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Riley O'Connell Op-Ed

21 Oct 2022 10:09 AM | Pat Nastri (Administrator)

Obituary: Honest Debate

It’s that time of an election year again when it is impossible to turn on your evening programming without being inundated with campaign ads. While this is nothing new, it has become perhaps the best, albeit rather depressing, representation of how truly far modern political debate has fallen. Good faith arguments have been replaced by misinformation campaigns, and facts have been replaced by fear.

For a great example of this, look no further than Bob Stefanowksi’s ad criticizing Governor Lamont for increasing our property taxes. The premise really hits home for many of us; times have already been extremely tough with tax increases only making things harder. The problem with this accusation, however, is the simple fact that property taxes are set by local governments, not the state. When our tax rate increased here in Wallingford, full credit goes to Mayor Dickinson (marking his 18th consecutive year of putting a tax increase in the budget), not Governor Lamont. 

Either Stefanowski desperately needs a basic civics lesson on how the government he intends to run actually works, or he is purposefully misleading voters, either of which should disqualify anyone from seeking the highest office in our state. The real issue though is that Stefanowski is by no means unique in his campaign tactics. The misinformation strategies that have plagued our national politics in recent years have only increased in their intensity, and have now begun seeping into local politics as well.

In another example, we see Republican candidates across the state claiming that crime has increased, when in reality both violent crime (decreasing 9% last year) and property crime (decreasing 2% last year) have steadily declined over the last decade, with CT ranking as one of the safest states in America. That is not an opinion, that is a fact. To be clear, crime at any level is certainly worthy of being addressed, but that requires proposing actual solutions to crime. How can we ever hope to agree on potential solutions when our candidates cannot even agree on the underlying data?

The current landscape of political debate does a disservice to not only Republican voters, but to Connecticut and American voters of all political persuasions. A healthy two-party system, one in which our candidates’ platforms differ on philosophy rather than fact, fundamentally coincides with a healthy Union. Unfortunately, honest Republican candidates have increasingly become exceptions to the norm, and reasonable conservative arguments have fallen by the wayside in favor of “alternative facts.” 

It’s natural to want to place blame on voters for buying into this nonsense, but that is an unfair oversimplification. We, as voters, all have busy lives: our careers, our families, our passions. It’s impossible to be completely informed on everything, so we’ve instead chosen to trust our respective candidates/elected officials as reliable sources of information. 

Unfortunately, we live in a time when many of those “leaders” have become predators that prey upon our trust and innate patriotism, and have become more and more flagrant in their abuse of this trust over the last few years. Conspiracies around the legitimacy of the 2020 election serve as a distressingly poignant example of this. 

When we become a government run by people solely interested in promoting their own-self-interests over the truth, that is when our Democracy is truly lost, and I fear we are venturing dangerously close to that future. All I can recommend is do your own research for every candidate on your respective ballot. 

This November, I’m going to proudly cast my vote for candidates like Rebecca Hyland: someone who sticks to the truth rather than relying on weaponized buzzwords, and proposes a detailed platform based in fact rather than vague promises meant to elicit emotion.

Honest debate once formed the bedrock of our Democratic Republic, but now that it has been pushed to the brink of death in recent years, perhaps we should not be surprised to find our society as a whole on equally unstable footing. This is my call for us to return to a time when political differences were about how to best address issues, not about whether or not these issues actually exist. My hope is that my pessimistic prognosis on the state of our politics is ultimately proven neither terminal nor irreversible.

Finally, when I find myself once again on the ballot for mayor of Wallingford one year from now, you will hear similarly false claims of my plans to raise taxes, sell our electric division, or [insert baseless accusation here], as have already begun to resurface by my opponents. I encourage you to employ the same level of educated skepticism then as this November.

-Riley O'Connell

Candidate for Mayor of Wallingford in 2023


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