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Governor Rell Has Lost the Political High Ground

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An article in the Hartford Courant directs the attention of the public to the fact that Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell is willing to play the political game she so characteristically has asked others not to employ.  In all her attempts to save the state money and close a $1 billion dollar budget hole for this fiscal year, Governor Rell has decided that politics as usual should continue. One would think that the governor would want to save money wherever possible.  However, when the executive director of external affairs of the Connecticut judicial branch tried to help, the Governor was either not interested or not paying attention.

Last December, Melissa Farley, the judicial branch's executive director of external affairs and legislative liaison, called the governor's office to request that 9 judicial positions not be appointed because they were not needed. This would save about $2 million that are desperately needed for the budget deficit. In at least 2 incidents documented by the Hartford Courant, the governor's office refused to back down from nominating judges to save the money. The governor's office claims that the judges are needed. This directly contradicts Ms Farley's claims.  This incident could be overlooked, had it not been for the recent discovery that the governor has no clue as to how much the deficit in the new fiscal year starting on June 30 will be.  In late January Governor Rell first stated that there would be a $8 billion dollar budget deficit for the new fiscal year. However, her annual budget proposal submitted the first of February covered only a $6 billion dollar gap. The latest number is $8.7 billion according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. To cover up her latest blunder the governor is now calling for a budget summit with members of her budget team and the Office of Fiscal Analysis. This should have been done before the governor submitted her budget.

Now the story gets even more interesting as John Lender writes in the article noted above. As recently as last December, the chief court administrator, Judge Barbara Quinn had personally called the Governor's top aid Lisa Moody to head off filling the proposed nominations. The judicial branch simply did not need the judges. However, this is contrary to the claims of the Governor's spokesman Rich Harris who questioned the  Judicial Branch's aggressiveness in addressing the issue. Harris stated that the Judicial Branch had not been aggressive enough in pursuing the non-appointment of judges. What should the chief court administrator have done to be more aggressive? She called the top aid of the governor. Should Judge Quinn have gone to the Chief Justice of the Connecticut State Supreme Court and have her call the governor? Clearly, the governor's office had every interest in naming appointees. Forget saving the much needed money.

Ffom this latest turn of political events, one can see that the governor's aids are not serving her well. Clearly, they knew about the request of the judicial branch. They have placed the governor in a position that most aids try to avoid. The question of leadership now arises among the public in two areas. First, if the governor did not know about the request of the Judicial Branch, why didn't she? This makes one wonder who is in control in the governor's office. On the other hand, if the governor's aids did not inform her they are guilty of malfeasance and a house cleaning should be in order. Secondly, if Rell did know of the request, she is now guilty of playing the old political game that she claims she is above.  She has now lost the moral high ground. Judicial positions remain prized plums for political favors. In all likelihood, she probably thought this would never see the light of day. That was a big mistake.  At a time of huge budget deficits, this could have been a political point she could have used by forestalling the appointments especially given the recent budget she just submitted cutting the health programs of the very poor. Instead, Connecticut will have 9 new judges that they don't need within the year.

When one works in the political arena, the political game can be a closed system. The role of making deals and doing favors is nothing new. Since 2004, Governor Rell has attempted to be above politics as usual, a refreshing change from the corrupt politics of former governor and prison inmate John Rowland. This latest intrigue has caused more than one politico in Hartford to pause for thought. This will not go down well with a legislature that is being asked to cut most state social programs nor will it bode well for up and coming budget negotiations.  It appears that Rell's days of taking the high road are over. 

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