Here is CTNewsJunkie’s look back at 2014, a year in which voters opted to put one governor back in office and a jury voted to convict a former governor, likely sending him back to prison for a second time.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be sworn in on Jan. 7, the same day former Gov. John G. Rowland will be sentenced in federal court.
It was a bad year for Rowland, who was convicted of federal corruption charges for a second time. Rowland left office in scandal in 2004 before serving 10 months in prison. This year, a jury found him guilty of seven felonies stemming from campaign finance conspiracies. This time the feds are seeking a sentence of 37 to 46 months.
Rowland’s troubles began in late March when 2012 congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and admitted they hired Rowland off-the-books to work on her campaign while paying him through a sham contract with Brian Foley’s nursing home company.
In April, the former governor was forced to resign from his political talk show on WTIC AM 1080, a program he used to promote Wilson-Foley and attack her opponents.
At trial in September, Rowland’s lawyers argued that the former governor was unfairly targeted by the government and had done legitimate work for the nursing home company. But prosecutors pointed to Rowland’s previous attempts to sell a similar scheme to another candidate, Mark Greenberg, in 2009.
“I can get you elected if you are interested,” Rowland wrote to Greenberg.
After 12 days of evidence, witnesses, and arguments, it took jurors only about seven hours to agree with the feds. Rowland, Lisa Wilson-Foley, and Brian Foley are all scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Janet Bond Arterton in the first two weeks of next year.
This year Connecticut saw a long, nasty governor’s race but Democratic incumbent Malloy, seen by critics as vulnerable because of his persistently low opinion polling, came out ahead of his 2010 Republican rival Tom Foley. Their contest was characterized by negativity and personal attacks during debates and through television ads.
Republicans picked Foley again from an initially crowded field of candidates, eventually choosing him over retiring Senate Minority Leader John McKinney in an August primary. It was a choice some Republicans publicly regretted after Foley’s loss.
In the general election, Malloy benefited from support from the state’s unions despite some first-term squabbles with organized labor. Meanwhile Foley, a wealthy businessman, had a few high-profile conflicts with the unions. In one instance, labor delegates laughed at Foley during a speech, prompting the candidate to stop and ask, “Did I say something funny?” Another exchange, between the Republican and workers outside a soon-to-be-shuttered paper mill in Sprague, became campaign fodder for Malloy and his surrogates.
Ultimately, Malloy beat Foley by more than 28,000 votes, four times his 2010 margin of victory.
Two independent candidates launched campaigns to compete with Malloy and Foley. Neither had much success. Jonathan Pelto, a former Democratic lawmaker and education blogger, failed to collect enough signatures to earn a spot on the ballot. Joe Visconti, a former Republican candidate, won a spot on the ballot and participated in two debates. But he threw his support behind Foley at the last minute.
Malloy and members of the legislature began 2014 discussing how they might spend a $505 million budget surplus. They will begin 2015 discussing how to close a deficit.
In between, the governor pushed a plan that included giving an 2.7 million taxpayers $55 rebates. He was forced to abandon that plan in April as tax revenues came in “hundreds of millions” of dollars less than expected.
The state budget situation got worse after Malloy’s re-election, when his budget office began projecting that the state would end the fiscal year with a $99.5 million deficit. According to nonpartisan fiscal analysts, the state will face a $1.32 billion deficit in 2016.
The governor made about $55 million in cuts to many state agencies, including the Children and Families Department, higher education, and others. However, fiscal analysts say the plan left about $64.5 million in red ink.
The end of the 2014 legislative session saw the end of more than 18 lawmakers’ careers. By some counts, it was the largest exodus from the General Assembly since a flood of retirements following the contentious passage of the state income tax in 1991.
In May, long-serving Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, speculated that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the difficult debate over gun control and other issues that followed may have contributed to some lawmakers’ decision to leave.
“I haven’t seen this kind of emotional stress since the income tax debate,” Godfrey said. “The shooting impacted us as human beings.”
The 2014 retirements included three of the four legislative leaders. Senate President Donald Williams, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, and Senate Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero declined to seek re-election.
McKinney made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and Williams has since been hired as a deputy policy director for the the Connecticut Education Association. The teachers’ union also hired former House Speaker Chris Donovan this year. Cafero continues to work as an attorney and partner for the law firm Brown Rudnick.
Connecticut’s minimum wage will climb to $10.10 by 2017 under a bill passed by Malloy and Democrats in the legislature this year. Despite resisting minimum wage hikes early in his first term, Malloy has signed two since taking office. This year’s made Connecticut one of the first states to heed President Barack Obama’s call to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Obama visited New Britain to tout the effort in March. He would travel to Connecticut again to support Malloy’s re-election in November.
Another Federal Investigation
Rowland was not the only politico to find himself in hot water with the feds this year. House Republican Chief of Staff George Gallo resigned in February when he was named a person of interest in a federal investigation into campaign mailing vendors.
Gallo’s resignation came a day after FBI agents visited the Legislative Office Building and interviewed many Republicans looking for a connection between top Republican staffers and two direct mail companies. That investigation is still open but no new information has been released since early this year.