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OP-ED | The Politics of Malaise

by Susan Bigelow | Sep 5, 2014 7:59am
(7) Comments | Log in to Post a Comment
Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

Nothing about the campaign for governor has been more emblematic than this: the popular and effusive Bill Clinton shows up to boost Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s sinking campaign, and ends up speaking to a less-than-capacity crowd in a badly-lit hotel ballroom. Far from firing up the base, this visit just made the governor, and the Democratic Party, look worn out.

It was in this dim and depressing setting that Gov. Malloy decided to trot out one of the pitches he hopes will be a winner on the campaign trail this fall: that Tom Foley, the monster, is a pessimist.

Paul Bass/New Haven Independent “This is a guy who prays for rain on a sunny day,” Malloy said of Foley, whose campaign has largely been about how lousy Connecticut is with Malloy at the helm. Malloy, of course, is well-known for his sunny disposition and optimism — Courant columnist and radio host Colin McEnroe dubbed him the “Grouch-in-Chief” for a reason. Then Malloy added, “Connecticut is a great state. We’re going to prove that on election day.”

But does anybody believe that this is a great state, right now? When a debate over whether we actually like it here and are planning on leaving soon can hit the pages of the state’s largest newspaper, prompting New York magazine to publish a piece called, “What’s the Matter With Connecticut?” — that may give us a clue.

We’re in a funk. To be fair, it’s been a rotten couple of decades for us — our cities have lost people, prestige, and just about everything else; our economy has taken hits again and again; we lost our hockey team to a state where water doesn’t even bother freezing very often; our governor went to jail, got out, and landed himself promptly back in trouble; and we’ve been slammed by hurricanes, snow, ice, and even tornadoes. Bad times all around.

No amount of suddenly-sunny talk from our governor will change these facts. We’re in a bad mood. We believe Connecticut’s stuck in the mud, and we’re all sinking down with it.

Politically, this is going to play out in a couple of ways. First, this is not a good time to be an incumbent — especially one who has never gotten by on political charm. By and large, incumbents in this state and the country in general have the advantage, unless their opponents can convince voters there is a crisis large enough to warrant a change. Tom Foley doesn’t even have to try very hard in this case — voters are already at that point.

This is why we’re seeing Malloy trying the Mr. Sunshine routine, which has two main thrusts: one, that we’re not in a crisis after all, and two, that Tom Foley is just a grumpy old sourpuss for believing that we are. The danger here is that Malloy is coming perilously close to dismissing how an awful lot of people in this state feel as mere pessimism.

The second way that this is going to play out is all about apathy. Voter turnout in 2012 was pretty decent: turnout this year is going to be an awful lot lower. We may even see turnout that’s lower than it was during the Republican wave of 2010. Low turnout usually favors Republicans, whose voters tend to be die-hards, but the GOP doesn’t seem particularly energized by their choices this year, either.

What this really means is an election that will be hard to predict. It could end up turning around on a few minor issues, or it could just sputter to the end, exhausted, and spit out a new governor.

That’s the final way this plays out politically: voters may slouch to the polls to boot Malloy out, but what sort of mandate will Tom Foley really have?

Our self-esteem as a state has been low for a long time, and it’s tempting to think that there’s nothing ahead but decay and stagnation. When we stop believing that it’s even worth changing things in this state we lose any hope of making a better future for ourselves, and we risk sinking deeper into the swamp of cynicism and infighting. 

A Governor Foley may not be able to accomplish much when facing both a hostile legislature and a demoralized populace. After all, he’s not exactly inspirational, and unlike another governor to take over after a big crisis, M. Jodi Rell, he’s not particularly comforting or reassuring either. His honeymoon, if he’s not careful, could wind up being perilously short.

And if that happens, will he have anyone but himself to blame?

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(7) Comments

posted by: thomas hooker | September 5, 2014  12:51pm

I think it’s Connecticut’s media pundits who are in a funk.  Not only did Colin McEnroe call Malloy “grouch and chief,” a week ago, he actually called Governor Malloy a “hockey goon.”  Seriously.  He called him a “goon.”  Perhaps more shocking than that ugly namecalling, was the fact that no one else on that “Where We Live” program on WNPR batted an eyelash.  To them, that sort of thing is natural.

Other than the Courant/WNPR crowd, I think that most people in this state appreciate the fact that our state’s health exchange was a spectacular success, that we (that is the Democratic governor and Democratic legislature; a majority of Republicans voted “no”) enacted the strictest gun laws in the nation, private sector job growth is the strongest in 15 years.  Not only that, but Governor Malloy enacted a much-needed boost in the minimum wage, and an earned income tax credit for hard-pressed working families (Republicans and Foley are trying desperately to get rid of it).

Former President Clinton got it right: Governor Malloy can point to tremendous successes in his less than four years in office.  Did I mention fully funding the teacher’s pension fund for four years running?  That’s something that Rell and Rowland never did.  So much for being anti-teacher.

In contrast, in a closed-door meeting and private phone call with the anti-Gay rights and anti-abortion Family Institute of Connecticut, Foley and Wolfgang reach “an understanding” that leads to an endorsement.  Foley also, with a wink and a nod, gets an endorsement from the gun lobby: Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League.  No actual call for repeal of the gun law, but they “understand” each other.

Oh, and this governor has put the state on the path towards universal pre-K.

So what exactly should we Nutmeggers be gloomy about?  What is this focus on the lighting in the ballroom?

Perhaps it’s the press corps that’s in a funk, not the people of this state.

posted by: rpk31 | September 5, 2014  1:46pm

everyone who reads this site is quite familiar with the malloy campaign’s talking points. Half of what you said is ripped directly from malloy’s commercials. If you’re going to act indignant about the media’s coverage of malloy, atleast make an attempt at sounding impartial.

posted by: GBear423 | September 5, 2014  3:37pm

GBear423

oh wow, Bubba didn’t pull in the swooning scores of Clintonistas!  Wonder if ol Hillary could have brought a few more, or at least had the Publisher bus a few dozen in.

“Malloy’s sinking campaign.”  I think that just started my weekend on a great note!!  :O)

posted by: Jesterr72 | September 6, 2014  4:20am

Thomas Hooker,
Are you serious?? In your ‘glowing’ list of Malloy accomplishments, you conveniently ignore the long and frightening truths about CT. We are dead last (or close to it) in so many critical metrics of economic growth, taxation, job losses, unemployment and capital formation.  When you slam in huge tax increases (largest in state history) and still end up in the hole, it is incompetence.  When you are willing to throw millions at a company to help them move from one town to another within your state, that is desperation. The Democrat Party is bankrupt of ideas and cannot manage a lemonade stand. The public knows it.

posted by: shinningstars122 | September 6, 2014  12:42pm

shinningstars122

The piece in New York magazine is pretty on the money.

Connecticut thrived for the majority of the 19th and the first half of the 20 century.

It was not until corporate greed systematically eliminated the manufacturing base and boxed it up and sent it over seas.

Politicians then, just as now, did not have the foresight or leadership to stem the tide when this enormous transfers of wealth occurred, which sadly do not benefit the working people of our state.

An even greater one is occurring now and as we all now see is that the debate has been reduced to ” takers” and “makers.”

I work in a union environment and the ignorance and flat out bigotry I observe too often by my co-workers bitchin’ about all these ” takers” painfully displays the misplaced frustration for our state and country’s current predicament, and the real reasons why.

Just for the record these folks are white and live in the suburbs.

It is hilarious that the majority of people who have left CT, well at least according to the posters on that NY Mag article, cite taxes and entitlements as the biggest reason.

To put that in a different light.

I find it so ironic that even after fourteen years and $2 trillion dollars spent on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan,and the war on terror how many good paying jobs did UT actually create in Connecticut?

You would have sought that CT would have thrived since 2001?

It is a fact that 2/3 of UT’s 250,000 are now located overseas but they still need a $400 millions tax credit to keep the corporate and remaining union jobs here?

UT’s stock price has more than doubled since 2000 when it hit a high of $39.88. Yesterday it was trading at $108.71.

That is a 273%  increase folks.

Now we have the threat of inversion being the latest form of corporate extortion.

I mean how much can we burden these ” makers’? I mean even “live free or die” New Hampshire has become a colony of the Commonwealth.

As for Colin McEnroe and his secret desire to become a writer for the ” Daily Show,” as well as his continually need to hear himself talk, is both annoying and self indulgent.

I for one can’t stand to listen to his radio show any more. I mean seriously he ask people to call in continually but never ” has” time to take their calls.

Colin should actually stick to being a journalists and listen to his callers and readers, which I have a feeling are not that many these days.

Susan, and many of your beat writers,it time to hit the road and campaign trail, and start engaging the electorate on what we all need from our elected officials.

I mean consider the simple journalistic joy of confronting either Malloy or Foley in person and how it might further the call of what the voters of Connecticut are screaming for… proper and fair representation.

Keyboard quarterbacking is nothing Mark Twain or Harriet Beecher Stowe would of have any tolerance for.

Neither should the residents of Connecticut.

posted by: thomas hooker | September 6, 2014  4:55pm

Perhaps Jesster would be interested to know that a study by Ernst & Young finds that Connecticut businesses pay the second lowest actual tax rates in the nation when accounting for state and local taxes combined. And Professor Carstensen of the University of Connecticut points out that the Boston Federal Reserve “ranks Connecticut tax burdens in aggregate—state and local—close to the national mean.”

Further, Connecticut’s general obligation debt is today roughly where it was when Governor Malloy took office. 

Also, keep in mind that Malloy has funded the annual required contribution to the teachers and state employees pension fund each year for the past four years, something that neither Rell nor Rowland did.  It was their policies that led to the accumulation of unfunded pension liabilities.  But the state is managing pension debt, and, under Malloy, keeping its promise to the state’s teachers.

Let’s also keep in mind that Tom Foley has stated that he will not roll back that 2011 tax increase.  He is not going to cut any spending. Nor does he feel that more cuts in the state workforce are needed.  The reduction in 1,500 positions carried out by Governor Malloy are sufficient, according to Foley.

Oh, and let’s keep in mind that spending increases under Governor Malloy (2.8% annually) are substantially lower than were carried out under both Rell and Rowland.

And let’s mention the Small Business Express, which has helped small businesses create over 4,000 jobs in less than four years.  You can look up the data for yourself.

posted by: thomas hooker | September 6, 2014  4:57pm

To rpk, would you care to offer proof that these points I’ve noted are false? 

The truth is tough to deal with sometimes, eh?