OP-ED | A Tale of Two Speeches: Comparing Gov. Malloy in 2011 and 2015
What a difference four years makes.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy kicked off his second term in office on Wednesday, and if the speeches he gave at his inauguration and later to the General Assembly are any indication, this term is going to be more subdued and less ambitious than the last one.
The speeches themselves are fairly different in form, structure, content, and intent. The 2015 speech is shorter, more concise, and far less given to rhetorical flights of fancy than Malloy’s first State of the State in 2011. Let’s compare the emotional hooks of each speech. First, from 2011:
“I can sense it. It is our time. Never give up, and the tide will turn. It’s not just the story of my life. It’s the story of Connecticut.”
And now 2015:
“How do we honor our remarkable history and tradition? How do we fulfill our promise for a brighter tomorrow? How do we decide what kind of Connecticut we’re going to leave to our children?”
There’s a difference, there — not just in the less urgent tone, but in the objective. The point of 2011’s speech was to try and grapple with the very present and immediate crisis of economic recession and a huge budgetary shortfall. In 2015, the speech is far more about legacy — instead of preserving what we have, Malloy focused on what he wants to build for the future.
What Malloy proposed in 2011 was nothing less than a governing philosophy, a way out of the crisis that was different than the austerity other states were insisting upon — the idea of “shared sacrifice.” He didn’t elaborate much in his initial speech to the legislature — that came in his budget address in February, 2011 — but he did lay the groundwork for his vision.
Now, though, he has a focused vision and concrete proposals: Improve transportation. Widen I-95. More railway stations. A transportation “lockbox” that can’t be raided. This is the speech of a governor who is finally not staring down into the abyss of a crisis.
But in a lot of ways Malloy’s job is harder now than it was in 2011. He didn’t come into office with much political capital or clout, but he didn’t have much baggage and there is something about a crisis that makes lawmakers more open to making difficult decisions. But Connecticut right now is slowly emerging from that crisis, and because money is still tight and another deficit looms, lawmakers are going to be a lot more cautious.
Malloy’s 2015 speech reflected that caution. In it, he didn’t try to appeal to them emotionally, but almost like an entrepreneur trying to get someone to invest in his business.
We know that transportation and economic growth are bound together. States that make long-term investments in their infrastructure can have vibrant economies for generations. States that don’t make those investments will struggle. It’s that simple.
So we should do it because the economy will benefit, and it’ll hurt us in the long run if we don’t. We shouldn’t do it because it’s necessarily right or part of a bigger vision, but because it’ll pay off in the end.
Gone are the literary quotes, the Twain references, and the history lessons. The personal stories that infused his first state of the state are nowhere to be found. Instead, Malloy is all business here, and his argument is almost purely economic.
So what about the content? The 2011 speech didn’t have much in the way of real proposals to attack that deficit, but the 2015 speech does contain a number of actual transportation ideas. The most talked-about proposal will likely be this:
And we should include a covenant with bond holders and all people of Connecticut to ensure that money set aside for transportation projects is only used for that purpose.
Like some sort of Special Transportation Fund, you mean? We have one. You guys raid it all the time. Republican leaders have already noted that the only way that money gets protected is if it’s a constitutional amendment. So, let’s see if the legislature is really serious. Pass an amendment creating an untouchable transportation fund by more than 75 percent of the vote in both chambers, and send it to the voters in 2016.
But somehow this speech, which was largely free of the fire and resolve of Malloy’s earlier efforts, doesn’t give me much confidence that it will happen.
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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