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Wide open race for dubious prize: governor

It’s probably just a coincidence that Dan Malloy announced he would not seek reelection the day after a national survey determined he had the third-worst approval rating of all 50 governors and was the least popular Democratic governor in the United States.

The governor said his low approval rating wasn’t a factor and that he had never been afraid of taking unpopular stands, and we’ll take him at his word. 

That being said, the third-lowest approval rating in the country — surpassed only by Republicans Chris Christie of New Jersey and Sam Brownback of Kansas — does not enhance one’s chances of being elected to a third term as governor of a state in deep financial trouble.

During his first term, I jokingly, but perhaps accurately, referred to Malloy as “the third-most-popular governor in the Tri-State Area.”

He was likable enough, as opponent Barack Obama once memorably said of Hillary Clinton, but the other two, New Jersey’s Christie and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, were in danger of being loved. 

But now, with Malloy and Christie as unpopular as governors can get, only Cuomo plans to seek a third term. Being even the most popular governor in the Tri-State Area doesn’t matter much now, given the competition.

Cuomo survives with a 62 percent approval rating in the most recent survey of registered voters by Morning Call, a Washington-based research firm that regularly determines the approval ratings of governors and other office holders. 

He did this despite the usual problems of corruption and mismanagement common to New York. (This may end with his ill-advised plan to provide free tuition for some of the state’s college students, presumably as a way to attract Bernie Sanders supporters in the 2020 presidential campaign.)

Christie is another story. The one-time presidential hopeful is the least popular governor in the nation. He is looked upon with approval by just 25 percent of New Jersey’s voters, the result of his laughable run for president; his fawning, failed attempt to be part of the Trump administration and, most of all, the George Washington Bridge scandal. 

That’s the one in which Christie staffers decided to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for failing to show proper deference to the governor by creating a massive commuter traffic jam on the bridge that neighbors Fort Lee. It was, of course, the inspiration of overly zealous staffers, and the governor knew nothing about it. Twenty-five percent of the voters apparently believe this is so. 

The once-promising Christie career is all but over. New Jersey will elect a successor in November, with the candidates to be determined from a group of no-names in June party primaries. Sic transit Christus.

Which brings us to Dannel. The survey announced last week had his approval rating up a bit from  25 percent in a Quinnipiac poll last year. Morning Consult’s poll finds him all the way up to 29 percent, and his disapproval rating down from 70 percent of the voters to 66. 

Like Christie, you might say Malloy was somewhat distracted from his day job by the 2016 presidential campaign. As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he was frequently out of state as the deficit grew and General Electric began packing. It was widely believed he would find work in the new Clinton administration, but that didn’t quite materialize. Meanwhile, he gave voters two huge tax hikes matched by huge deficits.

So what now? 

Both parties are expected to have more candidates than we really need in what should be one of those rare Republican years in Connecticut gubernatorial politics. Connecticut has become a laboratory for the unworkability of a one-party system.

Despite the Malloy administration’s troubles, Democrats have most of the recognizable names being mentioned for governor. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris and Comptroller Kevin Lembo are said to be interested, as is State Sen. Edward Kennedy, whose name recognition overshadows his achievements. 

This would be a strong start for the Democrats in normal times, but we do not enjoy that luxury in failing Connecticut.

This leaves the Republicans with a real opportunity, and a real challenge: Find somebody able to get the votes who also exhibits just a semblance of political sophistication. No more Tom Foleys or Linda McMahons, please. 

So far, the possibility that Themis Klarides, the highest-ranking woman in the legislature, looms large. Then there’s the able Danbury mayor Mark Boughton, the ambitious Trumbull selectman Tim Herbst and a few others.

Apart from all the rest is the once highly unlikely candidacy of the bribe-taking felon from Bridgeport, Joe Ganim. I say once highly unlikely because, after all, he did get elected mayor again after being jailed for stealing from the city in his first term, and since the emergence of Donald Trump, I don’t discount anything as impossible in politics.

Here’s an intriguing thought. Chris Mattei, the prosecutor who got the goods on John Rowland, is said to be thinking about running for office. The Democrats could come up with a nightmarish dream ticket of the felon and the watchdog, Ganim for governor and to keep an eye on Ganim, Mattei for lieutenant governor. 

Don’t laugh. 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.