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Candidates for Governor Need to Speak About Racial Inequities

Mar 3, 2022

Just over a month ago, Republican Bob Stefanowski announced he was running for governor a second time while our current Governor, Democrat Ned Lamont, filed his paperwork to run for reelection in November. The stage is now set for a rematch of the 2018 election.

Both candidates have begun to outline their approaches to governing the state, but I find I’m only half-listening. Stefanowski’s “Day One Initiatives” is a standard exercise in political platitudes about crime, schools, and jobs. The only specificity he offers is in his proposals to cut taxes. In his State of the State address, Lamont trumpeted his success in achieving budget surpluses and similarly looking to cut taxes. 

But there’s something beyond the sameness of the messages that’s making me tune out. It’s been the realization that neither political party has addressed the concerns I have about life in Connecticut as a Black person. Both parties claim to be the solution but the outlook for Black people in the state hasn’t changed much in decades.

The reality of negative outcomes for Black residents is often papered over because Connecticut is a “blue” state, and Democrats are given more credit for being progressive on matters of race. However, when you dig into the actual outcomes Black residents face here, it becomes clear that the Democrat’s reputation has not been earned.

When I think about my own life and experiences, Democrats have had just as much control over it as Republicans. All my local elected officials are Democrats. Most of the institutions I’ve interacted with are broadly viewed as center-left or liberal. Yet I’ve spent my life feeling disrespected, undervalued, and ignored by the very people who purport to be on my side. 

Additionally, Connecticut has one of the largest wealth gaps in the nation; has the largest racial achievement gap in the nation; and is one of the most segregated states in the nation. This, despite Democrats holding the governorship for more time than Republicans since World War II and Democrats controlling at least one house of the General Assembly every year since 1959 (excepting 1973-1974 and 1985-1986). 

What I’m finally feeling is that this didn’t happen despite Democrats, it happened because of Democrats. 

But Republicans have been just as complicit in the racial outcomes here in Connecticut. Republican Governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell are in our recent political history, as is Lowell Weicker, who was a Republican before running for governor as an independent. More recently, instead of offering solutions to address the economic and social concerns of Black residents, local and state level Republicans have railed against critical race theory, an academic approach that is not being taught at any primary or secondary school anywhere in the country because it’s a college-level concept.

Wealth disparities and segregation lead to Black and brown people dying earlier than white people. The life expectancy for residents in Northeast Hartford is 68.9 years, which is almost twelve years less than the state’s average life expectancy. More shockingly, it’s more than twenty years less than the life expectancy in Westport. The racial conditions that both Democrats and Republicans have allowed to fester over generations takes decades off of our lives.

Neither candidate for governor has offered a specific plan for addressing these disparities outside of the usual talk about investment in cities and schools. Aside from the recently concluded settlement for the Sheff v. O’Neill lawsuit, there are no serious state level efforts at combating segregation. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $13, which while higher than the federal level, is an insufficient living wage in one of the most expensive states in the country

If Lamont or Stefanowski want me to pay attention to what they’re saying, they need to speak to the concerns that I have. They need to clearly break with a bipartisan political establishment that has done too little to elevate Black residents. I’m ready to listen to whomever wants to talk to me and I hope at least one of them will have something serious to say.

Jamil Ragland is a writer from the Hartford area. His work deals with politics, race and culture. Jamil lives in Hartford with his son.