Connecticut governor rarely meets legislators, records show

AP News
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Posted: May 22, 2016 12:47 PM
Connecticut governor rarely meets legislators, records show

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doesn't spend a lot of time chit-chatting with state legislators, something politicians from both parties agree helps build the personal connections needed to get things done at the state Capitol.

A review of Malloy's public schedule, obtained by The Associated Press through records requests, reveals the no-nonsense governor infrequently holds meetings with members of the General Assembly in his Capitol office. And recent public skirmishes with lawmakers over how to fix the budget deficit, especially with his fellow Democrats, have provided a further glimpse into a relationship that's not particularly close.

Malloy's approach to working with the General Assembly contrasts with the style of his two Republican predecessors, who often held weekly meetings with legislative leaders to keep communication open and help build consensus.

Meanwhile, lawmakers say, Malloy relies heavily on his staff to communicate with them, making himself available by phone or in the occasional meeting when necessary.

"He's a very businesslike person, so unless there's a reason to get together, generally we don't do that," House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said of Malloy, a former mayor and prosecutor who never served in the legislature.

Sharkey and Malloy recently sparred over the budget, with Sharkey calling a round of Malloy's proposed cuts a "hit list." They have since made up, with Sharkey saying his decision to stand up to Malloy's cuts was among his proudest.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Malloy appears to be uneasy with lawmakers, adding how "sometimes you think he's uncomfortable and sometimes he seems fine."

The two met in January for an awkward, high-profile lunch in the legislative cafeteria, surrounded by TV cameras, after Republican leaders took issue with Malloy suggesting they write their budget-cutting ideas on the back of an envelope when they asked for meetings with the governor.

At that lunch, Malloy said his remarks were not intended to be dismissive, and he invited Klarides to call his office and schedule a meeting any time she wanted.

"I think he clearly has a difficult time, No. 1, relating to the legislature," Klarides said. "I also think, quite frankly, he has difficulty relating with people."

In all of 2015, records obtained by the AP show Malloy had 14 scheduled meetings with state lawmakers, all leaders. Five were with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders in late November and early December, when the group was trying to reach an agreement on a mid-year, budget deficit-cutting plan.

Sprinkled throughout 2015 is the occasional scheduled meeting with one or two Democratic leaders, typically lasting 30 minutes. Months would pass between such get-togethers.

Malloy had one scheduled lunch with a lawmaker, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. They met at the Hartford restaurant Max Downtown on May 5, 2015. Records also show Malloy had one scheduled meeting in 2015 with a Republican legislator, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.

Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said the public schedule doesn't tell the entire story, arguing the governor and his staff "couldn't be more available." In addition to staff working with lawmakers, he said "we constantly have people pop into his office informally" and Malloy is "constantly on the phone." Despite the budget disagreements and questions of whether lawmakers will still pass Malloy's latest criminal justice reform bill in special session, Puglia said the "vast, vast majority" of Malloy's bills have cleared the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Early in 2016, as debate over how to solve a worsening budget deficit continued, records show Malloy stepped up meetings with lawmakers. In January, there were six meetings and one call to a legislator on his public schedule. There were three meetings in February and five in March, three of which were held with leaders to discuss the budget.

Dean Pagani, Rowland's former chief of staff, said the former governor was once advised by former Republican Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to hold regular weekly meetings with legislative leaders, saying it would be harder for the lawmakers to lodge criticisms knowing they'd see him again in seven days.

"It was just a way of building a personal relationship," Pagani said.

Pagani credits the connections Rowland made during those weekly meetings with helping Rowland move the majority Democratic legislature closer to his positions on issues, such as the budget. He said those personal relationships also likely helped Rowland remain in office longer as he weathered a corruption scandal. Rowland eventually resigned in 2004.

Klarides contends that a more open-door policy probably could have improved relations between lawmakers and Malloy.

But Duff, the Senate majority leader, shrugged off such criticism, saying Malloy is always accessible by phone. In fact, Duff said he's surprised by how many people have Malloy's cellphone number. Duff also downplayed the recent disagreements over the budget.

"He has a strong personality, and he likes things his way. The legislature has a right to push back as a co-equal branch of government," he said, adding how that "naturally leads to tension."

Malloy's businesslike approach might be preferable to Rowland's friendlier method, given the state's financial challenges, Pagani said.

"I actually think Gov. Malloy's management style is suited for the times," he said. "Maybe we need someone just focused on the numbers."