With Connecticut awash in electoral blue — following an election in which Democrats gained two-thirds of the seats in both the state House and Senate — party leaders were feeling anything but blue at a Monday night meeting of the Yale College Democrats.
At the meeting, prominent state and local officeholders outlined their visions for the coming year. Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83, Donald Williams Jr., president of the state Senate, Chris Donovan, state House majority leader, and Carl Goldfield, president of the New Haven Board of Aldermen, took turns addressing what each consider to be the pressing issues of the day and encouraged students to stay involved despite an inevitable lull in the aftermath of the election. Though most students found the forum interesting, some thought more specifics could have been given on how Yalies might remain involved.
Panel members said that even with strong majorities in the state legislature, student participation and support are still needed if campaign promises are to become policy. Donovan said Ned Lamont SOM ’80 has been a catalyst for change — despite his defeat in the general election — by proving to that it was possible to challenge Bush Administration policies and win, referring to Lamont’s victory over Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 in the Democratic primary.
Donovan said Democrats in Connecticut have been passing legislation in opposition to Bush’s federal policies — including promoting stem cell research and raising the minimum wage — and that the opportunity do to so now is even greater. But without continued support at the grassroots level, he said, much of the Democratic agenda might still be difficult to pass.
“Once you elect your representatives, you can’t just sit back and pray,” Donovan said. “You have to be constantly not only talking — making sure your voice is heard — but also supporting them, writing letters to the editor.”
Bysiewicz proudly recounted the electoral, though not necessarily political, successes in Connecticut in the last election. She said voter turnout was as high as it had ever been, with a 43.3 percent increase over any previous primary election total, and that the close margin of many of the elections, including Congressman-elect Joe Courtney’s miniscule 82-vote victory, served to remind students that grassroots campaigning can have an impact.
Williams said students have more of a voice now than ever before as a result of new campaign finance laws that will mean representatives are no longer beholden to special interests. For example, he said that previously it had been hard to pass a bill mandating stricter nutrition standards in public schools because of millions of dollars from what he called the “junk food lobby,” even though there had been wide support among legislators.
While Goldfield applauded the Democrats’ victory, he hopes that many of the programs that had been cut will be put back in place. The issues pertinent to New Haven might conflict with the Democratic priorities at the state level, Goldfield said. Williams said part of the problem is that some of these issues — such as the power to levy local sales taxes — could help New Haven, but might not aid other cities without similarly large retail bases.
Alexander Martone ’10 lauded the emphasis panel members placed on post-election activism.
“People often forget that after voting there are other things to do — which may have larger, more direct effects of people’s lives,” Martone said.
Sarah Robinson ’09 said that while she appreciated the focus on participation, she wished panelists had spent more time discussing specifics.
“I liked that they discussed specifics of health care,” Robinson said. “But there could have been more specific analysis of what to do to get involved, especially related to college students. What do we do when we get to Hartford? Knock on doors?”
The Yale College Democrats will be addressing specifics ways to stay politically active in the coming weeks, Dems’ president Brendan Gants ’08 said.
He said the Dems will concentrate on local efforts, and that earned income tax credit, universal health care and education reform will likely be among the important issues the organization will support.