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Gov. Malloy: Good, Bad and Indifferent

Governor Dan Malloy has been seemingly everywhere this week, but his education policies are taking us nowhere.

On Monday, I saw him address the Connecticut Bar Association’s annual meeting lunch, where he discussed education. Tuesday morning, I heard him on WPLR’s morning show with Chaz and AJ talking transportation. Tuesday night, he appeared at the Hartford Public Library’s gala with Adrianna Huffington. And Wednesday morning, he was on the front pages.

Me not being a fan of Arianna Huffington and her exploitation of writers, I wasn’t going to that (although I support the public library). I’d be more interested and excited if Arianna donated some of her fortune to the Library. But, that’s just me, and this column is about Gov. Dan Malloy.

On Chaz and AJ, Malloy sounded like a 40-year plan man. A caller labeling the busway a boondoggle quizzed Malloy on its cost. Malloy’s confident, prudent answer turned to long-term thinking. The Aetna viaduct must be replaced in the next 20 years, he said.

“Do you know what that is going to do to traffic in Hartford if we do not have alternative ways to move people around?” Malloy said. “We are trying to take a multi-year approach to traffic in the capital.”

Chaz noted the state was trying get ahead of the problem.

“We are not used to thinking in the state government on a long term basis,” Malloy said. “What I am trying to do is take these longer-term approaches, which are not popular.”

This makes me think Malloy is on the right track. Then Jon Pelto reminds me of Malloy’s regressive education policy. The latest: an executive power grab that the legislature kowtowed to.

On June 12, the legislature voted to give Bridgeport’s school system $3.5 million, provided that the city chooses a superintendent approved by Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.

The state can do that to Hartford, too, now. And yes, five of six Hartford representatives (Kelvin Roldan, Matt Ritter, Hector Robles, Minnie Gonzalez and Doug McCrory voted for it; Marie Kirkley-Bey appeared to have been absent).

The good news: Roldan is soon a distant memory, this among his final votes in the House of Representatives. The bad news: an educator like McCrory has bought into the Malloy education reform scam.

At the Bar Association luncheon, CBA president Brad Gallant’s introduction of Malloy highlighted how different he is from his predecessors. Malloy is the first governor in the past 20 years to accept a CBA invitation. The lawyers gave Malloy a standing ovation.

Malloy, a lawyer who practiced for 15 years before winning elective office as mayor of Stamford, was all stars and stripes about the good that lawyers do.

He criticized the dismissive attitude settling in America about equal access to law, and stressed that lawyers fight for equal access to law.

“Lawyers are people who help guide our society and state down the right road,” he said. He expressed hope that we could all experience the kind of change that civil rights leaders like John Lewis have seen in their lifetimes.

Lewis, a congressman from Atlanta, was one of the original 12 Freedom Riders, beaten and bloodied trying to desegregate Greyhound Buses in the south. Lewis recently spoke at UConn Law’s commencement, introduced by Malloy.

Then, abruptly, Malloy turned campaigner and regaled us for 10 minutes about how he was classified as mentally retarded as a child because of his learning disability and has now risen to this position of power and respect. Yawn. Inspiring story the first time. Egotistical the 5,000th time.

It seems as if he is still fighting the kids in third grade who teased him, telling them that he isn’t stooped. Although, from a politician’s perspective, I understand his need to define himself.

Of course, Malloy ticked off his progressive accomplishments: abolishing the death penalty, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and expanding civil rights like gay marriage and voting rights (where other states are restricting rights).

Knowing his audience, Malloy said throughout it all, his commitment to the law has never wavered, and that examining issues from all sides helps solving problems.  Like education. Seeing it as a student who was in special education, Malloy wondered why we couldn’t help everyone.

School systems that fail to educate 45 percent of students violate civil rights, he said. Forty-five percent of students in urban high schools never receive diplomas.

“If the vast majority of those children were white, we would have done something about it a long time ago,” Malloy said.

After hearing Malloy wax resplendently about Congressman Lewis’ fight against racism, I almost bought Malloy as an anti-racist warrior in education.  Then I looked at the executive branch website for the state of Connecticut.

Click on every link (more than 40 of them) listing executive branch agencies, and count how many executive branch agency commissioners are not white.

Three: Reuben Bradford at Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Erika Tindall, Chair  of the Board of Pardons and Paroles (which really is a branch of the Department of Corrections, chaired by white man in a suit Leo C. Arnone), and Roderick Bremby at the Department of Social Services.

If we look at Governor Malloy’s inner circle, again, we are confronted by a bunch of white guys: Andrew MacDonald, Mike Lawlor, Roy Occhiogrosso, Ben Barnes, Tim Bannon.

Malloy had a cabinet-level appointee, Alvin Wilson as Director of Operations, who was not white, but he lasted a year before heading to be the chief human rights referee for the state.

On the other hand, President George W. Bush had a cabinet of diverse skin color, but we criticized for lack of diversity of thought. Here, Team Malloy lacks diversity of skin color and thought.

And that shows through in policy making initiatives. The ability of the state to limit Bridgeport’s home rule is almost unheard of Connecticut, where we have a strong tradition of education home rule. Ever wonder why we have 160-plus school districts for 169 cities and towns? Home rule.

Malloy’s paternalistic, colonial approach to Bridgeport, New London and Windham wreaks of Kipling’s white man’s burden.  His solution of charter schools here, there and everywhere does not fit the problem of resource distribution and poverty.

Poverty cannot be solved alone by building Jumoke Academies on every block. Balancing the ledger of capitalism in favor of the 99 percent solves poverty. America has plenty of wealth to go around. Leaders like Malloy do not want to deal with that.

Before Malloy spoke, the CBA recognized with an award attorney Jill Seaman Plancher for her years of service to the child protection bar through the Connecticut Legal Service Family Unit in Stamford.

In accepting her honor, Attorney Seaman Plancher noted how a fiscal crisis haunts us all, even in Fairfield County. Legal Services’ motto of “Access to Justice” means, unfortunately, that we have to ration our services in such times of crisis, she said.

I argue that the fiscal crisis is a feature of capitalism’s upward shift of wealth. This same fiscal crisis shortchanges urban schools, forces Bridgeport to take handouts with strings, cuts teachers in suburban schools, attacks teacher pensions, and pushes charter schools across the nation.

Malloy’s education policy, as such, does not approach the real problem – the wealth gap. Until Governor Malloy addresses the gap between rich and poor, his reliance on charter schools and his vituperative stance on teachers only worsen the educational crisis.

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