Taking Office, Kennedy Vows To Help Seniors, The Disabled

With PermissionAs he begins his first term as a state legislator, Ted Kennedy Jr. vowed to help more seniors and disabled people live at home instead of in institutions—and to support changes in campaign-finance laws that helped him get into office.

“I do want public financing to continue. I will play by whatever set of rules the legislature decides on,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy made the remarks in an interview with the Eagle as he prepared to be sworn in Wednesday as the new senator from Connecticut’s 12th District, which includes Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison and North Branford,

The new senator also immediate stepped into a role where he’ll have much to say about another issue important to shoreline voters: the environment.

Kennedy Appointed Environmental Chair

Just yesterday Kennedy was officially appointed chair of the legislature’s Environment Committee, a post held by his predecessor Ed Meyer. He has also been named a majority whip of the Democratic legislative caucus. 

Kennedy wanted to serve on the Environment committee, he told the Eagle. “It was my first choice,” he said, because this committee makes decisions by consensus.

Kennedy says he believes in legislating by consensus, a belief his father, the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, advocated during his long career in Washington, D.C.

“Traditionally it has been one of the most productive committees in Hartford and it is very bipartisan committee and it is very collaborative. The environment is a very important issue to people on the shoreline, the protection of Long Island Sound, open space, farmland preservation, exposure of toxic chemicals and so much more. People on the shoreline are very aware of these issues, whether they are Independents, Democrats or Republicans. Most people believe these are good priorities for our region and certainly our state.”

Kennedy, State Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-102nd), and newly elected State Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-98th) begin their terms as the session opens today.

Reed, entering her fourth term in office, is the chair of the Energy & Technology committee, a member of the powerful Finance, Revenue & Bonding committee and a member of the Planning & Development committee. Scanlon announced yesterday that he is a member of the Environment, Public Health and Transportation committees on the House side. 

In an interview with the Eagle on the eve of his swearing-in, Kennedy said he was excited to enter public life. “I am just so honored to be elected by the citizens of the 12th District. I am motivated, very motivated to work hard and do a good job. I really want to be successful in this job.” He won with close to 60 percent of the vote, with many voting across party lines to elect him.

Advocating for Seniors and the Disabled

Kennedy will also serve on the public health and transportation committees. An attorney who specializes in health care, he said he plans to continue his advocacy work on behalf of senior citizens and people with disabilities. He will do so through the public health committee.

“I have a very strong interest in working to expand home and community-based options for people with disabilities and senior citizens, and I am going to be working to make sure that we prioritize those types of services and make them the priorities, as opposed to institutions or nursing homes. I talked about that a lot in the campaign. It is a big cost saving. It costs so much less money to let people age in place and to let those with disabilities be in a least restrictive environment. It is less expensive. It is one of those rare issues where it is good for people and it is good for the bottom line.

“We have been moving in that direction and other states have, too. I really want to quicken that, to speed that up. I want to focus on community based care as opposed to skilled nursing care.”

Tolls or a Locked Box

During the campaign Kennedy raised the idea of putting tolls at Connecticut’s borders in an effort to find the funding to fix Connecticut’s aging roads, railroads and bridges.

He has not yet attended a meeting of the transportation committee, he said but he thought it might be an idea to discuss. “I think people are looking at all options. They know that we have a crumbling infrastructure in our state and they know we need to spend more money on fixing our bridges and roads, and so I think that will get attention. I hope there will be hearings. The fact that it is actually being discussed is great.”

But he also observed that governors from both parties had over the years raided the transportation budget, effectively causing the problem the state now faces. “These funds were supposed to go to public transportation. Maybe we have to put that money in a locked box; that might be an alternative to the toll issue,” he said. 

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who will be sworn into a second term today, has left no doubt he intends to tackle Connecticut’s broken and aging transportation system.

Campaign Financing Reform

Leaders in the House and in the Senate want to make changes in the campaign finance law as a result of the 2014 election campaign. This past election was the first test of the state’s campaign law adopted one year before in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited amounts of money to be spent by outside groups on political campaigns in states throughout the country. Kennedy said in the interview that the Citizens United decision presents serious issues that need to be addressed.

The state Democratic Party gave his campaign a total of $207,000 even though he had received public campaign financing. The 2013 legislature had changed the law to allow party giving in this manner, even to candidates accepting public financing. What the legislature didn’t envision was the public’s reaction. 

The Connecticut legislature decided to combat anticipated spending from outside groups by making a variety of changes, including easing limits on the amount of money state political parties could give to candidates and citizens could donate to state political parties. The new laws also removed restrictions on how much the party could spend on their publicly financed candidates. The result? Outside groups spent nearly $16 million on the governor’s race, exceeding the $13 million the two gubernatorial candidates received from the clean election program.

From the outset Kennedy said he acted legally when his own publicly financed campaign accepted $207,000 from the state Dems. His Republican opponent, Bruce Wilson, asserted in a SEEC complaint that that these funds “were nearly matched, dollar for dollar” with contributions made by you, your family, friends and business associates” to the state Democratic Party.

Wilson asked for a level playing field. In fact the legislature had adopted these changes regardless of whether a candidate had public financing or not.

“I do want public financing to continue,” Kennedy said in the interview. “I will play by whatever set of rules the legislature decides on. I was kind of singled out, you know. But the state Republican Party could have funded as much money to other candidates, including Bruce Wilson if they had wanted to. They could have done the same thing. So I think the important thing is we all play by the same set of rules. I think we are lucky in Connecticut to have a public finance system.

“I think people realize by now that I abided by all the rules of campaign spending. The legislature in the last session changed the public campaign finance rules to allow state parties to spend money on candidates. And yes, it became an issue in my campaign.” Kennedy said he was concerned about being targeted by outside groups at the end of a campaign.

“As it turned out I was not targeted by outside groups, as I expected, as most political observers expected. They thought there was going to be money spent against me in my campaign at the end.

“Look, I think we have a situation where all this money is flowing into our state during campaigns. The money affects elections. I think as long as that is happening people have to have a way to protect themselves. That is my view,” he said. 

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