“Pragmatic Progressive” Sees The Forest In The Trees

Christine Stuart PhotoJonathan Harris used a word you don’t usually hear from the rest of the pack eyeing the governor’s mansion this year: lumber.

He used the word in an interview to cite an example of how his government experience has prepared him to serve as a “pragmatic progressive” “problem-solver” — someone who combines left-of-center political values with nuts-and-bolts action — should he succeed in his current uphill quest to win the Democratic gubernatorial election and then the general election.

Asked during an interview on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program for a specific example of how to do that, Harris spoke about looking afresh at state “assets” for how better to find revenues to run government and pay off old pension debts.

Assets like trees.

“We have 360,000 or so acres of forest land,” he noted. “Do we actually have management of that forest land?”

A non-“progressive” approach to “assets” like government land is ... to sell it. Or clear-cut it.

Harris offered a different idea: look at how to manage the forests better.

“To have proper forest management, you need to sometimes take down trees,” he said. He suggested teaming up with University of Connecticut’s forest school to identify trees that need to come down for other trees to thrive. Then he recommended selling that lumber.

“Boil that down to cash and help with the pension” burden on the state, he said. He estimated the state might be able to bring in $10-$20 million a year that way.

“We need to start thinking outside the box” in government, he said.

Harris is the one candidate so far running for governor who can claim he has made state laws, overseen a state agency, and run a municipality: He served as West Hartford’s mayor, as state senator, and, until this past April, state commissioner of consumer protection.

He said in those jobs he developed a track recording for thinking outside the box to solve problems in practical but also progressive ways: Finding ways to boost the number of patients registered for medical marijuana from 1,400 to 17,000 during his consumer protection tenure; negotiating with Catholic hospitals to agree to let third parties administer Plan B contraception so that “girls brutalized by sexual assault” don’t need to take cabs to other hospitals to get treatment; updating rules on parking and density so West Hartford could turn an undeveloped area into the thriving Blue Back Square. In the WNHH interview he spoke about how attention to zoning obstacles or outdated parking rules can help support “bottom-up economic development” as an alternative to relying on tax breaks to the largest employers threatening to leave the state.

He said those experiences give him a running start on finding smart ways to bring government into the 21st century — in how the Department of Motor Vehicles does background checks, for instance, or how liquor regulators carry out their jobs — and save money while delivering better government.

That experience and practical bent also led him to offer caveats when embracing positions like favoring new electronic tolls on state highways: He said we should combine that idea with lowering the gas tax, so that interstate drivers who now wait to fill up in Massachusetts or New York do so in Connecticut instead, and “buy a burrito” in the process. (Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called for a seven-cent hike in the gas tax.)

A lawyer and economic development consultant by trade, Harris, who’s 54, has racked up endorsements from state legislators past and present like Edith Prague and Derek Slap for his gubernatorial quest, which is still officially in the “exploratory” phase.

You can hear him discuss more of his platform and his record in the full WNHH FM “Dateline New Haven” interview by clicking on the audio file or the Facebook Live video below.

 

 

WNHH interviews with other gubernatorial candidates:

 

Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for the full interview with gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about the interview.

 

Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full “Dateline New Haven” interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Luke Bronin on WNHH FM, in which he also discussed, among other topics, the need for more vo-tech education and raining programs for coding and other high-tech jobs, as well as public-private job-creation partnerships. Click here to read an article about the interview.

 

Click on or download the above audio file or Facebook Live video below to listen to the full interview with Joe Ganim. Click here to read an article about the interview.

 

Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for an interview with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dita Bhargava on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about the interview.Click on or download the above audio file or on the Facebook Live video to below to hear an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Handler on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program. Click here for a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Prasad Srinivasan on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about that interview.Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear a WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik. Click here to read a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file to hear a previous WNHH FM “Dateline New Haven” interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Ganim. Click here for a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file to a an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Boughton on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program; and click here to read a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file to hear an interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Drew; and click here to read a story about the interview.

Tags: ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry

Comments

posted by: Brian McGrath on February 9, 2018  4:10pm

I have never been first to comment before!
This candidate is the most convincing so far.
By the way, Paul, who was it in city hall that got the idea to erect billboards on city sidewalks with cheesy McDonald’s ads in them?

posted by: Brian McGrath on February 9, 2018  4:16pm

Also, I forgot to mention that it was Harris’ comments about trees that prompted my comment. As a former Land Trust Direstor I learned something about trees and Harris reminded me. The State law forces municipalities to give land owners a 90% property tax break if their land is covered by forest, provided the forest is “properly managed” under state standards. Inspection and enforcement of this is assigned to someone at the state, probably DEEP. It is a joke. I suspect there are NO inspections and nearly all forests are littered with dead trees, never cleared, and surviving trees choked out.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on February 9, 2018  6:33pm

I hate to agree with McGrath on anything, but I do on Harris.

He is smart, competent and honest. (referring to Harris). He is also more electable than the Hartford mayor and Malloy puppet, the Bridgeport felon, or therecycled Ned Lamont. (Susie Bysiewicz might still be electable, but she certainly made herself into a laughing-stock among political circles.)

posted by: 1644 on February 9, 2018  9:47pm

Determinations of qualifications for PA 490 tax status is generally made by local tax assessors, who near universally want to expand their grand lists.  http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/forestry/landowner_assistance/forestland_taxation/guidance_foresters_assessors.pdf
Farm, forest, and open space land uses visually no town services, so granting it a large tax-exemption makes sense. The impetus for PA 490 was, of course, to reduce the pressure to develop farm, forest, open space, and maritime heritage (lobster docks) lands by taxing that land based on its use, not its potential use.

posted by: 1644 on February 10, 2018  10:32am

Kevin:  PA 490, enacted in 1963, is intended to prevent the forced development of farms, forest, open space, and maritime heritage (lobster docks) property by allowing landowners to have their property assessed at a value based on its use, not fair market value, which would be based on its development potential.  The property owner applies to his local assessor, who makes the initial determination as to whether the land qualifies.  Forests must be at least 25 acres and have a private, certified forester involved in its management.  My own observation of Connecticut logging is that it involves going in every 20-40 years and removing high-value, mature hardwoods.  Logging equipment requires roads and causes erosion, so one wouldn’t want to log too often.  As for dead trees, they provide a lot of wildlife habitat, so they really aren’t a problem.
  In any case, farms and forests, unlike housing, particularly housing with school-aged children, consume virtually no services, so it behooves towns to keep land as farm and forest rather than have it developed for housing.

posted by: 1644 on February 11, 2018  11:12am

How is it a good thing that registered pot users went up ten times?  Generally, I think the fewer drug users of any type we have, the better (including non-addictive therapeutic drugs).  We got into much of the drug mess by thinking opioids were good, prescribing them liberally so folks could live “pain-free”.

That aside, I agree that this guy seems the best of the Democrats.  He has a lot of experience in successful areas.  As I have stated before, Hartford’s vibrant urban center is in West Hartford. It’s where younger folks congregate for dinner, drinks, music, etc.  The place is hopping at night, and very difficult to find parking.  No doubt, he understands that, just as West Hartford competes with other towns, so does Connecticut compete with other states.  Simply raising taxes to fund ever more social services has left us at the edge of an economic death spiral. As with all the candidates, I would like to see more specifics.  Ten-twenty million for timber is not going to solve our deficits.  What more will he do?

posted by: Mike1956 on February 12, 2018  3:19pm

Public forests throughout the U.S. are managed to make money AND protect natural resources.  Wisconsin, for example, does this particularly well on county-owned and state-owned forestlands.  Connecticut’s forests are also managed with these goals in mind, but staffing levels are too low to be effective.  Forest certification programs are provide independent reviews to ensure management is done correctly.  CT’s forests have not been so reviewed, and probably would not pass due to underfunding and lack of updated inventory or plans.

Sadly UCONN’s forestry program largely ended long ago, giving up accreditation in the 1970s.  There may be one or two courses taught, but no real forest management program.  Yale’s School of Forestry would be the place to turn to obtain advice on management of public or private forestland here.

The candidate’s ideas are generally reasonable, but he has a bit to learn about the challenges and opportunities.  (I’ve been a forester in Connecticut since 1978 and have worked on forestry projects in 36 states.)