Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy poses in front of his Zuber wallpaper of “The American War of Independence,” which decorates all the walls of his office. (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — “I think what people fail to understand is I didn’t think I was going to have a second term,” outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday during a wide-ranging exit interview in his office.

Malloy won re-election in 2014 by more than 28,000 votes. In April 2017 he announced he would not seek a third term during a period when raising taxes and bad poll numbers were overshadowing what his administration was accomplishing.

Did low poll numbers ever bother him? “I didn’t run to be popular,” Malloy said. “I ran to do things.”

At one point, Malloy was the least popular governor in the nation, according to a Morning Consult poll.

“Who has done more in housing? Who has done more in criminal justice reform? Who has done more in corrections reform? Who has done more on education reform? Who has done more on pension reform? Who has done more on other post-employment reforms than I have?” Malloy said.

The governor stated that there is no administration with a more comprehensive record of progress than his — and those accomplishments are documented in a 300-page document that he’s released to reporters for background before conducting his exit interviews.

He said wasn’t a one-dimensional governor because he tackled a wide breadth of issues.

And the perception that he was bad for the economy? That’s not exactly an accurate picture either. The Great Recession was finishing up as Malloy took office and despite significant changes in the economy, Connecticut began a slow crawl back up to peak employment over Malloy’s eight years in office.

As of November, the Connecticut Department of Labor reported that the state had recovered 114.2 percent of the private sector jobs lost during the recession. However, based on job reductions in government, total employment has not completely recovered and is only at 90.4 percent.

Malloy says the Executive Branch workforce is 13 percent smaller than when he first took office, and that it needed to be trimmed.

“I will leave office having created more jobs in my eight years than Rowland and Rell did in 12 or individually or that Weicker did, but people in Connecticut don’t get that,” Malloy said.

More than 127,600 private sector jobs have been created in Connecticut during his tenure. Critics say the number should be higher and would have been if taxes hadn’t been raised in 2011 and 2015.

Does he have any regrets about how he communicated his ideas?

In 2012 he tackled education reform to increase student performance and graduation rates by focusing on teacher performance. And during a speech before the legislature, he said that in order to earn tenure “basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”

The statement followed him for the rest of his time as governor, and on Tuesday he said he might have started out on the wrong foot that year. 

“I didn’t think the education reform fight was going to be easy with good verbiage or bad verbiage, quite frankly, but we probably started with the wrong verbiage,” Malloy said.

Was there something else he might have pitched differently?

The two-year budget in 2017, Malloy said, adding that the failure to get the Democratic budget called that year was problematic because the bipartisan budget that ended up being signed into law on Oct, 31, 2017 , spent more money and didn’t solve the problem within the Teacher’s Retirement System.

He said three Democratic Senators who voted for a Republican budget instead of the Democratic budget “maybe didn’t understand that or were concentrating on smaller issues.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo

Of the three state Senators, Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury is the only one of the three who will return to the Senate in 2019. Sens. Gayle Slossberg of Milford and Paul Doyle of Wethersfield didn’t seek re-election to their Senate seats in 2018.

Legislative leaders eventually kicked Malloy out of the room in order to finish budget negotiations in 2017, and as such the document didn’t do what Malloy had hoped it would.

Malloy said he doesn’t doubt that sweeping changes eventually will be made to the Teacher’s Retirement System, but it’s one of the things on his list that he was unable to accomplish.

“I wish I had been able to do that so that the pension side of the equation would have been taken care of,” Malloy said.

Malloy added: “We probably need a lockbox for pensions. We should have done that.”

There was never a serious discussion of a lockbox concept for pension funds, or how such a law would have worked, but what Malloy was referring to was his effort to make sure the state’s pension obligations started being met. As such, and through great pains during budget negotiations with legislative leaders, he was the first governor in recent decades to make the full, actuarially required contributions to the State Employees Retirement System.

Although it might have been the most fiscally difficult, Malloy’s first two-year budget — the one that called for “shared sacrifice” — was hard, too.

Malloy said the 2011 budget was “an important first step” even though it didn’t necessarily resolve future unforseen deficits.

Malloy, the first Democratic governor in two decades when he took office, struggled with Democratic majorities in the legislature.

After it looked like he had a handshake deal on that first budget, former House Speaker Chris Donovan conveyed that the unions would have to approve the $1.6 billion concession package included as part of the budget — essentially giving the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition veto power over the spending and revenue package they had negotiated.

The first vote on the labor package that was crucial to erasing the deficit didn’t get enough support, which forced Malloy to send out thousands of layoff notices to the men and women who helped get him elected — 6,404 votes. It eventually passed on a second try.

Afterward, the unions and Malloy had some harsh words for each other in August 2011:

“I think this governor didn’t come in working that well with these folks,” said Dan Livingston, the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalitions chief negotiator. “His communication could have been better as a boss. The respect shown to front-line workers as a boss could have been better and it would have made this process easier.”

Livingston continued that there’s a learning curve to dealing with organized workers, and hopefully next time Malloy will choose to work in a more cooperative way.

Despite that friction, Malloy won re-election and faced with continued budget deficits. He went back to the negotiation table with state employees in 2017 and got more concessions from state workers and sent the deal to the legislature for its approval.

The same three state Senators who Malloy blames for harming budget negotiations that year are the same ones who voted in favor of the deal he negotiated with the unions. The labor agreement accounted for about 30 percent of the two-year, $5 billion budget deficit, but it extended the deal until 2027, giving Governor-elect Ned Lamont less flexibility. There will be two more years of layoff protection for state employees when Lamont takes office and inherits a two-year, $4 billion deficit.

The 2017 labor deal increased employee pension contributions by 2 percent of pay and increased the employee share of health care premiums by 3 percent. It also created a new hybrid defined contribution pension plan for new “Tier 4” state employees that might not be competitive enough to attract good employees, according to the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth. But within his negotiations with labor, Malloy was able to get state employees to contribute more to their health and pension benefits to reduce costs going forward.

Malloy said he believes his administration accomplished many of its goals.

“I don’t think the public understands the significance of what was accomplished,” Malloy said. “And I wish that was different, but that’s far less important than actually accomplishing them.”

Malloy said he gets blamed for the income tax increases in 2011 and 2015, but his predecessor, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, borrowed $950 million with the help of the legislature. Those notes were paid off in January 2018 by Malloy.

“I had the high privilege of paying off her borrowing,” Malloy said.

Malloy said he doesn’t think most people understand what he was able to accomplish despite the fiscal challenges, and he added that some of that lack of understanding might be related to changes in the news industry.

When he was mayor of Stamford, Malloy said, there were far more reporters covering state and local politics in Connecticut. And reporters wouldn’t simply report something because someone had said it.

“That rule has totally changed,” Malloy said. “Now reporters feel an obligation to report whatever somebody says. Look at Trump.”

Malloy doesn’t blame reporters, necessarily. He said part of the problem is that the economics of news reporting changed.

Asked what he would like to have named after him, Malloy said it “weirds me out” to think about that. However, he did just have his name added to a new community center in Danbury.

On Thursday, Malloy will attend a ceremony at the Museum of Connecticut History for the unveiling of his official state portrait by Connecticut artist Chris Zhang of East Lyme. The museum is the home of a collection of portraits of Connecticut governors dating back to the early 1800s.

Following his departure from office, Malloy plans to teach a class at Boston College Law School as the Rappaport Distinguished Visiting Professor. Beyond that he said he hasn’t made any future employment plans, but he will let members of the news media know what he’s up to if they are still interested in a few months.

In the meantime, he’s packing up his office and moving out of the governor’s residence and heading to a new home in Essex.