House Speaker Chris Donovan and Sen. President Donald Williams, were the state’s top two Democratic leaders, but now they find themselves standing in the shadow of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years.
It’s a big shadow. Not a day goes by without Malloy holding a press conference to announce an appointment, discuss his budget, or open one of his monthly meetings with his commissioners to the public.
Williams and Donovan, who were used to the spotlight during Republican administrations, seem to have faded into the background and out of the media spotlight.
But Donovan and Williams said that is absolutely not the case.
It only seems that way because of the legislative calendar. In the coming months Donovan expects things to change as the legislative session gets underway.
The Democratic message often wasn’t heard in the halls of the executive branch during former Gov. M. Jodi Rell‘s administration, Donovan said Friday. He said he’s grateful the governor is a Democrat and shares many of his concerns and values.
However, when he was asked about whether the governor should be given more authority to reduce the budget without legislative approval, Donovan was quick to add that the legislature is an equal branch of government.
“No matter who the governor is the legislature has retained appropriate appropriation powers,” Donovan said. “We were always the responsible ones,” he said referring back to budget negotiations with Rell.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said he doesn’t agree with everything Malloy has included in his first budget proposal, but “it’s much better to be fighting with friends than people who disagree with you in their hearts.”
As for the growing pains, “[Malloy] has to be given a chance to make decisions,” Tercyak said.
Having a Democrat in the governor’s office “is entirely different,” Williams said Thursday. “Having someone in the executive branch that shares our values is a breath of fresh air.”
Williams opined it will be much easier to reach agreement with a Democratic governor than it was with one from the opposite party.
Republican lawmakers are watching their Democratic colleagues tip-toe around the new governor, relieved it’s no longer them doing that dance.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he knows all too well how difficult it is to get your voice heard when your party is in control of the governor’s office.
His party was in charge of the governor’s office for the past 20 years and, as such Republican lawmakers often played second-fiddle to Republican governors.
“The phone doesn’t ring,” Cafero said.
He said that’s something the legislature’s Democratic leadership will have to get used to with Malloy in the governor‘s office.
But Cafero and his caucus worked hard to make sure Republicans remained part of the conversation, although it wasn’t always easy.
For example, when various groups held forums and panels on public policy matters, Cafero said everyone thought they had a Republican perspective covered if they invited the Republican governor. Cafero said he often had to remind people that the legislature is a completely separate branch of government and that the two differed on several issues.
According to sources, Democratic lawmakers are just beginning to deal with this new reality and the transition hasn’t been easy.
On Friday they received a little bit of reprieve with Malloy in Washington D.C. for a meeting with President Barack Obama and the Democratic Governors Association.