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Editorial Refresher course in democracy for lawmakers

May 24, 2019

Did you ever get the sense elected officials played hooky during high school civics lessons?

Imagine trying to explain democracy to a student using our current government leaders as examples.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won’t let gun legislation come to a vote, no matter how many children are shot in schools.

It’s no better here in Connecticut.

The General Assembly will go into overtime for a special session to consider reviving tolls after the clock runs out June 5.

The tolls discussion is a busted GPS that keeps sending legislators in different directions.

But it’s a discourse that needs to happen. It’s time to sort out how tolls might work and to weigh the potential benefits as well as the consequences. Even rookie Gov. Ned Lamont probably knew all along that legislators could not possibly focus on a game-changer such as tolls while juggling their own pet projects along with the primary mission of agreeing on a budget.

So shutting off interfering static to listen to all sides of the tolls issue is a good idea. Except that the only rhetoric Republicans bring to the table is “no.”

“There is no need for a special session if the intent is to vote on a transportation plan that includes tolls — don’t waste the taxpayer dollars. I’ll give our vote now. It’s a no, as it has been from day one,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said.

Her 60-member caucus is united, Klarides declared. No version of tolls can possibly be conjured that they would consider.

Here’s the civics lesson they missed.

They represent the people, not the party. “Our vote” suggests it’s just about them. That’s not democracy.

In the course of serving constituents, they should occasionally consider legislation that goes against their brand. They might even want to bring an informed opinion to the table instead of reading from a script. You can’t put 60 people in a room, show them a film, and expect the same review from all of them. But that’s the state of politics in 2019.

If the minority Republicans want to prevent tolls, they need to fight for it, not recuse themselves from the discussion.

This isn’t just about the team wearing red. The ones in blue have proven themselves to be equally mulish in the past as well. If anything, Democrats’ tentativeness about tolls should inspire Republicans to embrace a special session to tilt a few votes in their direction.

Democrats need to ponder the arguments — and there are many — against tolls as well. After the Connecticut Business & Industry Association rejected tolling this week, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, insulted them and concluded “It is not representing its members’ wishes.”

It’s a phrase we might use about lawmakers. They need to stop pretending this is a simple issue that can be decided by waving team colors.

Study it, consider opposing viewpoints, fight about it.

That’s democracy.

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