On Monday night, the Leadership Studies department hosted United States Senator Christopher S. Murphy ’96 (D-CT) to answer a few questions concerning politics in the American political system. Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of Leadership Studies Justin Crowe ’03 interviewed Murphy about the importance of media, the partisanship of both the Democratic and Republican Parties in 2016 and the evolution of governance in the 21st century.
Murphy is the current junior senator for Connecticut. He serves on the Appropriations Commit-tee; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee; the Foreign Relations Committee and the Democratic Steering & Outreach Committee. Before being elected to Congress, Murphy was a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1999-2003 and a member of chambers in the Connecticut Senate from 2003-2007. He majored in political science and history at the College.
After an introduction by Crowe, who described him as “one of the Democratic Party’s rising young stars,” Murphy expressed his joy to be back on campus surrounded by faculty members, students and community members – a place he describes as a “source of great support.”
The evening started with Crowe asking Murphy about his daily life as a U.S. senator. He replied saying it was mostly him “hopscotching from event to event.” He then expanded on some of the consequences of representing a small state such as Connecticut.
“There’s a yin and a yang of representing a small state,” Murphy said. “The benefit is that you can cover the entirety of the state in a day. The downside of it is that everybody knows that you can cover the whole state in one day…so there’s never an excuse as to why you aren’t at their event.” He concluded that there is a certain level of expectation and accountability that surrounds representing a small state that sometimes cannot be fulfilled.
Murphy described his time in Washington, D.C., explaining that his mind moved between radically different subjects every 10 to 15 minutes. On any given day, he sees 15 to 20 groups, many from Connecticut, that want to meet with him and he makes phone calls to civic groups, members of administration and businesses that want to speak to him.
Because of his time in both the House and the Senate, Crowe then turned his attention to identifying some of the differences between the two houses of Congress. Murphy informed us that during his six years in the House of Representatives, he had two to three hours of his day scheduled for political fundraising, something that he deemed important, but also something that prevented him and other representatives away from focusing on legislation that they really cared about.
Another key difference between the two positions was the psychological toll that these fundraising efforts have on representatives. Fundraising is part of the job description, but, according to Murphy, this requirement made the job “so much less fun.”
“I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted in the House of Representatives had the opportunity to work for the Senate not emerged, just because the stress levels were so high,” Murphy said. He described the position as “driven by money,” as a result making the job less fun than it could be.
Finally, he stressed the expectation in the Senate to work “across the aisle.” In the House, it is rare to work with the other party on anything, as one is expected to stick closely to their party. In the Senate, one is encouraged to cooperate with the other senators, as they work in much closer proximity and relation to one another.
Turning to his own specific experiences, Murphy stressed the differences he found moving from representing about one-fifth of the state during his time as a representative, to representing the whole state now. He described the challenges, but highlighted the new opportunities he had in the Senate to headline many of the causes that he strongly believed in and wanted to change.
Within his interview, Murphy recognized that partisanship has increased throughout all aspects of the government, specifically the use of filibusters, identifying it as one of the unfortunate realities of the modern way we debate politics in Washington.
He identified that this Congress has by far been “the most unproductive” in all of our lifetimes. He emphasized that much of the success that Congress has had over the past several years has, as Crowe describes, fallen in the “untold narratives of government success.”
Murphy admitted that as a senator, one has to navigate between constituents, party lines and the desires of interest groups with a grain of salt. He explained that ultimately senators have a responsibility to present the interests of those one represents and hold some deference to them, but at the same time hold close to the independent judgement that is expected of those in office. He explained that the American people are presently in “a revolutionary mood,” calling upon educa-tion as the means to persuade those who do not necessarily agree with those independent judgements.
He identified that presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have relied on this new “revolutionary mood” to drive their political accent.
According to Murphy, “Trump has figured out that politics has become covered as a reality show by the press. He is simply adopting to techniques,” and as a result will most likely win the nomination. Murphy is aware of the impact that the media plays in his time in office. As a result, he has created social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to shift this reality-television reporting away from drama to more of a genuine connection with his constituents and supporters.
Crowe then opened the floor up for discussion. One student asked Murphy what advice he would give students aspiring to follow a similar path into politics. To this question, he replied that he “just didn’t let people tell me no early on in my career.” Murphy said, “I saw opportunities before other people did, and I was willing to believe that with just the sheer hard work, I could make the opportunity become a reality… despite all of the expectations of conventional wisdom about when the right time to run is.”
In his closing, Murphy invited students to take this new relationship with his office as a genuine connection. He encouraged students to reach out to him via email, Facebook, Twitter and even Snapchat to share any new information or ideas.