Op Ed submitted by State Senator Alex Bergstein, Feb 1, 2019
As a new State Senator representing Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford, I’m proud to be leading difficult but necessary public conversations about the biggest challenges facing our state and the biggest opportunities to fix them.
This past week I hosted a second round of Community Conversations in New Canaan, Stamford and Greenwich all focused on “Bringing Business to CT”. The goal of these conversations is to 1) welcome everyone, of all views, into a constructive public dialogue and, 2) learn from experts how to attract business and grow our economy.
We all want CT to have a robust and resilient economy and my duty as a legislator is to help design a roadmap to achieve this. Doing research and learning from experts is always my starting point. And I was thrilled that hundreds of people – from every political party – attended these conversations with a sincere desire to move our state forward.
For our first round of Community Conversations, which we held in late November, we had low expectations for turnout. But despite pouring rain, it was standing room only. In those first meetings, I proposed some simple principles of civil discourse – being respectful, limiting comments to personal experiences and facts, and citing one’s sources. I asked the audience if they agreed to these – and they applauded! For the conversations last week, I invited prominent business leaders to share their expertise on what drives business to Connecticut. Being “pro-business” is critical to the solvency of our state and this topic should appeal to everyone, regardless of political affiliation.
Unfortunately, a few days before our public conversations last week, a small organization called “No Tolls CT,” funded by your former State Senator, Scott Frantz and his wife Icy, seized the opportunity to target me politically.
This partisan group, along with the official Connecticut Republican Party and its local affiliates, broadcast emails and social media posts asking people to protest my events and bring “No Tolls” signs.
Curious behavior from a political party that claims to be pro-business. Why not participate in discussions about economic policy rather than protest them? I welcome anyone who engages in good faith. And, I unequivocally welcome those with dissenting opinions.
When someone challenges the status quo, resistance is inevitable. I don’t mind being the target. But when opposition takes the form of personal attacks like the ones posted about me on the CTGOP Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites, it raises questions.
I have many Republican friends who are unaware that their own party Chairman, J.R. Romano, made videos and podcasts about me, which are so full of untruths they’re laughable. The reality I’ve experienced working with fellow Republican legislators is exactly the opposite – they are consistently civil and collaborative. So why are official Republican party communications full of malice and misrepresentation?
These antics illustrate a larger problem we face as a society. When 8 protesters show up at an event attended by 300 community members, does their presence make the issue being discussed “controversial”? Or does it show that despite a small and vocal opposition, the vast majority of people support the policy?
Perception shapes our reality.
But perceptions can never substitute for the Truth. The “No Tolls” protesters and others, including my own State Representative Fred Camillo, have publicly misrepresented my bill on tolls, claiming it calls for 82 gantries.
Read the bill SB102 and see for yourself. It doesn’t mention gantries at all. Why? Because my intention is to start a discussion guided by fact that delivers the best solutions using the latest technology.
By the time tolls are implemented, gantries may be obsolete and we may be able to attach sensors to lamp posts, highway signs or bridges. The point is, let’s not derail conversations by reducing them to erroneous talking points or simplistic slogans.
People are intelligent and want the truth. Our job as legislators is to present the facts (all of them) and deliver positive public policy. And as citizens, we are all responsible for our words and actions. Spreading untruths – intentionally or otherwise – is not acceptable or civil behavior. Let’s all stand up for Truth and Civility by modeling it ourselves.