There was no holiday poem, no list of who’s been naughty or nice. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in full-campaign mode today in his first holiday address to the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, a modern tradition for Connecticut governors.
Malloy saw a packed house of business owners and executives, and he worked on selling them on his way of governing, his work ethic and his vision of why Connecticut still can be a good place to do business.
For 20 minutes, Malloy made the case for why he was right to raise taxes, right to demand labor concessions and right to cut services. After 12 minutes, his voice was ragged. By the finish, he was hoarse.
“Start to compare us with other states who went down different roads than the ones we have gone down,” Malloy said. “A majority of the states are currently projecting deficits next year. Many of them will experience deficits this year.”
And neighboring New York, whose Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, promised to erase its deficit without raising taxes, is already facing a new fiscal crisis. Malloy reminded his audience he constantly heard suggestions that Connecticut should emulate New York.
“We did it right. We did it honestly. We did it upfront. And we did it all at once,” Malloy said.
Malloy said he knew his approach would be unpopular as he campaigned last year, ultimately winning the closest gubernatorial election in 56 years.
“You know, I almost lost that election. I was willing to lose that election, because I was not willing to lie to people,” he said. “The people who manage me — or try to manage me, is probably the better way to put it — told me that I should take the pledge that everybody else took, and that is to not raise taxes. And I wouldn’t.”
He didn’t mention that he came perilously close at one debate, when polls showed the race a tossup. But he never quite crossed that line.
Malloy said his budget now allows him to work on the state’s business climate. Some companies have thrived — 70,000 new jobs were created in the past quarter — but those gains have been offset by other employers who have cut back.
Over two decades, the state has no net job growth.
The governor, who just returned from a trip to Minnesota to woo an unnamed company to invest here, told them he intends to go to Europe, to Asia to find business and jobs.
“This is exactly what the membership needed to hear,” said Larry McHugh, the president of the chamber and the chairman of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees.
Starting with Gov. William A. O’Neill in 1989, the Middlesex holiday breakfast is an annual stop for every Connecticut governor, a place to reflect on the previous year, typically with a speech that is light as the season.
This was the venue where Gov. John G. Rowland, facing the gathering storm of a corruption scandal in 2003, stood by as his wife delivered a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” that attacked the press.
Last year, Gov. M. Jodi Rell delivered tongue-in-cheek holiday wishes and zingers to friends and rivals, as well as tweaking Rowland for forcing her to “restore a sense of honor to state government.”
There were a few laughs today. How could there not be, when one of the sponsors was the state’s embattled utility, Connecticut Light & Power?
Malloy was introduced by Chuck Shivery, the chief executive of Northeast Utilities, the parent of CL&P. The governor and CEO came to know each other well during the prolonged blackouts after two recent storms.
“Over the past several months, I’ve personally had the opportunity to meet with the governor,” Shivery said, then after waiting a beat: “Actually, many times.”
The audience laughed, as did Malloy.
“I want to start by thanking Larry McHugh for having Chuck introduce me, the one guy in the state who has had a tougher year than I had,” Malloy said. “Still standing, though.”
Still standing. That is how Malloy said he views his state and his administration after a tumultuous first year.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said Malloy knew this was an audience that probably wasn’t with him during the campaign. He wasn’t going to waste an opportunity to sell them on his approach to government and economic development.
But he was thronged after the speech for photos and handshakes.
On his way out the door, Malloy smiled when a reporter asked about the tone of the speech.
“No, I don’t do light,” Malloy said. Then he laughed, shook his head and repeated himself in a louder voice. “No, I don’t do light.”