State legislators outline goals

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Photo by Blair Seideman.

The Yale College Democrats launched their statewide advocacy work Monday night, outlining the causes they plan to push in the state legislature’s upcoming legislative session.

Around 40 members of the Dems met with State Sen. Martin Looney and State Reps. Roland Lemar and Gary Holder-Winfield, members of New Haven’s delegation to Hartford, to discuss what should be the focus of the Dems’ advocacy efforts in the legislative session that will begin Feb. 8. At the same time, several members of the Dems attended a campaign kickoff for State Rep. William Tong, a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 will vacate next year.

Looney, Lemar and Holder-Winfield discussed with the Dems about what they said would be the state Democrats’ three biggest legislative priorities: voting reform, removal of the state death penalty and statewide education reform. All three legislators were hopeful that some of their bills affecting these issues would pass because Gov. Dannel Malloy currently holds the state executive’s seat, the first Democrat to do so in two decades.

“Now you’ve got a governor who will do things,” Lemar said.

While Malloy is a “staunch advocate” of death penalty repeal, Looney said, efforts to that end were stymied under former Gov. Jodi Rell — in 2009 she vetoed a bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Connecticut. With advocacy support from the Dems, the legislators said they hoped to have a bill repealing the death penalty on Malloy’s desk before the end of the legislative session in May.

The Dems will also be pushing for voting reform in concert with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who is preparing a package of legislation that would allow Election Day voter registration, online voter registration, broader use of absentee ballots, and stiffer penalties for voter harassment and intimidation. Malloy has said he will stand behind such legislation, and the legislators present Tuesday evening said passing it will be one of their priorities when they head back to Hartford next week.

The difficulty, they said, would be Election Day voter registration, a measure opposed by many Republicans.

The trio also explained to those present that education reform is another major goal of this legislative session, and that it has bipartisan support. Four weeks ago, Malloy said that 2012 is the “year for education reform,” adding that he sees the issue as one of civil rights.

“We can’t afford to give up on 40 to 60 percent of the young people living in some of our urban areas,” Malloy said on a radio show three weeks ago. “It is morally repugnant to do that.”

Lemar said education reform will rely on as much evidence-based change as possible, although he admitted that nobody “really knows” how to improve education. Connecticut currently has the largest achievement gap in the nation, according to the legislators.

While the majority of the Dems met with Looney, Lemar and Holder-Winfield, five attended Tong’s campaign kickoff at Great Wall, a Chinese restaurant on Whitney Avenue. There, they listened to Tong speak about his parents, who came to the United States as immigrants with only 57 cents and eventually came to own a Chinese restaurant.

“It’s great to be home, here, in a Chinese restaurant,” Tong said.

Tong said that he was worried that the “American Dream,” as experienced by his parents, was no longer viable.

Marcus Paca, former Ward 24 alderman, also attended the kickoff in order to get more information about Tong as a candidate, he said. He said he had already been contacted by Tong’s opponents, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and former secretary of the state Susan Bysiewicz ’83, although he has yet to make a decision about which candidate he would support.

According to campaign disclosures from the end of December, Murphy had raised nearly $2.7 million, Bywiewicz had brought in almost $1.3 million and Tong counted less than $720,000 in his campaign coffers.

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