Ever since I abandoned my fair Connecticut for the browner pastures of New Mexico, I put more than miles between me and my former state. At times I found myself making fun of such inconsequential things as its puny size (some of New Mexico’s counties are larger than all of Connecticut), dense development and lack of open space (yes, New Mexico affords you fantastic, never-ending vistas), and its staid, New England ways (Connecticut’s nickname is “the land of steady habits”). But when America’s former insurance hub, where actuaries far outnumbered farmers, started passing one progressive piece of legislation after another, my latent fondness was renewed.

Just this past Monday, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass a law that mandates labeling of genetically engineered food ingredients. Though the law has a problem, namely a “trigger” that requires that some other states in the region pass a similar law before the Connecticut law goes into effect, it does land a meaningful blow to Monsanto’s previously impregnable forehead. What I found most interesting was that after much debate in the Connecticut legislature – and certainly less transparent back room dealing – the bill passed with only 3 legislators opposing it.  

Much credit is due to some great on-the-ground campaign work by a strong coalition of anti-GMO proponents. This being the second year that a labeling bill came before the legislature (the first bill had been withdrawn after Monsanto threatened to sue Connecticut), activists had lots of practice, the public was hearing more and more about the issues, and elected officials succumbed with grace and mindfulness to citizen demand for information about the food they eat.

But this great leap forward for humankind is not Connecticut’s first first. A state farmland preservation program created in 1978 put Connecticut at the head of the pack in efforts to prevent the loss of farmland. A bill banning sugary soft drink sales went into effect in 2007 even after a gubernatorial veto the year before. On the non-food front, Connecticut was one of the first states (it’s okay to be second or third as well) to pass a civil-union bill, and of course the landmark gun control legislation that passed the legislature earlier this spring put the state at the front of the line for progressive action to stem senseless violence.

I don’t care how big Connecticut is, you just gotta love a people who have the chutzpah to thumb their noses at biotech giants, Big Soda, conservative social dogma, and the NRA. Could this serene place rising gently east and west from the banks of the sweet-tempered Connecticut River be a harbinger of the future of America, or maybe even a refuge from the mean-spiritedness and corporate arrogance that plagues much of the country? Will it change the tag line on its license plate to “The Progressive State?” Hopefully, others will follow Connecticut’s lead rather than settle there, and in so doing, carve out their own path to a more modest, just, and participatory civil society.