Login

Malloy still has strength and time to slow state’s long fall

Announcing so far ahead of the next election that he will not seek a third term, Governor Malloy risks losing influence with the General Assembly, which has only begun the first of its two sessions remaining during his term. 

But even as a “lame duck” the governor can preserve his influence if he is willing to use or threaten to use his veto more aggressively. And by forswearing re-election, he has given himself more freedom to do things that strike him as impolitic but right or necessary.

Since he will remain governor for another year and a half, and since the legislature has yet to produce a budget that confronts state government’s financial collapse, it is too early to write the last chapter about the Malloy years.

Of course, by imposing two massive tax increases in his six years in office so far, the governor, a Democrat, only hastened the state’s decline economically and made himself terribly unpopular. But his current budget proposal, frightening as some of its major provisions may be, at least reflects more restraint than Connecticut saw under his two immediate predecessors, both Republicans, who set him up for that unpopularity. 

If he holds firm against raising taxes and forces the legislature to make painful choices — that is, to choose between the innocent needy and influential special interests — Malloy still can perform an important service for the state.

In withdrawing so early, the governor already has done two services for his party.

First, the governor has provided Democrats who aspire to succeed him plenty of time to distinguish themselves from his administration and to raise campaign money. Perhaps foremost among the potential Democratic successors, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo already has been striking some poses implicitly critical of the governor. 

The party remains a buzzing hive of special interests, wherein it is nearly impossible to advance without engaging in pandering that risks alienating mere citizens who have some concept of the public good. So it will be hard for Democratic candidates to distance themselves from Malloy and conciliate the party’s factions without looking opportunistic.

Second, the governor has deprived the Republicans of their favorite and most vulnerable target. Merely running against Malloy suddenly has lost much of its power to persuade. 

Republican aspirants for governor now will be more obliged to define themselves by proposing policies for change, more obliged to stand for something besides their own ambition, an endeavor in which they have not succeeded during the Malloy years despite the provocation he gave them to offer decisive alternatives.

Could the governor have won a third term? Recent polls make that hard to believe, even amid the recent inclination of Connecticut’s Republicans to nominate self-funding ignoramuses. But then, recent polls make it hard to believe that Malloy ever won two elections, the second even after his administration had imposed its first big tax increase without achieving any improvement in living conditions ­— without achieving anything except the feeding of the ravenous machine of government.

Of course, Malloy did win those elections, in large part because of the state’s heavy tendency toward his party, but also because of his superior energy, expertise, and ambition.

Now, with his restrained budget proposal, he seems to have realized that merely feeding the machine isn’t ever going to restore Connecticut. 

He doesn’t have enough time to fix much in state government — that may take generations — but if, as he said in his announcement Thursday, he wants to keep playing “the long game,” he still has enough time to slow the state’s decline, give his party a fair chance to retain the state’s top office, and be seen off with some understanding and affection in January 2019.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.