Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lauds At Rell Leave-Taking

One way to gain friends and influence people in the opposing camp, if you are a governor, is to leave office. This will please the opposition, particularly if you happen to be popular. As governor, Jodi Rell was more popular with Connecticut voters than any of the Democrats presently in the gubernatorial field.

It is therefore not surprising that when Rell decided not to pursue another run as governor, reporters beating the bushes to find someone in the Democratic camp who might be willing to say something pleasant about the departing governor were amply rewarded.

According to one report, Rell was a “fair-minded leader driven not by ideology but rather by old-fashioned common sense.” She was a “moderate,” which is far better than being a “conservative,” though lately the word “conservative” has been drained of much of its venom, particularly when it is forced to march hand in hand with the word “fiscal,” as in “fiscal conservative.”

Former Speaker of the House Jim Amann, now running for governor, used to style himself a “fiscal conservative,” without any apparent damage to his reputation.

Bill Curry, a Democrat who ran for governor more than once and lost, was trotted out to effuse, and he did not disappoint.

Curry lauded Rell as exuding “a certain decency, and that was her political calling card and strongest attribute. Democrats often deride her for being merely 'nice,' but in this world, 'nice' gets you a lot and not just in politics."

Rell’s “temperate” political philosophy endeared her to Curry: "She may have won the prize for least ideological Republican of her generation, and that went over big in Connecticut.”

Curry himself is, of course, non-non-ideological although, despite frequent dips into ideology, he remains decent and nice.

So the point would not be lost in his encomium, Curry added that Rell did not relish “deep debates on the arcana of public policy,” as one reporter put it. Curry cited Rell’s “failure to achieve property tax relief and health care reform as two of the biggest disappointments of her tenure.”

So gracious was Curry that he even aspersed Rell’s departing chief of staff, Lisa Moody, with cautionary praise:” She had a superb political operative in Lisa Moody, but what Jodi didn't have was a superb policy person, and one of the things that went wrong for her is that Moody was left wearing both hats when she was really only good at one.”

If only Rell had thought to take on board as a chief of staff an ideologue like Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, a Democrat who, during the last budget tousle with Rell, managed to get by the governor a progressive income tax, and who, unsurprisingly, thought Rell was “at her best when she put aside partisan politics and did not give in to extremist trends nationally in the Republican Party.”

Republicans would be hard pressed to recall a single day in the last few months when Williams, quick to praise a virtue he does not practice, put aside his ideology to give Connecticut a budget that would not bankrupt the state. And yet Williams is widely regarded as a “moderate” because, as one reporter put it, he and Rell alike “backed civil unions for same-sex couples, embraced stem cell research and signed a sweeping public campaign finance law,” all measures indicating a “moderate” political philosophy.

How different it was just two days before Rell shocked the state with her surprise announcement, when the chase after Rell was on in earnest.

The state’s highly partisan, ideologically driven Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, everyone will recall, had just joined the hunt.

Telling a reporter “We do have a game plan,” the attorney general had just sent out “a demand letter,” demanding that Rell cough up “scores of documents in an investigation of whether a University of Connecticut professor's $223,000, taxpayer-funded study on government efficiency was misused to provide political advice to Gov. M. Jodi Rell.”

Blumenthal’s method in such a business is not unlike that of other attorneys general. You gather together a huge cache of information – some of it pertinent to the investigation you have undertaken, some of it not -- plop the load on a conference table, and have your associates comb through the mountain of raw data looking for any piece of political dirt that may be cherished and saved up for future political combats.

Rell was asked whether the attorney general, mentioned numerous times in press accounts as a luminous candidate for governor, played any roll in her decision to forgo the defense of her seat as governor.

It did not, Rell said, an appropriate answer for someone who is a decent non-ideologue lamb led to the slaughter.

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