Hearst Connecticut Media Group colleague Ken Dixon and I interviewed a lot of folks for this weekend’s piece on retiring Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s legacy.
She leaves office January 5 after six years, two of which were to complete Republican Gov. John Rowland’s term after he resigned amidst an impeachment inquiry and a federal investigation.
For space reasons, many quotes were left out of the story and instead grouped together in a sidebar that ran in our print editions. So for those of you who instead read the story on-line, here are those comments about Rell you might have missed. Think of this as our Director’s Cut…
1. State Sen. Andrew W. Roraback, R-Goshen: “No one can dispute the truism that Gov. Rell has rightfully accumulated an enormous amount of political capital over her six and a half years as governor. I think very highly of the governor personally and professionally. But our state would be a better place if she had been willing to spend some amount of that political capital on standing up to the Democratic majorities in the Legislature. This business is not for the faint of heart. Gov. Rell has successfully avoided making unpopular decisions. That style has consequences which will burden us certainly in the immediate future, perhaps for longer.”
2. Attorney General-elect George C. Jepsen, the former Stamford lawmaker who rose to Senate majority leader when Rell was lieutenant governor: “Her popularity, I think, is due to a personal style, which is exactly what the public wanted and needed in the wake of the Rowland resignation. Her genteel manner and the fact that she never spent any of her accumulated political capital may be what she will be remembered for.”
3. Robert M. Ward, former House minority leader: “She’s somebody who the public could relate to. The mom in the grocery store; dad taking kids to Little League. When Jodi Rell spoke, people thought she made sense. She never sounded like a traditional politician.”
4. Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, who was Rell’s running mate in 2006, sought to succeed her this year and during his campaign spoke often of how he would have handled the state’s budget crisis differently than Rell.
“If you go back to 2009 not only did she let the budget become law but … there was a misunderstood belief from her legal counsel that said if she didn’t sign it she could go back and line item veto.”
Fedele said he would have vetoed that budget, despite the fact Rell and the legislature at the time had already been wrangling for months.
“At the end of the day there are underlying principles I would go forward with and wouldn’t just abandon them because it was a protracted approach,” Fedele said. “I would not have let that budget become law. I would have vetoed it not because I wanted to spend three to four months in the capitol, but I believe at the time it was right to do. She believed differently.”
Rell’s defenders argue there would have been no point in vetoing the budget because the Democrats would have overturned it.
But Fedele said Rell in the past used successfully used her popularity and the bully pulpit to reach out to the public and put pressure on the legislature.
“Would the outcome have been different? I don’t know,” Fedele said. “But looking back you can say, ‘Here’s the fiscal mess we’re in, but here’s what I did. I did veto this package, talked to leadership in the legislature, worked with Republicans, did ‘x’ and ‘y’ and at the end of the day it didn’t work’.”
5. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield: “When her legacy is written, decades from now, the overwhelming issue will be the fact that she took over leadership of the state of Connecticut and became governor under trying circumstances, with the governor resigning and being sent to jail, creating serious doubt and mistrust in government. She was able to restore that very quickly. I don’t know whether anyone could have done that. She had style, strength and calmness.”
6. R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, who divides Rell’s tenure into the years she completed Rowland’s term and her own four year term: “I don’t think you could have gotten somebody from Central Casting to play that role the way she did. She was superb. I think the game changes and the expectations change when you run on your own nickel for a separate, four-year term and go from healing the wounds of the resignation and the scandal associated with it to being a chief executive, outright. They’re complementary but different roles.”
7. Rob Simmons, of Stonington, a former congressman and lawmaker who has known Rell since 1991 and for a time served her as state business advocate: “You don’t just concede before the fact because you’re outnumbered. If you conceded before the fact just because you’re outnumbered, we would not have ever heard of the Alamo. I have heard people say that at a time of looming crisis, at a time of growing deficits, at a time of job loss and business closures here in the state of Connecticut, it might have been more productive to expend some of that popularity on these critical issues. That simply was not the case. That’s the judgment she made and she’ll be judged on it, I suspect, in the years to come.”
8. Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich: “She could have used her bully pulpit maybe a little more, but at the end of the day would that have accomplished anything different? I don’t believe it would have. And given the blue nature of our state I don’t think it would have translated into more Republicans being elected to the Legislature.”
9. Current lobbyist and former legislator Chris DePino, who chaired the Connecticut Republican Party: “I think the governor was the most cordial and congenial politician you’ll ever want to meet. But I think unfortunately Connecticut’s policy demanded a much tougher-minded individual. She had a great opportunity to really change the status quo. But her hands were tied by two specific things — one was an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature and two was the fire was never in her belly for any of that.”
10. Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby: “Do I think she should have taken a stand on more things? Yes I do. She could have been very effective in that way because of her personality and because she wasn’t overaggressive and overbearing. But unfortunately hindsight is always 20/20.”