New legislators prep for first session
GREENWICH — Taking civics classes, meeting with constituents, reaching across the aisle, visiting a medical marijuana dispensary: Greenwich’s new state legislators have been busy preparing for their first session in Hartford.
In the weeks since the historic elections of Democrats Alex Bergstein, the state senator-elect who will represent the 36th District, and Stephen Meskers, the state representative-elect in the 150th District, the two have hit the ground running to prepare for their first terms, which will begin Jan. 9.
On top of meeting with constituents, Meskers has talked with leaders from nonprofits and industry groups to get a better understanding of their stances on the economic and social issues that the state is facing.
“I’m finding it intellectually stimulating, because I sat at the table for 35 years in my business on Wall Street looking at public policy as a spectator as it either helped or hurt industries,” Meskers said. “And now, I’m at the table discussing those policies as a public official.”
The issues Meskers has zeroed in on since the election include pensions, bonds, the justice system, social services and energy.
He met with party leadership on Dec. 3 about possible committee assignments.
The party leadership “is mindful that I spent 35 years on Wall Street in fixed income markets,” said Meskers, when asked whether his professional experience may play a role in his committee assignments. “I’ve helped issue more bonds than Connecticut currently has outstanding.”
Committee assignments will likely be announced by the end of the month, he said.
Meskers also toured a medical marijuana facility in Portland to learn about the industry’s current challenges and the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana in Connecticut.
“I thought decriminalization of marijuana was just a question of social justice,” he said. “But with it comes consumer protections issues, safety issues in regulating operation of heavy machinery and an issue of whether we have the structure in place for full legalization.”
Meskers said he’s looking forward to examining the authority of the state to tax the sale of marijuana and how those proceeds might fund social service programs to fight the opioid crisis or homelessness.
He’s also met with his Republican colleagues in the Greenwich delegation: Rep. Fred Camillo from the 151st District and Rep. Livvy Floren from the 149th District. Meskers defeat of Republican Michael Bocchino made him the first Democrat on the team.
“The relationship is warm,” said Meskers, who is optimistic about the delegation’s ability to work together for Greenwich’s interests. “There probably will arise some differences related to our priorities, either individual or established by our leadership in the House.
“They are both long experienced and reasonable postures, so it should be great delegation. We will likely see eye-to-eye on more issues than people might ostensibly expect,” he said.
Bergstein has met with local officials in her district, including Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, New Canaan First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Stamford Mayor David Martin.
“I love meeting people, researching and solving problems,” said Bergstein. “I’m now doing this everyday, all day and I love it.”
She’s also met with local nonprofit leaders and visited schools, hospitals and police stations.
“I’m meeting every day with organizations that do critical work in the district,” she said.
Bergstein has also held community conversations in each town in her district, as she did during her campaign.
“Lots of people attended who had not voted for me, but they came with an open mind,” she said. “And the result was amazing - we had a dynamic, nonpartisan dialogue entirely focused on pragmatic solutions.”
Bergstein aims to tackle the issues she campaigned on: tax reform, pension reform, transportation, education and defending social rights.
The state senator-elect said her goal for her first session is to change the dynamic in the legislature, “so that my colleagues from other parts of the state stop thinking of this area as a bottomless wallet, and start thinking of us as the economic engine of Connecticut.”
If the state lets the economic engine of the 36th run out of fuel, Bergstein said it will no longer function.
“We need to put fuel back in the lower Fairfield County engine so that it can operate at full capacity, not grind to a halt,” she said. “More economic activity and new revenue generated in this part of the state only helps everyone in the rest of the state.”
Bergstein, who ran as a “different kind of Democrat” in her race to defeat Republican L. Scott Frantz, hopes her position in the legislature will yield more results for the district.
“I think the Democratic Senate will take that message seriously because finally, for the first time in nearly a century, we have Democratic senators with a seat at the table,” she said.