HARTFORD — More than 1,800 Democratic delegates on Friday named Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to the top of the 2014 ticket along with the five incumbent constitutional officers.
Democratic delegates are hoping Malloy can overcome doggedly low public polling numbers that have changed little since his narrow, 6,404-vote victory over Republican Tom Foley in 2010.
In a speech to the delegates, Malloy pointed to fiscal progress achieved since he took office in 2011 when the state was facing a projected $3.6 billion budget deficit. He said the economic downturn forced every state to take a “good hard look in the mirror.”
“Here in Connecticut, we faced a state economy that was suffering from decades of short-term thinking and band-aid solutions,” he said. “But we made the tough choices that helped turn our state around.”
Malloy said he knew some of the choices — likely referring to the $2.6 billion two-year, tax increase approved in his first year — did not make him “the most popular guy in every room.”
But the first Democrat to occupy the governor’s office in 20 years also reminded the party-faithful audience of a number of progressive initiatives that he has signed into law in the last three-and-a-half years. This year, Malloy signed legislation making Connecticut the first state in the country to heed Democratic President Barack Obama’s call for a $10.10 minimum wage. Connecticut’s wage will get there by 2017.
Malloy referenced a public argument with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal earlier this year over the minimum wage. Malloy defended Obama and the minimum wage hike at a Washington press conference after the Republican called the policy “a white flag of surrender.”
“Well I call being the first state to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, something else. I call it a badge of honor,” Malloy told delegates Friday. “Because we know that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017 is about more than money. It’s about respecting workers, valuing hard work, and giving people the opportunity for a better life.”
Early in his tenure, Malloy signed a first-in-the-nation law requiring some employers to provide paid sick leave to workers and adopted an Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers.
On Friday night, he touted a budget investing an additional $237 million dollars in education, which he said stands in contrast to states where governors have pushed budgets that cut education funding to close budget holes. He also highlighted economic development deals his administration has extended to businesses throughout the state.
“This isn’t just my record, this is your record, too. It’s the people of Connecticut’s record because it was their sacrifice that allowed us to begin turning our state around. It’s our record as Democrats,” Malloy said.
But the Democratic governor has also had bitter conflicts with organized labor elements of the Democratic voter base that got him elected. Malloy demanded benefit concessions from state employees as part of a plan to close the budget hole he inherited. He temporarily ordered layoffs when bargaining units initially rejected them.
While pushing an education reform agenda, Malloy estranged himself from public school teachers by suggesting they only need to “show up for four years” to get tenure. His administration has since walked back some teacher evaluation requirements passed in the education law.
Former AFL-CIO President John Olsen said despite what critics may say he thinks Malloy has an extraordinary record with the labor movement.
“The best in my lifetime,” Olsen said. “If you look at what he’s done and the challenges—this is a very difficult time in this nation with the economy and everything that’s happening and he deserves labor support.”
He said Malloy may have experienced some difficulty with teachers, but he increased funding for education at the local level.
He said there’s a lot there for people to get excited about and it’s hard in such a large hall to gauge the excitement of delegates, but that changes when you speak to them individually. He said speaking one-on-one he gets a sense that people understand how important this race is.
“They’re not jumping up and down, but they’re passionate about wanting to go out and win.”
He said he thinks Malloy has the votes and the hard part will be turning them out to vote.
“To say this is not a tough race, we’d be kidding ourselves,” Olsen said.
But the belief that there are lingering hard feelings among sects of traditionally Democratic voters has former Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Pelto considering a run as a third-party candidate.
The threat of a Pelto candidacy, and the possibility he could spoil Malloy’s chances in November, went unmentioned at Friday’s convention where the governor warned of the consequences if Republicans retook the governor’s office.
“They’ll blame me for everything but the weather, and come to think of it, they’ll probably blame me for the storms as well,” he said. “. . . Their ideas have been tried in the past. They have failed in the past. They drove us into the ditch.”
For their part, Republicans Saturday will be choosing from a field of candidates that again includes Foley, who is considered the frontrunner, as well as Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, and Joe Visconti, a former West Hartford town councilor. The Republican Convention is being held at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville.
A Quinnipiac University poll released this month suggests that Malloy and Foley are still tied at 43 percent while Malloy beats out the other candidates by a margin of between 4 and 10 points.
Republican Party State Chairman Jerry Labriola released a statement Friday saying the prospect of Malloy’s re-election “should send a shiver down the spines of folks who have built lives for themselves here, people who today can barely afford to live in the communities where they grew up.”
In addition to nominating Malloy, Democratic delegates nominated five incumbent officers at a short convention held at the Connecticut Convention Center. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Attorney General George Jepsen, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, and Treasurer Denise Nappier will join Malloy on the ticket.
Malloy credited Wyman with overseeing the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act and making Connecticut’s health care exchange a model for the nation. In her speech, Wyman said the administration has met difficult challenges.
“We’ve got more to do and we’re going to do it. I stand here today as a proud member of this Connecticut Democratic Family. A family that believes that we don’t back down to barriers. We break through those barriers. We don’t shy away from our toughest challenges. We meet them head-on,” she said.