Public Service or Self-Service?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Recently, 111thDistrict State Representative John Frey received fawning accolades on local news outlets and social media when he announced his call to eliminate state pensions for state elected officials. The accolades are undeserved. Frey has repeatedly introduced his “bill” in recent years, announcing it with the same misleading narrative each time.

The “bill” is a sham for several reasons. First, defined benefit pension plans are no longer offered to state legislators. State legislators participate in a payroll contribution-funded 403B retirement savings plan, which is the public sector version of a 401K. A legislator doesn’t vest in the 403B for several years and is cashed out if they leave office before vesting. Many recently elected officials will receive only what they contribute, not a dime of benefit. Second, because Frey has sat in the legislature for two decades, his gimmick “bill” won’t impact any pension he may have accrued, requiring him to sacrifice less than “the sleeves off his vest”. Nonetheless, each session Frey introduces the same “bill”, then basks in undeserved praise for his “selfless concern for state finances.”

We are extremely thankful that, despite repeated announcements, Frey has never attempted to expand his shell into actionable legislation, because the underlying concept is irrational and undemocratic. A commission-based realtor like Frey can accumulate business income while sitting in the legislature. But legislators with fixed-schedule jobs forgo substantial income while in session, including social security accruals and 401k matches. State retirement plans may partially offset such losses. Eliminating those plans could make it financially impossible for regular citizens to serve, dangerously injuring our representative democracy.

Furthermore, Frey’s “bill” could be interpreted as requiring retired former government employees to sacrifice their primary retirement income should they later wish to run for state office. No other citizens are required to give up previously earned retirement income upon taking office, and neither should government retirees. Frey has never had to address these basic defects of his “bill” because there is no evidence he has ever sought to advance it beyond posturing.

Frey’s “bill” is just one in a string of questionable actions. Ridgefield residents previously learned of Frey’s:

  • defense of Trump’s barbaric child separation policy; 
  • shameless use of debunked claims to excuse his votes against domestic abuse victims, rape victims, transgender youth, minimum wage workers, and voting rights;
  • use of a lobbyist-funded PAC for personal travel to Republican National Committee junkets;
  • repeated acceptance of endorsements from a virulently anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice PAC;
  • decade-long misrepresentations about Connecticut’s finances and economy;
  • attempts to conceal his efforts in support of Donald Trump and other detestable candidates;
  • embrace of ruinous fiscal schemes that generate massive deficits and decimate public education and other essential services wherever implemented; and
  • contemptuous refusal to answer any substantive question about these documented actions, instead personally smearing and attacking individuals who truthfully report those actions.

Rather than “public service,” John Frey’s repeated announcement of his sham “bill” is pure “self-service.”

Aimee Berger-Girvalo is Vice Chair of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which provides this column.