When they go out on their own terms, noted politicians love to conduct farewell tours. Richard Nixon didn’t hit the lecture circuit before bidding adieu and boarding Marine One on the House lawn. Nor did John Rowland as he exited 990 Prospect Avenue before becoming Inmate 15623-014. There was no time and besides, the long arm of the Justice Department was poised to grab them right where it hurts.
Perhaps the most annoying example of a farewell tour locally was that of former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, which I dubbed “Joe-verload.” In his last year in office (mercifully, he spared us a try at a fifth term), Lieberman went before the cameras at any television station that would have him. The Hartford Courant published a panegyric of an editorial. Then Joe disappeared to a New York law firm and largely spared us from his pious pronouncements.
Outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is a different animal. He is neither a criminal and nor was he hounded out of office. Nor, for that matter, was he defeated in a run for re-election. He simply chose not to run again because he had worn out his welcome, if he ever had one to begin with.
Malloy himself has gone on a farewell tour but not the kind of peripatetic camera-mugging goodbye fest we have come expect (imagine what will happen when Sen. Richard Blumenthal retires). Instead, he held exit interviews with journalists, many of them from the print world, inside his office at the Capitol. That regal space is decorated with wallpaper images of Zuber’s American War of Independence—a fitting reminder of Malloy’s often combative and maverick style.
Malloy sat down for a wide-ranging interview last week with my editor Christine Stuart. I’ve been there with Christine and my CT News Junkie colleague Susan Jane Bigelow twice before for sit-downs with Malloy. I’ve always found him engaging and — to the extent that public officials and journalists find themselves at odds—a worthy adversary.
Malloy clearly outdid himself in getting ready for his farewell tour. If nothing else, he’s convinced he’s been misunderstood. In advance of this series of interviews, he clearly wanted to set the record straight. As Stuart wrote, he insisted there has never been an administration with a more voluminous record of achievement 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.” Well, aside from preparing Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s team for the transition, I guess there wasn’t much else for Malloy’s staff to do.
I get the point of some commentators that if you’re a progressive there’s not a whole lot to dislike about Malloy. From criminal justice reform, to gun control, to the abolition of the death penalty, to affordable housing, to mass transit, to preserving open space, to the implementation of Obamacare, to advocating for LGBT rights, to rolling out the welcome mat for refugees, he has done much to advance the causes of liberals in Connecticut and beyond.
And if you’re an honest conservative you can’t be entirely disappointed either. Shortly before Malloy took office, the state unemployment rate was 9.3 percent. Now it’s 4.1 percent. The crime rate has dropped and four state prisons were closed, saving millions for taxpayers. The shock of the departure of General Electric, which wasn’t paying much in taxes anyway, gave way to the reality that Malloy had secured long-term commitments to stay in Connecticut from several high-profile corporations. This has increased the number of Fortune 500 companies in the state from 11 to 14.
And conservatives should love this part: there are now 12,000 fewer state workers than when Malloy took office, with 13 percent fewer in the executive branch alone. New hires will be subject to far less generous “hybrid” defined-contribution pensions, with higher retiree contributions for other post-employment benefits as well. And for the first time in ages, Malloy has fully funded state employee pensions and replenished the so-called rainy-day fund.
With that list of accomplishments, you’d think Malloy would be going out with a bang, but he remains the least popular governor in the nation. There are a variety of reasons for this but not the least among them are the two gigantic tax increases that did little to right the fiscal ship of state. There were the gimmicks employed in circumventing the constitutional spending cap. There was the corporate welfare, the questionable deals with the state employee unions and, of course, his prickly personality.
Then there is the stark reality of having a high-visibility role in running a state. Polls show that only 35 percent of Americans can name their congressman, while a whopping 77 percent could not name one of their state senators. So if you can’t even name a single legislator at the Capitol, who is there to blame but the governor whose face you see every night on the local news?
Say what you want to about him, but unlike many politicians, Malloy doesn’t just want to be something; he wants to do things—in some cases, big things. If nothing else, I have to admire that. I’m sure the law students he’ll soon be teaching at Boston College, his alma mater, will benefit from his vision and experience.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.