Governor Conversation Highlights Need for Civility

Gov. Rell and Gov. Lamont

Democratic Governor Ned Lamont and former Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell agreed at a recent event that incivility in politics and beyond is affecting potential candidates’ decisions to run for office and that change is necessary.

The two were featured in a special program hosted by Connecticut Public in Millard Auditorium at the University of Hartford Sept. 13. “A Bipartisan Conversation with Governor Ned Lamont and former Governor Jodi Rell” focused on civility in politics and society, with moderator Lucy Nalpathanchil of Connecticut Public. The Hartford Courant also covered the event. (It can also be read with UHart credentials via the ProQuest database.)

This is the latest political event hosted by the University, as President Joe Biden spoke in Lincoln Theater in June, and secretary of the state candidates engaged in a debate in Lincoln last fall.

“Being here tonight is a part of public service for us,” said Rell, who was Connecticut’s 87th governor from 2004 until 2011. “And it’s being able to show that we do get along, because people don’t always know.”

Lamont added that, “People see anger and vitriol on TV, and they think that’s politics. I hope we show that’s the exception. Things are getting done, and people are working together, and I want them feeling good about what we’re trying to do. 

The conversation covered division on social media, in politics, and even in everyday life, whether someone is upset at a restaurant or a school board meeting; setting examples as leaders; learning someone’s story and motivations; and finding common ground.

Sometimes we’ve already made up our minds that we don’t want to hear this, or listen to that…But there’s also a big difference between listening and hearing. We need to calmly listen to what someone has to say. You can’t always change someone’s opinion. They have to change it on their own,” Rell said.

Rell and Lamont have had a friendly rapport over the years, as they’ve discussed issues concerning Connecticut and the state’s top office. Their camaraderie was apparent during the conversation, as they laughed over jokes and commiserated over eye-opening moments in office. Both hope attitudes and perspectives change so that more people consider running for office.

“Voting against someone can energize people more than voting for someone,” said Lamont, who was sworn in to his second term in January as the state’s 89th governor.

Rell wondered, “How many people are going to say no to public service because things have turned so ugly? If we turn them off with discourse, we’re not going to see them run for office.”  

But they feel there is hope and lessons to be learned that can offer members of the pubic, and potential political candidates, a new perspective.

“It’s never going to be ‘like it used to be.’ Things are going to be different, but there’s no reason why we can’t be fair and polite to each other and work together,” Rell said. 

“In the legislature, we have real differences back and forth, but at the end of the day, we can sit down and break bread,” Lamont shared. “The severity of issues doesn’t impact how we can treat and respect each other.”