At a news conference called after Christmas to announce the nomination of Andrew McDonald, his top legal counsel, to the state Supreme Court, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was asked to offer his assessment of the so-called fiscal cliff, that combination of steep tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to take effect unless Congress reached a deal to avoid it by the new year.
“You don’t want to be standing near a fan when this happens, and the fan is warming up,” said the governor, avoiding the scatolological violence so common in fan metaphors.
Asked further whether he thought the fall from the cliff would be stopped, Malloy replied, “The answer is no . . . this is bad stuff. It’s crazy.”
Happily, the governor could not have been more wrong, as earlier this week Congress took bipartisan action, reaching a deal to preserve the Bush-era tax cuts on households making less than $450,000 and to extend unemployment benefits, among other goodies. Unhappily, the agreement delays dealing with the painful spending cuts for another two months.
Leaving aside the governor’s colorful idiom, you’d think Malloy would have no problem going off the cliff. After all, when confronted with his own fiscal crisis, he didn’t hesitate to hit even the middle class with record tax increases. Perhaps he’s learned his lesson, since it’s obvious by now that Connecticut’s tax hikes have done little to create jobs or encourage economic activity. Then again, it’s possible his antipathy toward the cliff had more to do with the unpleasant Pentagon cuts that would have hit our defense-industry-dependent state especially hard.
But Malloy isn’t a legislator—never has been. He’s an experienced and accomplished chief executive who has little patience for the deliberative grind of the legislative sausage factory. Nor, truth be told, do most voters. Perhaps that’s why it’s so difficult for lawmakers to vault directly from the General Assembly to the governor’s mansion. The dithering drama of the legislature isn’t a great place to learn the art of decisiveness—and the electorate can sense it.
And while we’re on the subject of chief executives, if you’re ever looking for evidence of what a cushy job being a member of Congress is, then look no further than what happened in the state of Hawaii last month. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who has represented Hawaii since it achieved statehood in 1959, died in office at 88. And the “junior’ senator from the Aloha State, Daniel Akaka, also 88, has just retired.
That leaves cancer survivor Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, about to turn 89, to become the oldest member of the Senate. Meanwhile, Ralph Hall of Texas will turn 90 in May and just became the oldest member of the House of Representatives in its 224-year history. A few years ago, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia died in office at 92. But taking the grand prize for geriatric tenacity was South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, who served — if you want to call it that — until he was 100 years old.
I mention these distinguished gentlemen not to disparage people of age, but to remind readers that being a member of Congress can’t be that tiresome if you can serve well into your eighties. No doubt some members work hard at it. But how difficult can the job be? Your staff does all the work while you show up for committee meetings and press conferences and claim all the credit.
Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what Richard Blumenthal did when he was state attorney general, so the transition to U.S. senator should be seamless for him.
Furthermore, Washington lawmakers don’t really have to run anything bigger than their own offices, which typically consists of about a dozen staffers in the House and perhaps double that in the Senate. Oh, and did I mention the job pays almost $175,000 a year with pension eligibility after only five years of service?
Now, can you imagine an 88-year-old serving as governor or president? I think we all know the answer to that question. As President Obama is discovering, being a chief executive is hard work. It requires boundless energy and a Malloy-like willingness to step on toes. It also includes immense responsibilities. Malloy already knew it, having served as mayor of Stamford for 14 years. Maybe Blumenthal knew it, too, which is why he never ran for governor even though he had several opportunities. Currently, the nation’s oldest chief executive is California’s Jerry Brown, 74, who is in his second go-around at the job, but is struggling mightily to govern an ungovernable state.
On the state level, legislators typically share staffers, which forces lawmakers to do more of their own work. So the accomplishments of someone like state Sen. Edith Prague, 87, who is retiring this weekend after a long and productive career in the General Assembly, are all the more impressive.
If, as some suspect, Malloy declines to run for re-election in 2014, do you think any members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation will step up to the plate and run for the governor’s office? That’s a no-brainer. Would you want to work three times as hard for less money?
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.