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our capitol bureau Assessing Lamont’s first 100 days as governor

April 16, 2019

After almost 100 days in office, Gov. Ned Lamont has marked a few key victories that have set the tone for his administration, described by many as collaborative and even creative.

But his major policy proposals — tolls, taxes, sports betting, legalizing recreational marijuana and more — are far from sure things, with more than a few legislative obstacles in his way.

Lamont will celebrate his 100th day in office Thursday. It’s a relatively arbitrary benchmark — the term was first coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as he stepped into office and spent his first 100 days dealing with the crisis of the Great Depression — but it has taken on a symbolic significance as a measurement of early success for elected officials.

“How reasonable that time frame is, we can argue about that,” said Ron Schurin, a political science professor at UConn. “But its standard, in the first 100 days now, to deal with a crisis or set forth an agenda for the first two years. He has tackled or set forth programs in controversial areas. Some of them are not fully developed but are a road map — in the case of tolls, for example — and he has built his administration. There has been one controversial appointee, but no rejections and he has established himself — not quite as dramatically as (former) Gov. (Dannel) Malloy — as the central player in state government.”

Lamont took in hundreds of suggestions from more than a dozen policy work groups established during his transition into office. Some were easy to implement while others took a little more work. But most problems are too complicated to solve in 100 days.

The Good

Less than a week after he was sworn into office, Lamont took home a win when he announced a partnership to provide interest-free loans to federal workers in Connecticut that were affected by the government shutdown, which was then in its 25th day.

The partnership with Webster and other banks was met with broad bi-partisan praise, and passed quickly with nearly unanimous support in the legislature.

“I think he took quick and decisive action to help Connecticut federal employees,” said state Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “That is something he moved quickly on and we moved quickly on. I think he showed early on his creativity and genuine leadership.”

Also top on the list of accomplishments, the governor’s aides are quick to point out he hired the most women of color in any administration and was able to achieve gender parity among his appointments, a top recomendation of the work group on women’s issues.

“That’s been really exciting for myself and other people in that sector,” said Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and a co-chair of the Lamont work group dedicated to women.

“I think they’re still trying to work through how to bring in the private sector, but we were really pleased to see that policy from the state to respond to some of the issues that affect women,” she added.

Earlier this month, Lamont announced a private-public partnership with the Dalio Philanthropies that will provide $300 million for educational supports for disengaged high school students.

The Bad and the Messy

A month after taking office, Lamont announced in an Op-Ed his support for broad tolling of all vehicles. It was a departure from his campaign promise of trucks-only tolling, drawing sharp criticism from both his supporters and opponents.

The announcement, which rolled out on a Saturday morning, prompted a hastily called press call with reporters on a Sunday afternoon in February. Lamont’s Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz was tasked with explaining the governor’s reasoning, and it’s a proposal that is still taking heat from groups like No Toll CT and Republican opponents.

A heated discussion on grocery taxes and another on school consolidation were hot topics in the early days of the Lamont administration.

The grocery tax was, apparently, “not even in the top 100 ideas,” Lamont has said, but the concept made an unflattering splash.

On school consolidation and regionalization, Lamont softened his stance slightly. Making clear he doesn’t favor forced consolidation, but is still highly encouraging districts to look at ways to consolidate back office services and redirect funding into classrooms.

“My revised proposal seeks to strike that balance through a collaborative process that preserves the feisty independence of our towns while providing them the tools they need to accomplish our shared vision of focusing resources on the classroom,” Lamont said at the time.

He’s run into plenty of opposition -- something he anticipated, especially when he announced his support for broad tolling -- but he didn’t expected just how many issues he’d have to consider, keep track of and take a stance on.

“What I didn’t really anticipate was the 100s of different bills coming out of committee,” Lamont said after a press conference on the 3-month anniversary of his inauguration. “All of which we have to keep track of and decide where we stand on them. I’m told in the old days committee chairmen were a little more discreet about what bills made it to the floor for a vote, so we’re hustling pretty good right now to see what are the bills out there because each one takes on a life of its own.”

The Undecided

On the big ticket issues — tolling, legalizing recreational marijuana, sports betting, a new casino and more — Lamont will need the legislature to get behind his proposals. It’s a task that sounds easier than it is, even with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

“I think people who had that expectation were pretty unrealistic,” Looney said. “The larger your caucus gets the more diverse it gets. The only way to be homogeneous caucus is to have a small caucus an then you can’t get anything done anyway. So he’s working with everyone, and there’s a ways to go.”

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt