In February 2008, just two days before the Republican Presidential Preference Primary in Connecticut, Arizona Senator John McCain came to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield to rally his supporters. Amid his remarks, Sen. McCain told the old joke: “Two prisoners are in the chow line. One turns to the other and says, ‘The food was a lot better when you were governor.’ “
For the crowd of Connecticut Republicans, it was a bit of unintended gallows humor.
It has been six years since the resignation of John G. Rowland as governor of Connecticut. In the intervening period, he has done a stint in a federal prison, worked as a motivational speaker, and now serves as an economic development official in Waterbury. This past week the former governor marked a bit of a return to the political arena as a three-day fill-in for Jim Vicevich on WTIC AM1080’s “Sound Off Connecticut” weekday morning radio show.
No doubt many of the listeners tuning in were driven by what Rowlandcharacterized as “morbid curiosity.” But those tuning in couldn’t help but be reminded why Rowland was so successful in his heyday.
Alongside friend and advisor the Rev. Will Marotti, Rowland rolled with ease from topics such as the State Party Convention process to traffic patterns in Waterbury and Sweet Pea Pizza at Hartford’s First & Last Tavern.
Bypassing the more esoteric topics often examined by talk radio, the duo honed in the upcoming primary elections by interviewing the candidates and pressing issues like education funding and balancing the state budget. In addition to being interesting, it was a good use of time.
Rowland mixed moments of incredible sharpness with some understandable rust. He had a solid grasp of the nuances of the state’s post-Rowland public financing system with State Republican Chairman Chris Healy, but stumbled a bit to piece together the last six years of activity for one of the Lieutenant Governor candidates, Democrat Mary Glassman.
He criticized the state’s $3 million handout to Oakleaf Waste Management so that the corporation can move their HQ from East Hartford to Windsor, but as the Hartford Courant pointed out, Rowland engaged in similar activity when he was governor. Incidentally, this same conversation was later described in other media outlets as “Rowland Hammers Rell.” In truth, he quite mildly suggested that listeners call the governor’s office to voice their opinion.
Rowland bemoaned the fact that no one pays attention to politics during the middle of the summer, and opined that the State Party Conventions should be scrapped for a direct primary in June. He apparently didn’t remember that the governor who signed the bill moving party primaries from September to August was, well, John Rowland.
If there was a takeaway point to be gleaned from nine hours of Rowland powered by 50,000 watts, it was that his effectiveness as a communicator of ideas has not diminished in the years since he left the Governor’s Mansion. He articulated the merits of free enterprise, economic development, and common sense in budgeting with considerable talent.
His return to prominence also hastens reminders about why people still feel strongly about Rowland, even six years removed from his downfall. He broke the public trust and that is no easy thing to forget or to forgive.
Given the scope of the state’s problems and his decades of experience with them, though, it makes sense that the former governor would reapply his talents toward improving the state again. It certainly made for good radio.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester. His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He also is the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a Web site design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com.