GOP looks to compete with Malloy outside Capitol

Outgunned and out-flanked during the 2011 legislation session, the Republican minority hopes to best Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outside the Capitol, convincing voters that the governor’s legislative victories weaken the state economy.

Republican leaders acknowledged Thursday that Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years, steamrolled them during the five-month session, imposing his budget, his tax increases and his social agenda.

Now, their goal is to frame the new governor’s accomplishments as anathema to business and to link them not only to Malloy, but the legislature’s Democratic majority.

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration, and a lot of difficult questions as to why in this economy, why in this difficult time, Connecticut went down a path that no other state seemed to go down, the largest tax increase in our history,” said Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield.

But they are up against a governor who wages a permanent campaign, fighting to dominate nearly every news cycle.

In his end-of-session speech, Malloy already was trying to frame the political narrative for the coming months, announcing an economic development tour with one of his star appointees, Catherine Smith, the former top ING executive who is running the Department of Economic and Community Development.

The governor also is calling a special session for the fall to focus on jobs.

McKinney and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, will not compete on equal footing. Simply by virtue of being governor, Malloy has a built-in advantage in commanding attention.

While Republicans and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association criticize him over taxes and his pivotal support for a bill making Connecticut the first state to mandate paid sick days, Malloy will be stressing his economic-development achievements.

A bill-signing ceremony is expected at the UConn Health Center to celebrate the passage of an $864 million expansion plan – and his vision for transforming bio-science research at the medical school into an economic development tool.

“The governor has always had a bigger microphone, a louder microphone than any legislator,” McKinney said. “How do we compete? We compete with ideas. We compete by working hard.”

Cafero said that the Republican minority is committed to debating Malloy over competing visions for economic development.

“We have had one singular message. A lot of times parties, regardless of which party is in the minority, have a diluted message. They are all over the lot.,” Cafero said. “We have focused on economic issues.”

The governor’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, used to be in their shoes, advising Democratic legislators how to compete in the press with a media-savvy Republican governor, John G. Rowland. It was a mismatch, he said.

“I feel their pain,” he said.

Occhiogrosso said he believes the Republicans are overly optimist about how the tax increases will hit voters on July 1. The governor already has conceded that his budget calls for significant sacrifice to stabilize the state’s finances.

“People will feel an impact,” Occhiogrosso said. “But it’s not like the income tax battle in 1991, a large, new tax coming out of people’s paychecks for the first time. It’s nothing like that.”

Besides, Malloy intends to move the debate forward, away from taxes and toward ways Connecticut can end 22 years of job stagnation. Republicans intend to counter by holding Malloy responsible every time a company leaves the state.

On Thursday, the Republicans mentioned plans by UBS in Stamford, the city where Malloy was mayor, to relocate jobs to Manhattan, a trucking company in Branford whose owner says he is fed up with the business climate, and camera company in Enfield.

“Gov. Malloy can go on the road and talk about jobs,” McKinney said. “But what’s he going to do when he goes to Enfield, and they say, ‘You know, governor, we had an award-wining company called Precision Camera and Video that cut 234 jobs and left the state?”