LETTER: Bad Behavior by Greenwich and Stamford State Representatives

Submitted by Nerlyn Pierson of Indivisible Greenwich and Lawrence Edwards of Individual Stamford

Greenwich and Stamford have each been shamed in legislative public hearings in recent weeks by elected representatives Rep. Harry Arora and Rep. Kim Fiorello. Each of them took steps to drive down public participation, sidestep the rules and delay the proceedings. Arora’s conduct
was so bad that a broad coalition of groups representing people of color condemned his actions on the Labor and Public Employee Committee and demanded an apology.

Both representatives lost sight of the fact that the point of a public hearing is for the public to present their views and for legislators to learn from them and make informed decisions.

Arora missed the opportunity to be educated on issues that were not his lived experience and he acted to silence contrary views.

Fiorello’s actions granted an outside party priority over others in the queue by ceding her time, and then orchestrating her party’s control over the narrative by having the individual “testify” for over an hour, while other witnesses were limited to three minutes.

Rep. Arora:
Prior to the February 9, 2021 Labor and Public Employees hearing, Rep. Arora invited his followers on Facebook to attend, stating that “It’s going to be a long day. I’ll make it fun.” True to his word, he attempted to dominate the entire public hearing, crowding out the public voices, repeatedly overriding and ignoring leadership requests to stay on topic and respect the
time of the scores of speakers who signed up to speak.

Arora greatly extended the hearing length, to nearly 12 hours, by repeatedly taking, at times, more than 10 minutes at a time to ask unrelated, badgering questions, and disagreeing with experts and correcting people with personal experience with the issues being discussed.

Rep. Robyn Porter, the co-Chair of the committee, shared her own thoughts: “Disgraceful, disrespectful”; “he hijacked the meeting”; “he denied people the right to testify”; “he bullied them”. “This public hearing was supposed to be a safe and liberating space for the public,” said Rep. Porter.

Press Conference: Women’s Coalition in support of Rep Porter.

From the leader of one group calling out Rep. Arora at the press conference: “On Tuesday, Rep. Harry Arora of Greenwich, was determined to disrupt the public comments for the Labor and Public Employees Committee Public Hearing on February 9th.

One leader of a group calling for further action against Rep. Arora had this to say:

“This act of blatant disrespect is completely intolerable in CT’s lawmakers! We will be joined by the black and brown community around the state in support of Rep Porter and demanding Rep. Arora be made accountable.” – Rhonda Caldwell, Hamden Action Now.

Labor & Public Employees Committee:   

Rep. Fiorello:
At the public hearing to consider ballot resolutions to amend the CT Constitution to allow for early and no-excuse absentee voting, Rep. Fiorello used her legislative prerogative to testify ahead of the public in order to manipulate the process and ensure that their star witness would be heard from first. In express defiance of an earlier conversation with the Committee co-chair, she nonetheless ceded her time to allow the opposition’s star witness (chair of an advocacy group that traffics in baseless claims about voter fraud in Connecticut) to be heard from first, before the rest of the general public. The effect of her act was exactly that of Rep. Arora – to delay the hearing by a large magnitude and make it harder for others who had signed up to participate.

Once the witness spoke (and he spoke for longer than the permitted three minutes), Rep. Fiorello’s Republican colleagues spent over an hour with him providing their own remarks to set the narrative for the rest of the hearing in opposing these two resolutions.

Go to 2:12:50 for Kim Fiorello ceding her time.  

This behavior by Republican state legislatures is happening in many of the public hearings taking place in Hartford. It is disheartening to see Republicans engaged in an anti-democratic, concerted effort to use the public hearing forum to snuff citizen speech in an effort to suppress the message of our citizenry.

It is disgraceful that our own elected representatives are participating in this behavior and stand in the way of having as many members of the public testify as possible on these important bills. It is anti-democratic and curtails free speech.

Both Rep. Arora and Rep. Fiorello are representing all of us in Hartford, and when their behavior directly undermines the purpose of public hearings Greenwich must speak out and denounce this unacceptable behavior.

Nerlyn Pierson
Indivisible Greenwich

Lawrence Edwards
Indivisible Stamford