Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday in a nationally televised State of the State speech that Connecticut must not turn its schools into armed camps in response to the murders of 26 educators and children in Newtown.
"Let me be clear. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom," Malloy said to the applause of legislators. "That is not who we are in Connecticut, and it is not who we will allow ourselves to become."
Malloy began and ended his third annual State of the State address on the opening day of the General Assembly session with repeated references to the 20 first-graders and six educators shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14.
He offered no policy initiatives in the address, a first for the first-term Democratic governor.
The speech was carried live for a national audience on C-Span, as well as the state's public affairs' network, CT-N, and Connecticut stations.
"It won't surprise you that this speech is very different from the one I first envisioned giving," Malloy said. "In the early days of December, I began thinking about what I'd like to say today. Now, while it's only been a few short weeks on the calendar, we have all walked a very long and very dark road together."
Malloy issued a call for unity as the state explores measures on gun control, mental health and school security in the opening weeks of the 2013 General Assembly.
But he used the broad themes of resilience and persistence in the face of challenges to also cast his administration in a positive light, defending his use of a $1.5 billion tax increase as part of a solution to an inherited $3.6 billion deficit in his first year.
Elements of the 26-minute speech could have been written before Dec. 14. He hit a defiant note, one that didn't jibe with the overall tone of the address, in defending his budget approach, even though Connecticut is facing new fiscal pressures as the economy continues to sputter.
"Anyone who tells you that the budget we passed two years ago didn't do its job, that it didn't make real change in how we approach our finances, is simply not telling the truth," Malloy said.
He also recited his administration's accomplishments, standard fare for a governor passing the midpoint of his first term. He faces re-election in 2014.
Malloy contrasted Connecticut politics with the gridlock of Washington, noting that much of the major legislation put forward by his administration on education, energy policy, economic development and new demands on utilities after two storms in 2011 passed with the support of Republicans.
"If these past two years have proven anything, it's that we have the ability to rally around a common good and a common goal," Malloy said. "We've done it in a way that just doesn't seem possible these days in some places, certainly not in Washington D.C."
But Newtown set the tone.
Legislators stood and applauded as Malloy introduced Newtown's first selectman, Patricia Llodra, and its school superintendent, Janet Robinson, the two women who have led Newtown through the loss of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook.
"Tested by unimaginable tragedy, your compassion and leadership over the past month has been an inspiration to Connecticut, and to me personally," Malloy said.
Malloy, whose State of the State speech a year ago set off a battle with teachers on education reforms, praised the profession as he pointed to the inspiration and courage exhibited on that dark day.
"In the midst of one of the worst days in our history, we also saw the best of our state," Malloy said. "Teachers and a therapist that sacrificed their lives protecting students. A principal and school psychologist that ran selflessly into harm's way."
He talked about the police officers and firefighters who responded to the shooting, the town officials who brought comfort and stability to Newtown and teachers who quickly returned to the classroom.
"And then, of course, there are the families," said Malloy, whose voice broke as he talked about the victims and the first-responders. "Twenty-six families that, despite an unimaginable loss, have gotten up each and every day since, have been there for one another, and have supported their community as much as that community has supported them.
"They have persevered. And in that perseverance, we all find strength. We have lifted one another up and continued on, carrying the spirit of our fallen heroes, our wounded families, and our beautiful lost children."
Malloy won bipartisan praise for his call for a bipartisan response to the shooting in Newtown, though Republicans responded cooly to the governor's defense of his fiscal policies.
"I thought the governor struck the perfect tone," said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. "The governor understands we want to work as Democrats and Republicans to make our communities safer."
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who became the new leader of the House on Wednesday, predicted both parties could find common ground tightening gun permits and licensing, as well as certain components of the statutes governing background checks for weapons purchasers.
"There are huge loopholes that exist right now" involving screenings for those looking to buy rilfes with high-capacity magazines, he said.
The Republican minority leaders, Sen. John P. McKinney of Fairfield and Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk, said they are optimistic that both parties will work together, whether it involves gun control, treatment of mental illnesses or enhanced school security.
"I truly believe we will have a multi-faceted bipartisan approach to what happened in Newtown," said McKinney, whose district includes Newtown. He said there are "areas of controversy," such as making the names and addresses of gun owners public record, but "we should all take a step back and look at all of this."
"When you work together, good things happen," Cafero said, adding that there have been bipartisan successes over the last two years including an October 2011 jobs initiative and the most recent deficit-mitigation bill.
The governor did rankle GOP leaders, though, when he declared his efforts to close the largest budget deficit in state history a success.
When Malloy took office in January 2011, analysts were projected a nearly 20 percent gap in the operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a hole of nearly $3.7 billion.
And though state government finished about $140 million in the red in 2011-12, and lawmakers met just last month to close a $365 million gap in current finances -- both deficits of less than 2 percent -- a much larger shortfall of almost $1.2 billion is projected for the fiscal year starting July 1.
So while Malloy insists that the mess he inherited has been cleaned up, "I would submit that is has not, unfortunately," Cafero said. "Our fiscal problems have surfaced again."
"I obviously didn't agree that his budget was a success," McKinney said, adding that the Democratic governor's fiscal approach in the first two years as a "go-it-alone budget" that excluded Republican calls for deeper spending cuts.
Related: Text of Malloy's speech