Sen. Murphy says his annual walk across the state shows residents’ concerns haven’t changed much: taxes, money and schools

Hartford Courant

The route changes every year, but the issues concerning Connecticut residents remain the same: "taxes, how much money they're making and the quality of their schools," U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on Friday, the last day of his fourth annual walk across the state.

Murphy starting walking on Monday and covered about 100 miles from New Milford to Noank, a village in Groton. After four years, people expect to see him walking by and no longer give him confused looks when he approaches them, he said.

"When I first started doing this, they didn't know what to make of an unshaven guy in a T-shirt and shorts claiming he was a United States senator," Murphy said.

Last summer's walk took him through West Hartford, where he met with constituents including Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, and his first walk in 2016 took him from Voluntown to Greenwich. Every year his constituents remind him that "the stuff that's on the cable news shows is not what people are talking about on the main streets of Connecticut," he said.

Last year no one mentioned special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into President Donald Trump, and this year no one had mentioned the option of impeaching Trump as of Friday morning, Murphy said. Two years ago, the biggest national news was the possible repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and people waited on sidewalks along Murphy's route to ask him about it because it would have had a direct impact on their health care, he said.

There are a few new issues every year, and this year Murphy has met several people concerned about Trump's immigration policies, he said. It was one of the topics that delayed him half an hour Friday morning in Niantic, a village in East Lyme.

"But by and large, people are talking about quality of life issues year after year," he said while crossing the Main Street bridge from Niantic to Waterford. "They're not talking about Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Steve Bannon."

One Niantic resident, Dorothy Lustig, did mention Trump when she flagged Murphy down on Route 156 in Waterford and asked for a photo.

"I can't believe he is our leader," Lustig said. "How do you even explain to your children that people can act and talk like that?"

Murphy agreed. "It's hard to watch the news now."

Patti Emanuel of Waterford said she had not watched the news recently due to family commitments but was concerned about "of course, taxes."

This and the cost of living in Connecticut are a major concern for older residents, Murphy said.

"People love this state, but they worry about whether they can afford to retire here," he said. "We have a tax system that's very dependent on property taxes, and they don't change as your income changes, so if you're retired, that property tax can be really hard to pay. We've got to continue to recruit more businesses here so the tax burden doesn't fall on people who are retired."

Other issues he heard about on his walk included homelessness, high speed internet access and Trump's recent trip to North Korea. Tuesday's leg of the walk ended with a town hall in Cheshire, where Murphy lives with his family.

Murphy kept a digital record of his trip on Twitter and Medium all week. He wrote on Medium that even though he was tired on Tuesday, he stayed after the town hall to talk to people, many of whom are his neighbors.

"I think there's a real danger in sitting in your office waiting for people to call you," Murphy said Friday. "I pay attention to every phone call and email that comes in, but I understand those tend to be the people who are most plugged into politics and current events. I'm in charge of representing everybody, not just the people who choose to call or write."

Walking across Connecticut gives him a new appreciation for it every year, he said.

"Even having grown up here, I feel like I fall in love with the state every year I get to walk through it because I see it and its beauty from a very different perspective," Murphy said. "It's my favorite week of the year."