Stamford – Another Republican governor from the oil patch visited Connecticut Tuesday to talk about jobs, but this time the agenda was low-key bipartisan cooperation, not high-profile job poaching. And Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, welcomed the visit.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Malloy, two first-term governors who took office in January 2011, co-hosted a regional summit on how states can better produce job-ready students, the first in a series of meetings Fallin is organizing as chair of the National Governors Association.
“The goal of this summit is to start a national conversation about why it is important to better align our education system, our policies, within our states, our programs, and to have business at the table with us,” Fallin said. “We’re starting that discussion at the top, with gubernatorial leadership. It is a bipartisan issue that we think is important for all our governors across the nation.”
Malloy joined Fallin at two roundtable discussions and at a press conference. The last time he interacted with a GOP governor on economic issues in Connecticut, Malloy was trading barbs with Fallin’s neighbor, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who came to Hartford in June to promote his state’s economic climate and make a pitch to Connecticut gun makers.
“A little different conversation,” Malloy said, smiling at the memory. “Rick’s not really governor, he is running for president.”
Oklahoma also was one of the states to make overtures to Connecticut’s firearms industry after the passage of gun control measures in response to the Newtown massacre, though Fallin was not directly involved. Malloy acknowledged Tuesday the line between competition and cooperation always is fuzzy with governors.
“It starts with competition,” Malloy said. “Let’s be honest, we’re all competing.”
Malloy and Fallin each were happy to contrast how governors tend to play politics differently than Congress, where Fallin served two terms in the House of Representatives before becoming governor.
“While Washington is in partisan gridlock, and certainly we’ve seen a lot of upheaval in the last couple of weeks, governors are leading the charge for solutions. We are getting things done,” Fallin said. “We’re stepping up to lead. I think Washington could actually take a couple of lessons from our governors and our states, that we’re trying to find solutions to problems. And we can find solutions in a bipartisan way.”
“We should also note that the governor left Washington so she could be governor,” Malloy said.
“Absolutely, and I’m very grateful,” Fallin said.
She later described Washington’s brinksmanship over the budget, Affordable Care Act and the debt ceiling as one of the bigger threats to her state’s economy.
“My prayer is they don’t mess it up for our state,” Fallin said. “We’re doing pretty good in Oklahoma.”
Fallin’s initiative as NGA chair parallels one of Malloy’s: Better focusing the education system on serving the need of employers, ensuring that the next generation of students are employable and that employers can continue creating jobs.
Malloy described Connecticut’s merger of community colleges, technical schools and the four Connecticut State University campuses into one system under a new Board of Regents that is attentive to the economy.
With a new initiative on science and engineering, the separate University of Connecticut also is paying closer attention to the needs of the state’s technology, aerospace and precision manufacturing companies.
“We are now looking at our universities as job producers,” Malloy said.
Malloy said he recently sat in on a conference that Pratt & Whitney Aircraft had with suppliers, who were told they will need to double or triple their output as Pratt produces engines for the F-135 joint strike force fighter and a new generation of fuel-efficient jetliners.
“Luckily, we’ve already begun the process of preparing our institutions for that challenge,” Malloy said.
The one-day meeting here in Stamford, the city where Malloy was mayor for 14 years, drew education, employment and economic development officials from 11 states. It opened as the U.S. Department of Labor released job data for September that was delayed by the federal shutdown.
The national unemployment rate dipped from 7.3 percent to 7.2 percent, but employers added only 148,000 jobs in September, down from 185,000 the previous month.
“The news is not as bright as we would like it to be,” Malloy said.
During one of the roundtable discussions, Malloy warned the officials about not being limited in their ambitions and their thinking by economic data, some of which only illustrates what was happening in the economy months or even years earlier.
He pointed to New York’s rapid growth as a player in the technology sector, telling his audience they need to be sensitive to trends.
Of course, there is a political dimension to that advice. Malloy, who is up for re-election next year, wants to be evaluated on initiatives that he says are setting up Connecticut for growth, not studies and surveys portraying the state as economically struggling.
“I am frequently held up to examination, my term as governor, is being held up using data that existed in 2010,” he said.
The key indicator used by economists shows job growth since Malloy became governor, but the pace is so slow that Connecticut is not likely to recover all jobs lost in the 2008 recession for another three years.
Malloy, who just returned from a weekend visit to the San Francisco area to raise money for the Connecticut Democratic Party in anticipation of 2014, said the nation’s governors are no strangers to partisan politics.
On the continuing debate over the Affordable Care Act, Republican and Democratic governors are sharply divided, with most GOP administrations rejecting a related federally funded expansion of Medicaid.
“Governors are capable of being partisan, let’s be honest,” he said. “And in some of our discussions, our private discussions, sometimes that shows itself. But the reality on big issues facing the United States, we have more often than not spoken with one voice.”
Most governors, regardless of political affiliation, denounced the federal shutdown and most have embraced education reform.
“I don’t think there are a whole lot of governors who aren’t having discussions with their higher education systems in their own state about listening to the needs of the private sector to make sure we are producing human capital that matches the future needs of the United States,” Malloy said. “We’ve all got to plow the highways and fill the potholes and find a way to pay for education. When we re talking about those issues, we are more often than not talking with one voice.”