When Republican M. Jodi Rell was governor, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said Republican lawmakers showed a willingness to vote against her when they disagreed with her position. It’s something he said Democrats didn’t do enough of last year.
“I think there were a lot of members who would privately say, ‘well I don’t like this or I’m upset about this’ but would still continue to follow and support the governor’s proposals,” he said Friday.
McKinney speculated it might be due to the fact that, while Democrats have been the majority party in the legislature for years, they haven’t had a one of their own in the governor’s office for 20 years. He said he thinks Democrats may part ways with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy over time.
“This is a very new world for them as well,” he said after leaving a meeting with Malloy and legislative leaders.
However, in the lead up to Malloy’s second regular session as governor, he has largely been driving the agenda, laying out a series of proposals centered around education reform. He’s also been taking positions on things such as Sunday liquor sales, a fight he watched from the sidelines last year.
Following a closed-door meeting with the governor and other legislative leaders, House Speaker Chris Donovan said he thought Malloy’s priorities closely aligned with those of his caucus. He didn’t think the governor was necessarily the driver.
“Our caucus feels very strongly about education and the governor does too. That’s great,” Donovan said. “… Gov. Rell thought she was driving the agenda too. We’re working together.”
Donovan said House Democrats have a lot of the same ideas as Malloy but other proposals may come out of the committee process this session. But he didn’t anticipate any areas of disagreement between the Executive Branch and his caucus.
Senate President Donald Williams said while there was a lot of common ground between Malloy and Senate Democrats, their priorities will be different this session. While Malloy has made education reform his top priority for the session, they will be focused on jobs and the economy.
“Of course we’ll have time for other issues like education, energy, consumer protection, but the over riding concern for us is to continue the momentum that we started in the last regular session, the jobs special session, and to do more to help revive the economy,” Williams said.
They outlined their jobs agenda two weeks ago at a Manchester manufacturer. Even if their focus is different this session, Williams said it was nice to have a fellow Democrat in the governor’s office.
“It certainly makes it a lot easier to move priorities across the goal line. When Gov. Malloy comes out and says, ‘I’d like to focus on education reform,’ we know that we’re going to find a significant degree of common ground within his proposals,” Williams said.
“I think the Governor enjoys driving a jobs-focused, progressive agenda,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said. “ If you look at some of the things he’s accomplished since taking office, they’re many of the same things Democrats spent years fighting for. But they were up against Republican governors.”
Still, McKinney recalled some drawbacks to the governor being a member of his own party. He said sometimes it felt as if Republican lawmakers had to “stand on top of a building and scream ‘Fire,’” to get the attention of the press.
“Look, the governor of the state of Connecticut has the largest platform and the biggest, loudest megaphone. That’s the way it is,” he said.
So when the governor takes a position, it’s often seen as the position of his party as well, McKinney said. Democrats in the legislature used that to their advantage, he said.
“If Gov. Rell signed a bill that they liked and we didn’t they said it was bipartisan,” he said.
But if there are any of Malloy’s plans for the year that Democrats don’t like, they haven’t said so yet. The governor hasn’t been entirely supportive of everything they have proposed though.
Malloy seemed lukewarm on Donovan’s proposal on Tuesday to raise the state’s minimum wage. A statement from his office said he “supports the ideals behind this legislation” but “must be mindful of the needs of businesses.”
Later he clarified he wasn’t “slamming any doors. I’m not saying ‘No’ but I’ll watch the debate and perhaps reach a conclusion subsequently.”
On Friday, Donovan characterized Malloy’s position on the issue as “generally supportive.”
There will be at least one area of contention between Williams and Malloy in the coming days, Williams said.
“For me it would be Giants and Patriots this weekend. He’s a Giants fan and I’m a Patriots fan,” he said.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.