Ken Dixon: Malloy opts for the escape hatch
Hate him or despise him, Gov. Dan Malloy is doing it his way.
Having seen an emotional Malloy sob on several occasions in the days after the ultra-violent murders from a military-style rifle in Sandy Hook Elementary School, the drops that moisturized his cheeks Thursday were neither from grief nor defeat.
For a son of Stamford who hadn’t stopped running for governor since his first unsuccessful campaign in 2004-06, these had to be tears of relief when he let the cat out of the bag: he would not seek a third term next year. It’s probably the best thing that can happen for Connecticut right now.
We need an adult in the room who will make life very, very miserable for the Legislature. And this is the year of reckoning.
The General Assembly is immersed in its annual charade of law-making. The House and Senate are static; essentially in denial over the $1.7-billion deficit in a $20-billion budget, minus $12 billion of baked-in costs. So the 151 House members and 36 senators have to cut $1 billion of the $8-billion in so-called discretionary spending. And that’s only if the state employee unions belly up for $700 million in concessions, which is not a done deal.
The legislators are going about their business, holding public hearings for hundreds of bills that will die and for programs that will go unfunded. Veteran lawmakers and leaders are letting this play out, knowing that the budget will eventually cast a nasty, gnarly shadow and the adults will have to take over.
So Malloy, in what can only be described as a hastily planned surrender, for the betterment of the state, finally decided to avoid seeking a fatal third term.
Remember John “Why Should I Resign If I’ve Done Nothing Wrong” Rowland?
He’s the former governor, now serving a 30-month bit in USP Lewisburg in Pennsylvania “a high security U.S. penitentiary with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp” as it says on its website, with 469 hand-picked “minimum” inmates.
Rowland was in his fatal third four-year term in the Governor’s Residence when his pay-to-play culture crashed. He didn’t get halfway through the term before waiving the indictment, pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. We still have the $56-million boys prison in Middletown, sadly called the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, which Rowland’s contractor buddies built in exchange for some nickel-and-dime home improvements — well, the kitchen cabinets were handmade — on Johnny Gee’s summer shack at Bantam Lake in Litchfield.
Rowland never really cared about nuts-and-bolts of government, along with the budget process. But he was always fun to cover, especially during the impeachment investigation of 2004, when he essentially turned into a ghost, a poor poker player with a bad hand mumbling a demand for a “fair and transparent process” on his way to prison.
Malloy isn’t as much fun. He’s a wonk. He’s sassy. As a former prosecutor, he’s tough to corner in an argument. If he doesn’t like a question from a radio or TV reporter, who depend on a full sentence reply, Malloy will spit out a one-word answer.
In the back-and-forth with reporters the other day, he got applause from his clack of 120 supporters when someone asked whether his no-reelection status frees him from political considerations. “I’ve been doing that for a long time,” Malloy said, and the clapping began.
The fact is, Malloy’s first act was to order Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to stop papering over the state’s financial picture. He also took billions of Medicaid dollars off budget, creating the illusion of a lower bottom line in spending. He invested needed billions in pension fund payments. He extracted some changes in state worker pensions during the long summer of 2011.
This year, he quietly attacked every high-earning suburb, proposing a budget that forces them to — horrors! — pay more for their teacher pensions. Crime has fallen off and the prison population of 20,000 under Rowland is down to 14,000. Proposed reductions in local aid have most lawmakers working against him.
“I’m the governor and I have laid out a very clear vision of what we need to accomplish before this session is over,” Malloy said. A reporter asked about his rock-bottom approval rating of 24 percent in last June’s Quinnipiac Poll. He recalled that his statewide recognition was at 6 percent when he first ran for governor. The reporter pointed out the difference between recognition and approval.
“Listen, you can’t love somebody until you’ve come to know them,” Malloy chimed. It was time to wind it up.
“Who would have thought a kid who was spastic when he was born, who was thought to be mentally retarded as late as the fourth grade, whose wife had to type all of his papers as I dictated them ...” he was lapsing into emotions again.
Cathy Malloy quickly leaned into the microphone “would ever be governor and would ever be mayor. And it’s the best job ever and we’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s a new chapter and we’re moving on. That’s it.”
The governor recovered. “I thought I was supposed to dictate that.”
Ken Dixon can be reached in the Capitol at 860-549-4670 or at email@example.com. See twitter.com/KenDixonCT. His Facebook address is kendixonct.hearst. Dixon’s Connecticut Blog-o-rama is at blog.ctnews.com/dixon/