This article was written by Roy Fuchs, a member of the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club.
WESTPORT, Conn.— State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg began his freshman term in January with "high ideals," he told members of Westport's Sunrise Rotary on Friday. But the Westport Democrat quickly learned that in Hartford, unlike Westport, whose Representative Town Meeting is defined by collegiality, "those in power have lots of it and use it for their own purposes."
As one of 33 freshmen in a House with 151 members, Steinberg, who represents the 136th District, had "a real sense of being a part of a cohort." He began his term by offering a bill to control pesticides and another to require hospitals to use checklists to reduce potentially fatal errors.
As he watched other freshman select more modest issues, he learned that big, broad bills, no matter how well-intended, don't get passed–at least not by freshmen.
He won a sought-after seat on the Energy and Technology Committee and joined in writing a bill intended to reduce energy consumption in public and private commercial buildings across the state. That daunting task was gradually carved down to 12 state buildings in Hartford.
The bill requires these buildings to reduce energy consumption by 10 percent by 2013. This will begin to rein in Connecticut's high energy costs and reduce our carbon footprint. It will, Steinberg said, "finally put Connecticut on the brink of going from an energy problem state to an energy opportunity state."
He also told the club that he joined a moderate caucus–a socially liberal and fiscally moderate group (given the tenor of the times) that did not support the governor's budget bill. He commended the governor for creating a balanced budget in six weeks, but was troubled because it funded $1.6 billion of the state's deficit with a "promissory note."
Now that the unions have bought in, Steinberg said "we can move ahead."
Steinberg brings a strong financial analytical background to his new job. He now seeks to join the legislature's Results Based Accountability group. The RBA group's objective is to take government off cruise control by continually assessing the cost-benefit of every state-funded program and department. In the most macro sense, the question is: Are taxpayers getting their money's worth? Are the programs effective and efficient?
Joining this group, he said, helped him "get his mojo back."
He called his experience in Hartford "an incredibly steep learning curve." He called the legislature "a culture shock," and added that while relationships are invaluable, legislating is a partisan process in which Democrats and Republicans rarely collaborate.
Looking ahead, he believes we need a full-time legislature to effectively address the lengthening list of issues–with jobs at the top–to offset lobbyists who work full-time in Hartford and to reform government, not react to legislation at the last minute.