WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (AP) - More than 450 people, including representatives from business, education, government, law enforcement and nonprofit agencies, turned out Tuesday to participate in Connecticut Gov.-elect Ned Lamont's public policy summit, an effort to craft wide-ranging recommendations for the Democrat's new administration.
Democrats, Republicans and independents were invited by Lamont's transition team to participate in 15 policy committees, each charged with examining weighty topics such as transportation, education, health care and job creation. Members of the public also were on hand for the event, held at Eastern Connecticut State University. Lamont and Lieutenant Gov.-elect Susan Bysiewicz both appeared surprised by the sheer size of the crowd that packed the school's student center.
"This is a fresh start that none of us are going to squander," Lamont told the group, adding how he hopes to have a "plan of action" ready in about three weeks. Lamont's inauguration is set for Jan. 9.
Participants at Monday's summit were varied, including Democrats, Republicans and independents. There were also past and present politicians and the current first lady of Connecticut, Cathy Malloy, whose committee is addressing criminal justice issues. Her husband, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, did not seek re-election.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart is both a member of Lamont's transition steering committee as well as the transportation policy committee. The Republican said she received some criticism for helping a Democrat, but said she believes it's the right thing to do for Connecticut and hopes she can have an impact on issues such as highway tolls, likely to be a hot topic in the new General Assembly session.
Stewart said she personally doesn't support tolls, but admitted with a laugh that "it seems like I'm a bit outnumbered here," looking around the room.
"But I will say, if they are going to implement them, I would certainly like to be a voice at the table to give the dissenting opinion right now on why we shouldn't and what else we should look at to reduce those costs," she said.
Another Republican, Thad Gray, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for state treasurer this year, said he hopes to work with Democrats on ways to address Connecticut's financial challenges, including a roughly $2 billion deficit projected in the new fiscal year. A member of the jobs and economy committee, Gray said he has received only positive responses from his fellow Republicans for agreeing to help Lamont with the transition.
"We've had decades of bipartisan failure," he said. "We need to have bipartisan success to make the state what it can be."
Caitlin Clarkson Pereira is a member of the transition committee focusing on women's issues. A Democratic candidate for state representative from Fairfield, she made news during the election for being denied permission to use public campaign financing funds for child care expenses. She hopes her committee will recommend ways the Lamont administration can finally enact a paid family medical leave system in Connecticut.
"It's been on the table for a few years and it feels like we make progress every time," she said. "So, hopefully this will be that one year we can push that through."
This story has been corrected to say the summit took place Tuesday, not Monday.