Attorney General George Jepsen stunned fellow Democrats on Monday by announcing he will not seek a third term in 2018, inviting a scramble for what may be the most attractive state office in Connecticut politics right now.
Jepsen, 63, a former state Senate majority leader and Democratic state chairman, said he wants to leave office at 64, young enough for one more chapter in a long career in politics, government and law.
“The decision feels right in my gut, and I’m looking forward to what the next chapter is that we’re going to write,” Jepsen said at a press conference, accompanied by his wife, Diana Sousa. He was the recipient of feelers about high-level jobs in government, academics, law and business that made him think about life after elective politics.
“I’m not looking to run for higher office. I have no health issues,” Jepsen said. But after his announcement last summer that he would not run for governor, he and his wife began talking about whether he should seek re-election for a term that would commit him through his 68th birthday.
He said he reached a conclusion two months ago that two terms as attorney general would be enough, but he waited to finalize the decision until Thanksgiving, when their two sons came home. Jepsen called it “a family decision that was completed over the weekend.”
Jepsen’s announcement was a rarity in politics: a secret that held. He held the secret close until Monday morning with a few exceptions, including his wife and his top deputy, Perry Zinn-Rowthorn.
“I think this will take everyone or has taken everyone by surprise and shock,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a long-time friend. He smiled and added, “Some number of the 35 or 60 running for governor will probably decide to run for attorney general, if I had to guess.”
Two of Jepsen’s predecessors, Richard Blumenthal and Joseph Lieberman, used the office as a springboard to the U.S. Senate. In a state in chronic fiscal distress, it is far more attractive than jumping into the open race to succeed Malloy.
Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor now exploring a run for governor, declined to say if he would consider declaring for attorney general, saying the day’s news should be about Jepsen. Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, issued a similar statement, deferring comment on his 2018 plans until Tuesday.
Elin Swanson Katz, the state consumer counsel, said she was exploring a campaign for attorney general, which she says would be a natural step from her present job. “It’s certainly something I’m talking about with family and friends,” she said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he had a number of telephone conversations after Jepsen’s decision went public, but his intention remains to seek re-election to the House.
Jepsen follows Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman in announcing they will not run in 2018, setting the stage for a wide open Democratic nominating convention in May.
Chris Dodd’s decision in 2010 against seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate immediately drew Blumenthal into the race to succeed him. Jepsen and then-Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz became the front runners to succeed Blumenthal.
Bysiewicz’s run was derailed by a state statute from 1897 requiring “at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state” to be attorney general.
In a declaratory ruling sought by Bysiewicz, a Superior Court judge found that her duties as secretary of the state could be considered the practice of law, giving her the minimum 10 years required. The Connecticut Republican Party appealed to the Supreme Court, which unanimously overruled the lower-court decision and disqualified her from running.
The court concluded that a candidate running for attorney general must have “at least some experience litigating cases in court” in Connecticut, a potential bar to lawyers with experience in other states or in specialties other than trial law. Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, for example, might have trouble meeting that standard.
Kennedy, who issued a statement in June ruling out a run for governor or any other statewide office to focus on his national advocacy work on behalf of the disabled, said nothing has changed.
Bysiewicz, who has been exploring a comeback in a state Senate race, could not be reached for comment.
No Republican has declared a candidacy for attorney general. But J.R. Romano, the Republican state chairman, said at least a half dozen Republicans were considering it, and Jepsen’s decision should only intensify interest.
Malloy was one of the officials Jepsen called Monday before his announcement.
“I have to tell you I was surprised and disappointed, but happy for him,” Malloy said. “This is the decision he came to. He was kind enough — we spoke about it. He has been an outstanding attorney general, and I have to say I don’t think you could have a governor-attorney general relationship better than we’ve had.”
Jepsen was a student of government before becoming a practitioner. He has a degree in government from Dartmouth, a law degree from Harvard and a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Jepsen, who recently finished a term as president of the National Association of Attorneys General, said he was proud of the bipartisan relationships he developed nationally as well as the major litigation his office has led, most recently a sweeping investigation into price-fixing in the generic drug industry.
He considered his predecessor, Blumenthal, a friend and political ally, while acknowledging different styles and personalities. One of the stylistic differences was a predilection by Jepsen for sharing the spotlight and credit with staff when holding press conferences on major cases.
Both politicians served as state representatives and state senators from Stamford before becoming attorney general.
“We have very similar values. We look to achieve the same outcomes,” Jepsen said Monday. “We have different personalities and by definition we serve in different times.”