The stated cause of Bernie Sanders’ displeasure with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as co-chair of the Democratic platform committee stems from his being one of Hillary Clinton’s “aggressive attack surrogates,” not deficiencies as a progressive politician.
But controversy over Malloy’s suitability as an arbiter of the Democratic agenda coincides with a reappraisal of the liberal credentials of a man described by The Daily Beast on the eve of his 2014 re-election as the “progressives’ dream governor.”
Malloy, 60, has been miscast throughout his 20-year career as one extreme or another. As a Stamford mayor and supporter of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, he was denigrated in leftwing chat rooms as “DLC Dan,” his custom synonym for DINO, or Democrat In Name Only.
Then he was elected in 2010 as Connecticut’s first Democratic governor in two decades with the cross-endorsement of the Working Families Party, the labor offshoot that is backing Sanders, and soon became seen as one of the nation’s most effective liberal governors.
Malloy delivered the nation’s first state laws mandating paid sick days and a $10.10 minimum wage. He helped pass a sweeping gun control law, repeal capital punishment and discontinue mandatory sentences that disproportionately affected urban minorities. Long a reliable defender of gay and transgender rights, he more recently has been a voice of tolerance toward Muslim refugees.
“I think he’s missing that,” Malloy said recently of Sanders, softly chuckling. “I think he is missing that point. On progressive policy, I’ll take my record over many other Democrats, including some of the ones who are supporting him. The reality is we have embraced many of the same things – not all, not universal.”
No, not all the same things.
On the progressive issue of the moment, the fight against economic inequality that has fueled the popularity of Sanders, Malloy is an apostate whose fall from grace has been examined in recent weeks by Salon and The Atlantic. Malloy is defined now by a recently passed austerity budget and his insistence that any tax increase, including one directed at Connecticut’s still ample supply of millionaires, is counter-productive.
“This is like the identity crisis the Democratic Party is having right now. I think Malloy is a good illustration,” said Lindsay Farrell, the Connecticut director of the Working Families Party. “We see a budget which has thousands of layoffs and hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts and doesn’t do anything that feels like a shared sacrifice. We not only see that as bad policy that hurts the economy and harms Connecticut, it’s also bad politics. It alienates the base. It makes people question what the party stands for.”
The party and the governor are reliable on guns, marriage equality and abortion rights, but Farrell and others say the agenda has shifted, or at the very least expanded, to the more nuanced terrain of economic justice. As a whole, the party has been tentative on issues like a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave and measures that would penalize corporate giants like Walmart for relying on government to subsidize their employees’ health and housing.
Tom Swan, the executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, whose members have helped defeat more moderate Democrats in state legislative primaries, said Malloy has been uncharacteristically timid on economic issues since General Electric announced it would relocate its global headquarters from suburban Fairfield to Boston.
“It was surprising. He normally is a fighter,” Swan said. “He’s more inclined now to play favorably with the corporate community.”
Swan says Malloy not only falls short of Sanders’ positions on economic equality, he is at odds with some of Hillary Clinton’s biggest union backers: AFSCME, AFT and SEIU. “The people most mad at Malloy are the people Hillary most owes,” Swan said.
Progressives are furious that the exit of GE has come to define what ails the Connecticut tax and business climate. They see the move to a high-cost urban location as less about taxes and more about attracting a younger, tech-savvy workforce.
Malloy, who signed budgets with two of the state’s biggest tax increases, said as a governor he must be concerned with stability and competitiveness. A previous tax increase on upper-income earners failed to deliver projected revenues, and Connecticut’s business climate is dunned in many national rankings.
“I do have a concern as to whether the state is competitive, and we do have to measure ourselves against that,” Malloy said. “You need to grow a tax base ultimately to be successful and continue the programs you currently have and those programs you may wish to add in the future.”
Malloy said Sanders’ demand that he be removed as Platform Committee co-chair and that Barney Frank, the liberal former Massachusetts congressman, be removed as Rules Committee co-chair, had nothing to do with ideology.
‘Clearly, Barney and I were singled out because we have been advocates for the secretary, and I think in my case in particular on the gun issue, which I think has rankled the senator,” Malloy said. “Having said that, listen, he’s saying really important things, and I agree with many of them, not all of them, but many of them. They should be reflected in some way or another in the platform.”
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national chairwoman, made a conciliatory gesture Monday to Sanders in naming the Platform Drafting Committee, whose work will go to the separate Platform Committee co-chaired by Malloy and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.
Party rules gave Wasserman Schultz discretion in naming the drafting committee, but she deferred to Sanders and Clinton for 75 percent of the committee based on their current vote tally. Clinton got to choose six, Sanders five and Wasserman Schultz four.
“We believe we will have representation on the platform drafting committee to create a Democratic platform that reflects the views of millions of our supporters who want the party to address the needs of working families in this country and not just Wall Street, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry and other powerful special interests,” Sanders said in a statement.
Sanders’ previous complaints about Malloy and Frank went unmentioned in coverage of the compromise over the drafting committee.