(Updated 9 p.m.) The members of the Working Families Party were reminded Saturday at a union hall in Wallingford why they endorsed Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy four years ago. They also heard from two of his potential opponents about why Malloy doesn’t deserve another four years.
Given the cold shoulder this past week by the AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation, Jonathan Pelto was given an opportunity to address the members. Pelto is a third-party candidate trying to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot in November.
A former Democratic legislator and party official, Pelto, who supported Malloy four years ago, finds himself in the unusual position of challenging a sitting governor. He said he felt it was his job to get up and start speaking about bad policy decisions the Malloy administration was making, first with his “Wait, What?” blog, and then with his candidacy.
Malloy has tried his best to ignore the existence of Pelto’s campaign. After touting his own labor credentials Saturday, Malloy declined to speak with reporters, saying he had to take a call regarding the state’s emergency management drill.
Pelto said he’s heard from friends who have encouraged him not to run because they fear he will create a “Wisconsin moment” by pulling enough support away from Malloy to hand the election to a Republican.
But Pelto said Connecticut has already seen its first “Wisconsin moment,” and it came in 2012 when Malloy released his education reform package.
“The corporate education reform industry’s bill — that bill did away with tenure for all teachers in Connecticut and it repealed collective bargaining for teacher’s in turnaround schools,” Pelto said.
He said those provisions were stripped out of the legislation by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, but they went on to pass the rest of what he believes was “bad legislation” and “quite worthy of Scott Walker and his type in Wisconsin.”
“Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours,” Malloy said during his state-of-the-state address in 2012.
Pelto said Malloy has never explained why he proposed doing away with teacher tenure and he may have expressed regrets about the comments, but has never explained why he made the proposal.
One of the questions posed by a New Britain teacher to Malloy was about the “top-down” approach to education policy in the state.
“If you’re elected to a second term, what policy and practices can we expect from your administration?” Dan Blanchard asked Malloy.
“Let’s be very clear,” Malloy said. “State government sets a goal. There are 164 different districts. You’re in one of those that get to implement independent of the state government those policies.”
He said there’s been too little discussion between local systems and the state. He said that’s why they went to Washington to ask permission to delay implementation of the Common Core state standards and why they decided to give districts a choice about what test they want to give to their students as they transition from the traditional Connecticut Mastery Test to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Malloy said 92 percent of the additional money he spent on education is going to 30 of the neediest school districts in the state, including New Britain.
“We’re making progress,” Malloy said. “We know what works in America. What we have to be willing to do is work together.”
But Pelto said even if Malloy did agree to do certain things regarding education reform, the train has left the station.
Pelto said early on that he may have considered withdrawing from the contest if Malloy got rid of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, withdrew its challenge of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding lawsuit, decoupled teacher tenure from standardized testing, and put a moratorium on charter schools until magnet schools are funded.
“I recognize those wouldn’t change everything, but from the education standpoint they were important,” Pelto said. “The word I got back in a very indirect way was none of those would ever fly with the Malloy people.”
Pelto made clear during his remarks that the education reform effort isn’t the only reason he’s running, even though it was one of the biggest contributing factors to his decision to run.
As far as getting on the ballot, Pelto said he believes he’s half-way to the 7,500 signatures he needs to gather by Aug. 6.
He even has former Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy circulating a petition for him in Wethersfield. Although, Healy’s pitch to get his friends to sign the petition was that Pelto would pull enough votes from Malloy to give the election to the Republican.
Healy said Pelto didn’t ask him to widely distribute the petition, but he did.
Pelto said he assumed Healy, whom he has known for years, would circulate the petition to a few friends and that would be the end of it. He never expected him to make a larger plea to Republicans in Wethersfield.
“We were just shooting the shit over a cup of coffee at the Wethersfield Starbucks,” Pelto said.
He said he takes the petitions with him and averages a half-dozen signatures per Starbucks. When Healy asked for one he didn’t think twice about it.
“I’m not helping the Republicans. There’s no secret deal,” Pelto said. “This is about my candidacy. My effort to get on the ballot.”
Healy, who also gave Pelto $100, said he was shocked at how much buzz the incident has generated.
“He’s talking about the issues that need to be addressed,” Healy said.
Pelto said everyone needs to get over it. It is not an easy process to gather the signatures, as was evidenced recently by what looks to be Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti’s failure to gather the 8,190 he needed to get on the primary ballot. The Secretary of the State’s office is expected to have an official tally of that signature drive on Monday.
Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Working Families Party, said all the candidates for statewide office were invited to attend the forum Saturday.
Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and his running mate, David Walker, took the third-party up on its offer.
“I don’t expect their endorsement,” McKinney said. “I didn’t come here seeking it. I came here to have a dialogue with them consistent with what I’ve done since 2007 as a Republican leader and consistent with what I will do as governor.”
McKinney was clear that there were issues where he differed with the Working Families Party, including Paid Sick Days and the public retirement bill. However, he said there are places where they agree. He said they both don’t like Malloy’s corporate welfare program where he’s giving millions of dollars to companies to move from one town to another.
Tom Foley, the endorsed Republican who accepted an invitation to speak at the AFL-CIO convention earlier this week, did not respond to the Working Families Party’s invitation, according to Farrell.
Farrell said all the interviews and questionnaires for the party’s endorsement will be considered and a decision will be made before August.