Networking the old-fashioned way

He doesn’t text and rarely emails, so LinkedIn probably is out of the question. But with his frequent travels, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy knows how to network.

Malloy was one of several governors-elect in Washington last December when he arranged a meeting with Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. He pitched Sebelius on a grant for UConn Health Center, and he schmoozed a bit.

UConn didn’t get the grant, but Malloy developed a relationship that helped him settle on new commissioner of social services. On Sebelius’ recommendation, Malloy later hired Roderick Bremby, who ran a state agency for her when she was governor of Kansas.

The pre-inaugural trip was the start of Malloy’s travels as governor and his networking with U.S. cabinet secretaries, other governors, business executives, hedge fund managers and policy experts in Washington, on Wall Street and around Connecticut.

Travel often is the first casualty of difficult fiscal times. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who rarely left the state on business as governor, announced a travel ban in 2008. But Malloy said he sees travel, whether out of state or closer to home, as vital to a governing style that relies on constant outreach and networking.

“One of the first things I did was lift the ban on travel,” Malloy said.

Malloy was out of state twice last week, attending a symposium on education Monday in Boston and a Democratic Governors Association conference on bioscience Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.  On Oct. 21, Malloy will be flying back to Washington, this time to deliver a speech.

After his initial trip to Washington as governor-elect, Malloy was back a month later to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address as a guest of U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District and then again in March. He’s had face time now with at least five of President Obama’s cabinet secretaries.

“When he goes to Washington, he sees cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, his senior adviser. “He meets with people not just for something specific, but to cultivate a relationship.”

On his first trip, Malloy had a meeting with Seblius and then chatted at luncheon for new governors with President Obama’s reform-minded secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who makes teachers unions nervous. Malloy pressed him for ideas about finding a state education commissioner.

He also has hosted at least three cabinet secretaries in Hartford. Each time, federal dollars were at stake.

Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, came to Malloy’s office in March to talk about the state’s bid for high-speed rail funding. Malloy led a tour of Coltsville during Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s visit last month, which was arranged by Larson.

Salazar endorsed the state’s efforts to have the federal government designate Coltsville, the Hartford factory complex where Samuel Colt produced “the gun that won the west,” as a national historic park.

On a visit to Connecticut to inspect damage from Tropical Storm Irene, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, made clear that her inspection tour with Malloy was not the first time the two had spoken. She wryly referred to him as “my new phone pal.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the freshman Democratic senator, said Malloy’s aggresive outreach in Washington, especially over funds for high-speed rail, has helped the delegation advocate on behalf of the state.

“There is nothing like the governor of a state saying ‘this grant matters’ or ‘this decision is important’ to bolster what we say,” Blumenthal said.

So far, Malloy’s travels have brought him no political grief.

The Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank that maintains a public data base that allows the public to track state spending, criticized Rell for making a show of banning travel, then failing to make the ban stick. But it has not made an issue of Malloy’s travels.

“I defer to the governor’s own judgment in deciding what’s a good use of his time,” said Fergus Cullen, executive director of the institute. “We were critical of Gov. Rell, because her administration, with some fanfare, announced a travel ban, then there were some 900 trips.”

Besides, Cullen said dryly said, the institute believes that a new governor’s exposure to other leaders and their policy ideas always is healthy, especially since some other governors are cutting taxes, a Yankee Institute recommendation that Malloy has resisted.

“Maybe that’s an idea we ought to pick up on,” Cullen said.

Expenses incurred in the current fiscal year are not yet part of the Yankee Institute’s database, but Malloy’s office says most of his travels have been brief and relatively inexpensive.

The governor’s office paid $1,568 for the trip to the North Carolina bioscience conference: two $565.30 airline tickets for Malloy and a staffer, and $219 each for a one-night hotel stay. Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said the expenses are typical of the governor’s travel.

The Center for American Progress will pick up the tab for Malloy’s one-day trip to Washington later this month: $303.40 for roundtrip airfare. But the governor’s office is paying for the airfare of a staffer accompanying Malloy.

Malloy is expected to talk about the state’s passage of a first-in-the-nation state mandate on some private employers to offer paid sick days. The bill passed with his strong support.

Last month, Malloy delivered a keynote speech in New York City to the securities industry. It was an opportunity address an important industry, but also a chance to meet 78-year-old Richard Ravitch, a titan of business, finance and public policy in the city.

Ravitch, who most recently had been lieutenant governor of New York, had run the Metropolitan Transit Authority in the 1980s and helped restore the New York State Urban Development Corporation to solvency in the1970s.

Malloy said Ravitch’s views on public finance had influenced him, and Occhiogrosso recalls Malloy as a candidate circulating a Financial Times article about Ravitch’s warning against states borrowing to get to through financial downturns, reasoning that the next downturn too often came before such loans were paid off.

“It made me very certain,” Malloy said.