPS non-functional; errors in the input send us to the wrong replace.
Transition planning must first confront the issue: who we are as Connecticut?
What are our core differentiating characteristics and potential comparative advantages to our neighbors and indeed globally? What does it mean to be the state between New York City and Boston? Are we to be primarily just a better bridge with more efficient transportation links or a preferred destination choice for businesses and people? Are we to remain the “insurance/finance and defense supplier state” or emerge as a new innovation hub? How do we transform our suburban identity to a state also now incubating vibrant cities? How do we transition to our cities able to be revenue generators? Perhaps most critically, how do we retain and boost our identity as a leading education state with (i) integrated research and work force transition tracks at affordable higher-ed institutions and (ii) globally recognized academic centers of learning and innovation?
The second issue is how do we get to our destination: the new revived Connecticut?
This is in great part a political challenge. The greatest enemy of progress is short-term goal setting. Political leaders are judged too often by: What have you done for me, the voter-taxpayer, today? This is reinforced in Connecticut by election of the legislature every two years. Not so different from public corporations whose trading values fluctuate dramatically on quarterly results and guidance. Leading companies have significantly enhanced their strategic planning and metrics to transform themselves. IBM grew as the original global main frame computer behemoth but has reinvented itself as a software and artificial intelligence leader. Pitney Bowes is no longer a stamp meter company, nor Xerox mainly a copier company but document technology and software global leader.
Even in our communication and information we are addicted to short-term, short-form thinking and discourse: Twitter; Facebook posts; Instagram messaging.
Some countries have experimented with building futurist thinking into their policy decision-making structures to have an empowered agency or advocate for long-term needs at key decision points. Sweden has experimented with a cabinet department with a Secretary of the Future at the table. Finland has a select parliamentary Committee for the Future to which the government must deliver detailed statements on the long-term impact of policy proposals on the future.
In Connecticut our greatest challenges include transformation of our transportation infrastructure and long-term unfunded pension liabilities and other fixed costs. These inherited issues reflect politically driven short sighted decisions over decades. We need a process where long-term thinking has a more powerful seat at the political table. It is time to consider a standing commissioner, not a one-time commission, but a governor’s leadership team member supported by staff to bring the strategic perspective to decision-making. Let us consider a new bi-partisan House/Senate committee of the future in the Legislature whose members include select leading members of both parties. The time to get long-term “buy in” is as each critical piece of legislation is debated in Hartford.
Ned will be laser-focused on the future and fairness. When he started his cable company, college students had no economic way to watch cable TV or connect to the internet. Working with universities across the country, he wired and linked them to the future. It was a forward looking win-win. I have known Ned since his early days, including as a Greenwich Selectman. He is principled and decisive. A driving message of his then was to fight NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) decision-making. To get Connecticut to its leadership role in the 21st century we need institutional reinforcements so longer-term political thinking can be implemented. Reframe “what you can do for me today?” to “what can we do together for a better future?”
Greenwich resident Stephen Fusezi Jr. is former vice president/chief counsel of Newsweek. He grew up in Hamden and has lived and worked in New Haven, Hartford and Fairfield counties. He teaches a course in Stamford for immigrants preparing for the U.S. citizenship test as a volunteer at Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, which serves Bridgeport, Hartford, Stamford and Waterbury.