19 Mar Kevin Lembo: I Just Decided Not To Shave
One ordinary weekend last summer, with nothing on my schedule, I decided not to shave.
When Monday morning arrived, and after a stare-down in the mirror, I — a statewide elected official — decided to keep not shaving.
Some crazy things have happened since then, including a call from The Hartford Courant, the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, inviting me to write 700 words about why I decided to grow a beard.
Had something traumatic happened, they asked? Am I on the precipice of a major life-changing event? Haven’t I noticed that most elected officials don’t grow beards? It has been more than a century since William Howard Taft briefly sported a mustache, the last president with facial hair.
Political analysts have even researched this, finding men and women alike less likely to support bearded elected officials, and that some assume — perhaps subconsciously — that bearded officials are less supportive of feminist ideals.
Oh heeellllll no. Let’s smash that presumption right now.
So what good could come from writing about my beard? Is my beard newsworthy when there are so many more important things happening in our state and country right now? I was urged to sleep on it. With beard to pillow, I considered the invitation.
There are so many things I would rather write about.
To start with, there is legislation on the table. One bill would provide greater transparency in order to make smarter data-driven decisions about our economic development strategy. (Let’s keep incentives that have been proven by independent analysis to work — and stop wasting state resources on those that don’t). Last year this legislation received unanimous bipartisan support in the state legislature before it was vetoed. I could write 700 words about that.
And then there are skyrocketing prescription drug prices crushing budgets everywhere — in government, businesses and households across the nation. I announced a plan to require justification for extreme drug price increases. Remember the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who increased the price of Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent? Consider him an early “visionary” among extreme drug price-gougers. We must act now. When I testified in favor of this drug transparency, big pharmaceutical companies, unsurprisingly, testified against it. Those who share my concerns about drug prices should contact their legislators immediately.
As for the beard — because, after all, that’s what I’m writing about here — I like to think it’s a cross between hipster grandpa and “Sons of Anarchy” (OK, maybe more the former), which is useful in concealing my identity at the Capitol during difficult economic discussions.
Early in the life of the beard, it provided great identity concealment when I was among the few on the State Bond Commission to vote against providing a $22 million state bond package to the world’s largest hedge fund. Not because I don’t like hedge funds (they have an important place in Connecticut), but because I firmly believe that — while the state faces deficit after deficit, program cuts and layoffs — taxpayer resources should be directed at industries that help grow Connecticut’s middle class. If it were a proposal to give 22, $1 million aid packages to manufacturers to expand their operations and hire young talent coming out of Connecticut technical schools and community colleges with good-paying jobs, then I would have supported it.
But again, the beard. … That very first Monday morning when I chose not to shave, it “shaved” 4.5 minutes off of my morning routine — allowing for more time spent on far greater ventures (time with family and time working on policy that I find fulfilling). When you do the math — and we spend a lot of time doing math here in the comptroller’s office — I’ve saved a total of about 1,413 minutes (almost an entire day of my life) to focus on matters far more important than my facial hair.
Whether it’s time saved, or my well-known tendency toward countercultural pushback against people who say I can’t do a thing because of something ridiculous, I don’t really care.
But, there is something The Courant should know. As I worked on this piece, I thought that, even if the editors asked about my beard in a lighthearted way, maybe it is a distraction. So rather than have my beard be the focus of discussion, I shaved it off in hopes they will ask me instead about the stuff I’m busy working on.
Kevin Lembo, a Democrat, is the state comptroller.