Looney pushes Yale Dems to keep lobbying after election

With the Connecticut political season in full swing, state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney came to Yale and advised the Yale Dems to keep lobbying for change even after elections are over.

Looney spoke to the Yale College Democrats Tuesday about all the issues he thinks need to be addressed after the fall state Senate race. The speech, which took place in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, drew a group of approximately 20 students.

Looney’s speech, a status report of sorts for Connecticut politics, outlined his stance on propositions like the Earned Income Tax Credit bill. Looney said the bill failed to go through earlier this year because an estate tax reduction for the wealthy failed to pass. He said the Republican senators offered the Dems a trade: They would support the EITC bill if the Democrats agreed to vote for the bill advocating tax breaks.

“[The estate tax break] was a deal-breaker for EITC,” Looney said. “That’s why we need more Democrats in the Senate.”

The senator went on to discuss campaign strategy in the upcoming Connecticut elections.

“We need to be creative in building coalitions, because much of the suburban and rural areas in the state are Republican,” Looney said.

Looney said low voter turnout in the state’s urban areas, most of which are primarily Democratic, caused his party to lose a sizeable number of seats in the Senate. He said winning the Connecticut gubernatorial race — in which New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is challenging popular incumbent Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell — would substantially strengthen the party in Connecticut.

“We would be able to move on a lot of fronts if we had the support of the governor’s office,” said Looney.

The senator praised his hosts for their involvement in the EITC issue.

“The Yale College Democrats showed a great deal of leadership,” he said.

When asked what he foresaw as the central issues the Democrats should focus on after the election, Looney said the United States needs a national health care plan and that the party should first work on the state level in order to achieve that goal. Another issue of interest to Looney is the criminal justice system — specifically, finding alternatives to incarceration.

“Looking at decriminalization of drug-related offenses is important,” Looney said. “Bail presents an insurmountable barrier for drug offenders who need to show they’ve turned over a new leaf in the courtroom.”

Following Looney’s speech, the Democrats broke up into small groups and discussed emerging issues in which young party members are increasingly becoming interested. Yale Dems Campaign Coordinator Eric Kafka ’08 said the group is trying to build a new platform for next year following last year’s initiative to build support around the EITC bill.

“A lot of legislators were interested and willing to meet students because they offered a fresh perspective,” he said. “It was amazing how students had such an impact on a piece of legislation that would affect so many people.”

This year, the College Democrats President Brendan Gants ’08 said the group hopes to once again focus on EITC, but he said they are limited only by their passion.

“It really depends on members’ interests,” Gants said. “The beginning of the year is about gauging which issues students are interested in.”

Matt Smith ’10, who attended the event, said he agrees that college students who become involved in politics can achieve change on a larger level.

“I think college students can get involved in policy,” he said. “They’re one of the most motivated groups of people and the most likely to have an impact.”

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