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    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    Notably Norwich: Let’s push the Pequot River bill into oblivion

    Let me start by emphasizing that I like and respect state Sen. Cathy Osten, Reps. Anthony Nolan and Aundre Bumgardner and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler. In fact, I consider all four to be friends and downright good people whose hearts are in the right place, but whose thought process in this case seems to have taken a wrong turn.

    They are supporting a bill Nolan has introduced that would change the name of the Thames River to the Pequot River. Given the warmth that I feel for all four, I will pose this thought on the subject as diplomatically as possible: It's one of the most unnecessary and frivolous ideas to come out of the Connecticut state legislature in a long time.

    Over the years, legislators have proposed some real clunkers, despite pleas from some of their leaders to limit the number of bills they submit and to put serious thought into their proposals. We can only hope the rest of southeastern Connecticut's legislative delegation can find better things to do with its collective time. Consider:

    - Connecticut has the highest energy costs in the country, which impacts seniors and the poor.

    - Population in the state is virtually stagnant and people are moving out in droves to warmer, more affordable, better-run states.

    - Connecticut has the dubious distinction of carrying the second highest tax burden in the entire nation, higher even than Massachusetts, New Jersey and California.

    - The cost of living is higher here than in 40 other states.

    - Connecticut's economic growth ranks 40th, behind states like West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, and the Dakotas.

    - The shortage of affordable housing in Connecticut has reached crisis proportions statewide, not just in Fairfield County.

    - The roads and bridges in Connecticut are among the very worst in the country.

    - Connecticut cities are rife with crime, poverty and public-school systems that post abysmal test scores and high dropout rates. Some high school students can't even read, write or do math at a sixth-grade level.

    But hey, let's re-name the Thames River.

    On March 2, the legislature's Transportation Committee, voted 24-12, largely along party lines, to give the so-called Thames River bill procedural approval. Among our local delegation, Sens. Osten of Sprague, whose district includes Norwich, and Norm Needleman, D-Essex, along with Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, supported the motion to draft the bill. Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, the committee's ranking House member, had the good sense to oppose the measure.

    This is not to say the three local legislators who are sponsoring the bill can't walk and chew gum at the same time. They wouldn't be spending all their time on this bill or even much of their time. Really, though, is it necessary for them - and others in the Connecticut General Assembly - to spend any time on this, especially when their state and their districts have so many other more important needs? I think not.

    The idea first came from Nolan, a New London Democrat and a city policeman, who believes the river should be renamed the Pequot River. He and local young people with whom he has worked believe there isn't enough recognition of the Pequot people who originally inhabited much of southeastern Connecticut before European settlers began arriving in the 1600s.

    He points out that the river was originally the Pequot River before English settlers changed the name to Thames in the mid-17th century.

    However, let's remind those who don't think there is much recognition for local tribes that the name Connecticut itself is derived from the Mohegan-Pequot word Quinnetucket which means long tidal river, referencing what is now the Connecticut River.

    In addition to the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut River, there are also the University of Connecticut, the Connecticut Turnpike, the Connecticut State University System, Connecticut State Legislature, Connecticut College, the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, the Connecticut Hospital Association, and many, many more titular references to this name derived from Native American language. Get the picture?

    And what, the Yantic and Shetucket rivers - whose names are both derived from Native American language - aren't enough? We need to go for a tributary trifecta? With a nod to Joe Biden, c'mon man!

    Osten, the powerful co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, and Bumgardner, a Groton Democrat, have signed on as co-sponsors of the Nolan bill. Butler, the Mashantucket Tribal Chairman, who was approached about the idea, responded favorably. He has assigned his staff to look into it in hopes of getting the bill passed. The Eastern Pequot Tribe in North Stonington also supports the name change to Pequot.

    Well, OK, folks, knock yourselves out.

    I'm not looking to open the proverbial can of worms by favoring any renaming of the Thames River. Leave it alone. Based on letters to the editor and comments posted on stories about this bill, the vast majority of folks in these parts also want the name of the river left as it is and think the entire issue is a waste of time.

    In any event, did anyone check with the region's other federally recognized tribe, the Mohegans, to see how they feel about changing Thames River to the Pequot River? Apparently not, inasmuch as the Mohegans have - not surprisingly - registered their opposition to the idea.

    Can you imagine a river running through Mohegan properties - including their reservation and bordering the Mohegan Sun Casino - being named Pequot?

    In the unlikely event this proposal becomes law, it will not only reflect the legislature's upside-down priorities, but will beg the question: Where will it end? I mean, as long as we're dumping British-born names in our area, will the legislature next consider proposals to rename Norwich, New London, and Waterford? Should we change the name of our state to reflect the original reference and call ourselves Quinnetucket?

    Now, this isn't the worst bill ever to be submitted in the Connecticut legislature. There have been some other beauties.

    Back in 1987, during a joint legislative session, then Lt. Gov. Joseph J. Fauliso implored legislators - especially freshmen looking to make a name for themselves - not to submit frivolous bills. This came after one legislator notoriously proposed that military personnel stationed in Connecticut be exempted from the state's 21-year-old minimum drinking age and be permitted to drink legally at age 18. It came to be known derisively as the "drunken sailor" bill.

    It went nowhere, and its freshman sponsor lost his bid for a second term in office.

    Another legislator introduced a bill that would have required yogurt manufacturers to produce containers that would be easier to open. Seriously. And this came after Lt. Gov. Fauliso's plea for lawmakers not to introduce frivolous bills. When I asked Fauliso at the time about the yogurt container bill, he shook his head, chuckled and said: "Ugh, you can't make this stuff up!"

    Were he still with us, Lt. Gov. Fauliso would probably say the same thing about the bill to rename the Thames River. Let's be done with this and focus on the important things facing the state.

    Bill Stanley, a former vice president at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, grew up in Norwich.

    Editor’s note: State Representative Aundré Bumgardner removed his name from House Bill 5503 on Feb. 29 and is not co-sponsoring a new version of the bill.

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