Present term: January 2007 to January 2011.
Noted: Rell is the first Republican woman to be elected governor of Connecticut. She is the second woman, following Democrat Ella T. Grasso, who was elected in 1974.
Milestones: Presided over Connecticut’s first execution in nearly 50 years…Signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions…Negotiated an agreement that led to sweeping campaign finance reforms…Vetoed a bill that would have repealed the death penalty.
Election history: Rell was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1984 and was re-elected in 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1992. She was elected lieutenant governor in 1994 and re-elected in 1998 and 2004 on a ticket led by John G. Rowland.
She became Connecticut’s 87th governor on July 1, 2004 after Rowland resigned during an impeachment inquiry and federal corruption investigation.
She easily won a term in her own right in 2006, defeating New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., a Democrat, and challengers from the Concerned Citizens and Green parties. She announced in late 2009 that she would not seek re-election in 2010.
2006 general election
|M. Jodi Rell (R)
|John DeStefano Jr. (D)
|Joseph A. Zdonczyk (CC)
|Clifford W. Thornton Jr. (G)
Background: M. Jodi Rell became governor on July 1, 2004 to the applause of state residents and relief of legislators, who were preparing to impeach her predecessor and running mate, John G. Rowland.
“The time to heal has begun,” Rell said in her inaugural address, delivered from the north steps of the State Capitol, overlooking Bushnell Park. She outlined new ethics rules, quickly distancing herself from Rowland. “Let the message be clear: From this day forward, if you are entrusted with public office, you will uphold the highest standards of public integrity and ethical principles.”
Overnight, Rell went from a relative unknown to one of the nation’s most popular chief executives. On the eve of taking control of Connecticut’s government, 59 percent of those polled by Quinnipiac University had no opinion of her. Her approval rating hit 73 percent a month later, then climbed to 77 percent in September and 80 percent in November.
Five years later, some politicians complained that her popularity was evidence of a politician unwilling to ever spend political capital. But her appeal to the public remained strong, despite the bad economy and the state’s nagging budget crisis. In November 2009, a Quinnipiac poll showed her approval rating at 64 percent, up from her low of 59 percent two months earlier. Sixty-nine percent said she had strong leadership qualities and 76 percent called her honest and trustworthy.
Her decision not to seek another term came as Rell and the Democratic legislature struggled over how to close a significant budget gap for the 2010 fiscal year, with bigger challenges over the horizon. In November 2009, the legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the shortfall could reach nearly $3.3 billion by the 2012 fiscal year.
Rell called the decision personal, not political. Rell, who turns 64 in June, has three grandchildren, two of whom live in Colorado. She and her husband each have had cancer. She said their health is good, but the experience helped them focus on how they wanted to spend the next five years. Another term would have meant being a full-time chief executive until she was 68.
Rell was born June 16, 1946 in Norfolk, Va. She dropped out of Old Dominion University in 1967 to marry Louis Rell, a naval aviator-turned airline pilot. They relocated to Brookfield, Conn., a rural community popular with airline pilots based in New York.
Her introduction to politics was a Brookfield Republican Women’s Club tea. As a stay-at-home mother of two children, Meredith and Michael, Rell limited her political involvement to stuffing envelopes and doing the campaign books for her local legislator, Rep. David Smith, an Eastern Airlines pilot. Then Smith decided to retire and asked a reluctant Rell to seek his seat. It took three tries by Smith and coaxing from her husband to convince her to run. She won with 64 percent of the vote.
Her first two-year term was the last time Republicans controlled the state House. She rose to deputy House minority leader and was named Rowland’s running mate in 1994. When Rowland sought and won a third term in 2002, Rell gave up on the idea of seeking the officer herself. But Rowland was tripped up by his reliance on aides, contractors and others to pay his bills and underwrite vacations and the renovation of a cottage.
Rell made ethics reform her first priority. When the legislature convened in January 2005, she proposed banning campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. The Democratic legislature countered with a proposal to marry a ban on special-interest money with public financing of campaigns. After nearly a year of protracted negotiations, the legislature and Rell created the Citizens’ Election Program.
But her administration suffered an ethics embarrassment during her election campaign in late 2005, when Rell’s chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, violated Rell’s own ethics rules by soliciting state commissioners and others for contributions to Rell’s campaign inside the executive suite at the Capitol.
One of those Moody solicited was Rachel Rubin, who had been appointed by Rell on the first day of her administration as the “ethics czar.” In her note to Rubin, Moody wrote, “Pony up, Czarina.”
In her inaugural, Rell had said Rubin would “aggressively educate and train state employees on both the spirit and letter of the laws regarding ethics.” Moody later said she did not pay attention to a memo from Rubin that explicitly warned against politicking on state time, even though she issued the memo to the governor’s staff under her own name.
Rell suspended Moody without pay for two weeks, but she refused to fire the aide who remained her closest confidante through her tenures as lieutenant governor and governor.
In 2009, Moody once again drew unwanted attention for mixing politics and public policy by employing a University of Connecticut pollster to provide political advice. The arrangement prompted an internal review at UConn and an investigation by the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
Rell’s accomplishments as governor included leading a bipartisan effort to reverse a Pentagon recommendation to close the submarine base in Groton, working with the legislature to fund a stem-cell research program and creating the Charter Oak Health Plan, which provided coverage of some uninsured adults.
Her party struggled during her tenure, losing legislative seats in 2006 and 2008.
Rell and her husband each had bouts of cancer. Rell was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in December 2004. Nine days later, she delivered her first State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly on January 5, 2005.
2008 Financial Disclosure: Rell reported no wages outside her gubernatorial salary. Her husband collected a salary from the company he partly owns, S&L Transportation, a medical transport company in Brookfield.
Rell and her husband own their home in Brookfield, a condominium in Brookfield and a house in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. They had rental income from the condo and Florida house.
The Rells had limited investments in securities worth more than $5,000. They primarily have investments in several Vanguard mutual funds.
Rell voluntarily disclosed owing more than $10,000 to Countrywide Home Loans of Simi, Calif.
A note on financial disclosure: Every spring, officials are required to disclose the ownership of real estate, the source of any income exceeding $1,000 in the previous calendar year and securities worth more than $5,000. They also are required to file an addendum in which they report any debt of more than $10,000; this may by law be kept confidential.