OP-ED | Malloy Bows Out, and 2018 is Wide Open
You could hear the sighs of relief from state Democratic headquarters all the way from Massachusetts. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that he will not, in fact, be seeking a third term, setting off what’s bound to be a wide open race in 2018.
This doesn’t come as a huge surprise. When the governor suggested back in 2015 that he might run again, few took him seriously. After all, his ratings were abysmal back then, and have only gotten worse since. Malloy is the third most-unpopular governor in the nation, according to Morning Consult’s annual poll, with approval ratings at an excruciatingly low 29 percent.
In short, Connecticut is sick of him, and it’s time for him to go.
So, why announce now? Why not at least wait until the session is over? Well, the announcement was so sudden and so oddly timed that it feels like either the governor was under enormous pressure from Democrats to commit, or the information was about to leak anyway and he decided to get out in front of it.
Either way, it’s official, and the race to fill what will be an vacant seat can now kick off in earnest.
Connecticut’s governorship rarely comes open like this. Since the advent of four-year gubernatorial terms in 1950, there have been only four races that didn’t feature an incumbent. In 1970, Democratic Gov. John Dempsey declined to run again, and Republican Thomas Meskill won his seat. In 1990, Democrat Bill O’Neill sensed the state was about to get a lot harder to run and stepped aside; independent Lowell Weicker won a three-way race. In 1994, Weicker, after enacting the income tax and watching his ratings drop like a rock, left the field to his lieutenant governor, Eunice Groark, who lost another tight three-way contest to Republican John Rowland. And, of course, in 2010 Malloy defeated Tom Foley for the seat that Republican M. Jodi Rell was riding out to pasture in.
In each case, the governorship changed hands from one party to another. We’ll see how that goes in 2018, where national headwinds may ground Republicans in true-blue Connecticut. Then again, who knows? I take nothing for granted these days; anything can happen.
Who’s running? Well, the Republicans right now have a very crowded field. Mark Boughton might be the best known, he’s the mayor of Danbury and was Tom Foley’s choice for lieutenant governor in 2014. Tim Herbst, the first selectman of Trumbull, nearly toppled longtime treasurer Denise Nappier in 2014, and may have some momentum among Republicans from that. Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, has also declared interest, along with Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, former U.S. Comptroller David Walker, and Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, among others. Rumors also surround Mayor Erin Stewart, who has been a high-profile success in New Britain.
None of these candidates, though, are likely to spark any interest from the rowdy nationalists who backed Donald Trump in droves last year. There’s an opening, there, if enough of them are still willing to go outside. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides was quick to jump aboard the Trump Train last year, for instance.
The Democratic field has yet to take shape. Dan Drew, the mayor of Middletown, may be running, but bigger candidates wait in the wings. Comptroller Kevin Lembo is a favorite among liberals and has long been rumored to be running in 2018. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman hasn’t committed one way or the other yet. Mayor Toni Harp of New Haven said she’s not running “at this time,” but that could always change.
And then there’s Mayor Joe Ganim of Bridgeport. Ganim’s shocking rise from the jailhouse back to the mayor’s office, where he’d committed his crimes, seems like the canary in the coal mine for Trump and the losing of our national common sense. I like to think his popularity doesn’t extend beyond Bridgeport. But, like I said, I take nothing for granted.
And what of Malloy himself? Few will sing his praises once he’s gone, but maybe history will be kinder. His job has been all but impossible. His entire tenure as governor has been marred by economic stagnation, brutal deficits, and difficult choices. His big policy ideas were all overshadowed by the state’s financial mess, and he won very few friends while in office. Still, he’s a pragmatist and someone who has never been afraid of doing the unpopular thing, such as welcoming Syrian refugees. That’s rare. Rowland and Rell never did that.
He’s been a good friend to the LGBT community, as well. He’s fought bullies in Indiana and North Carolina, he’s spoken up for us, and in 2011, he signed a law outlawing discrimination based on gender identity.
I always wanted to thank him for that, so now I will. Thank you, Dan Malloy. Godspeed.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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