Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Art of Rell

Passing nearly unnoticed this week was yet another poll showing Gov. Jodi Rell with absurdly high approval ratings, all across the board. While her high marks are always something to gawk at, the fact that she has sustained them for nearly two years is more remarkable yet. Connecticut has rarely had a governor so popular. John Rowland was, for a brief moment, just as popular as Rell during the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, but his pre-scandal ratings usually hovered in the 60s somewhere. Lowell Weicker wasn't well-liked at all--he never managed to get out of the 50s, and didn't break 50% after the income tax passed. Even Bill O'Neill, who was governor during the boom years of the 1980s, never saw popularity like this. His highest rating was 63%, in 1987.

For Weicker, O'Neill and Rowland, popularity seemed to be tied to how people felt about government and the state in general. In the mid 1980s, the economy was pretty good, and the state seemed like a decent place to live. So people liked Bill O'Neill, electing him in 1982 and 1986. However, when the late 1980s brought economic downturn and O'Neill was forced to raise taxes, voters turned on him and his ratings shot down.

Weicker never managed to have a sustained stretch of anything resembling popularity, although his willingness to force through and sign the income tax probably saved the state from financial oblivion.

John Rowland wasn't initially a particularly popular governor--his ratings were in the 50s for a very long time--until the boom years of the late 1990s boosted him into the 60s. He was most popular after September 11th, with a December 2001 rating of 74%, although his popularity sank back into the 60s for the 2002 election.

None of these three men can match Rell. That's odd, considering the economy is so-so, property taxes are high and transportation is a nightmare. So what's happening? Why is Rell so popular? Why do so many people from all over the political spectrum like her, despite what seems to be adverse circumstances?

One: Governor Everywoman

Rell, as suggested by this cartoon which ran today in the Courant, is adept at finding the middle ground and camping out there. Rowland was too ideologically conservative for a lot of people, but Rell doesn't fit that label. Civil unions? Public financing of campaigns? Stem cell research? These issues, all of which came from the landmark 2005 session, would never have made it past Rowland's desk.

Rell's ideas aren't radical. She doesn't seem ideological at all, in fact, and that's a big part of her appeal. She's Governor Everywoman: straightforward, thoughtful, honest and willing to compromise for the good of the whole. In an age where politicians all seem slick, fake, corrupt and blinded by power or ideology, that image is golden.

She probably doesn't deserve it. Rell is actually a skilled political player who is very, very good at keeping Democrats and even her own party off-balance to achieve her aims. Also, some Republicans grumble that she's too willing to sell them out to look good.

Two: Governor NotJohn

This has been the biggest reason given by Democrats for Rell's popularity, and there's a lot to it. Rell has been very good at distancing herself from Rowland in both policy and personality, and it's been a breath of fresh air for the state.

Rell's forceful backing of campaign finance reform in the face of what looked like Democratic apathy helped to turn around all the reform credentials the Democrats had amassed from the Rowland scandal. By the end of 2005, Rell seemed like the reformer, while the Democrats seemed like they were blocking the way.

Rell's uncanny ability to float above both Rowland's and her own administration has helped her to come out of every rough patch unscathed. Rowland scandals? Sorry, didn't know. Moody? Garfield? Never heard of them. Every scandal in the Rowland administration seemed to stick to the governor--not so in the Rell administration. She's teflon.

Three: Governor Grandma

She's just so likable. Remember the story about the kid who crashed into the governor's car? Do you remember what she did? Here's the quote:
Rell "got out of the car and went over and hugged the young lady and said, basically, `They are just cars and cars can be replaced. We're all fine,'" Wiltse said. (Pazniokas)
Wow. Can you imagine Lowell Weicker doing that? Or John Rowland?

That, and the fact that she doesn't live in the governor's mansion but in her family home in Brookfield, is a breast cancer survivor, dropped out of college to get married in the 1960s and, as the newspapers have been reminding us, is now a grandmother, makes her seem human. Normal. You want to root for her. Other governors and political figures seem to exist in a plane above our own. Rell doesn't. People liked Ella Grasso for the same reason: she seemed unpretentious and genuine.

It's easy for politics watchers and others to dismiss Rell as all artifice, and to point to her thin record on the economy and health care as reasons why Connecticut can't afford for her to stay on until 2011.

But what if it isn't all smoke and mirrors? What if you peeled away the layers of image and found pretty much the same woman? What if she really does deserve that high approval rating, even just a little bit?

What then?


Source
Pazniokas, Mark. "How Not To Meet a Governor..." Hartford Courant 22 February, 2006. B3.

27 comments:

MolotovCocktails said...

Rell is little more than a poodle. I can't wait until after the Dem primary to watch as Rell becomes a wet poodle.

To me Rell comes across as a big phony. Close colleagues with Rowland for 20+ years, and she never knew he was a crook? Then there's that lousy son of hers who stole a jetski, got off scott-free and now has a job courtesy of Mom's connections working for the GOP in the Statehouse.

Where is Rell's healthcare plan? Doesn't she see the desperate need for infrastructure improvement, particularly in FFLD County. And what are her plans for job growth?

Jodi is an empty suit. And to those Jodi lovers lurking around here, what do you love about her? The Civil Union bill? The public-funding of politicians? Her Schwarzenegger-like stand to repeal the car tax?

cgg said...

It's easy to be so likable when you don't take a position on anything. I mentioned her campaign site in an earlier thread today. No issue statements. No press releases about issues. How does she get away with that?

I see things heating up after the primary. Right now she's running against an unnamed Democrat. Come the fall she'll have an actualy opponent. At that point things should get interesting.

Genghis Conn said...

She doesn't have to, CGG. No one will call her on it. She can run on her personality, which is very, very dangerous if Democrats let it happen (esp. if DeStefano is the nominee).

DeanFan84 said...

My belief is that the Statehouse Dems are happy with Rell, (and being in charge of the $$$).

I blame their selfishness for Jodi's free ride and high numbers. (And State Central is a joke.)

The only Rell talking points I've heard from fellow Democrats are how she is so popular and will be almost impossible to beat. Brilliant!

Don Pesci said...

GK – “Weicker never managed to have a sustained stretch of anything resembling popularity, although his willingness to force through and sign the income tax probably saved the state from financial oblivion.”

Just one little bone to pick. On a good day, I suppose you could argue that Weicker “saved the state from financial oblivion” by instituting an income tax. Other people at the time argued that the income tax saved incumbent politicians from spending reform and set the state on a path of incremental spending that doubled the budget within the space of two governors. Weicker did tend to conflate “the state” with “courageous politicians like himself.” But the state, as we know, is everyone working and living in the state, not merely the governmental spendinbh machine. Among some other politicians, Weicker was popular; he saved them from making hard decisions. By the way, some people would define “financial oblivion” as an increase in spending from $7.5 billion under the last Democrat Governor, William O’Neil, to the present monstrosity -- $16 billion and rising. Name me one Democrat incumbent who thinks that such a massive increase in spending, in such a short period, points to “financial oblivian?”

turfgrrl said...

There's another way of looking at this, which is that if the CT legislature and constitutional officers are really setting the agenda and running things, then the really high approval ratings Rell gets is because the people polled see a smooth running state government and credit the top official. I have to agree that she outmaneuvered the dems on the campaign finance reforms, was smart. But does she have anything else in the tank? Will the dems take credit for keeping the state working?

CTObserver said...

"She's Governor Everywoman: straightforward, thoughtful, honest and willing to compromise for the good of the whole. In an age where politicians all seem slick, fake, corrupt and blinded by power or ideology, that image is golden." If it is more than an "image", what's wrong with that today? To those who claim she's an 'empty suit' or prattle on about the fact that she didn't graduate from college, what do you want? Better campaign finance reform? Talk to the D's in the General Assembly? Gay Marriage? Again, talk to the D's. Stem cell research? What more? She's basically keeping the state on an even keel, and frankly most voters are more than happy with that. The consumers of government services (providers and recipients) and the payors (high income, but not high wealth, as long as its not real estate) scream and howl about their own perceived injustices, but most people out here just work their job(s), watch what's taken out of their gross check, and go out and coach the kids' games.

An even keel looks pretty good.

AB said...

Do you fools even believe, John Destefano, who has the personality of a shrew and is one of th eleast likeable individuals in Ct politics is going to beat a Governor who just 7 shorts months before the election has unheard of popularity ratings? Thats just plain delusional.

She is liked because she is a smart and likeable individual. To the poster who commented that because she knew John Rowland for 20 years, she somehow didnt know he was a crook? What does that say about Hillary Clinton? She's been married to her husband all thsoe years and didnt know he was a cheat and a pathological liar? How abotu the the clinton cronies who were indicted and di jail time in Arkansas, the Clinton's never knew they were all crooks? Your logic assumes than than if you were friends with someone who after 20 years turns out to be criminal, you too must either be a criminal, ignorant or just plain stupid.

Its amazing how the personal attacks on Governor Rell are alreayd starting. Well I got news for you, the public, on both sides of the aisle who respect and admire her, are gonna be turned off my either the shrill Destefano and his attakcs or pretty boy Malloy and his fairfield county cronyism.

Get over it, the woman has been a good Governor.

AB said...

Do you fools even believe, John Destefano, who has the personality of a shrew and is one of th eleast likeable individuals in Ct politics is going to beat a Governor who just 7 shorts months before the election has unheard of popularity ratings? Thats just plain delusional.

She is liked because she is a smart and likeable individual. To the poster who commented that because she knew John Rowland for 20 years, she somehow didnt know he was a crook? What does that say about Hillary Clinton? She's been married to her husband all thsoe years and didnt know he was a cheat and a pathological liar? How abotu the the clinton cronies who were indicted and di jail time in Arkansas, the Clinton's never knew they were all crooks? Your logic assumes than than if you were friends with someone who after 20 years turns out to be criminal, you too must either be a criminal, ignorant or just plain stupid.

Its amazing how the personal attacks on Governor Rell are already starting. Well I got news for you, the public, on both sides of the aisle who respect and admire her, are gonna be turned off my either the shrill Destefano and his attakcs or pretty boy Malloy and his fairfield county cronyism.

Get over it, the woman has been a good Governor.

Wolcottboy said...
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Wolcottboy said...

Don't forget that the Governor often defers to the second most popular politician in Connecticut who at one time looked to be a possible challenger- Atty General Blumenthal. On the big issues of Civil Unions, et al, she's often looked for an official state law stance- keeping the status quo and looking for lack of an objection in current law. Blumenthal is probably her best and of course top-ranking advisor.

Which, as GC stated before, makes people in her own party nuts. But politically, why not? People often run when a scholarly lawyer says something, particularly when you can't argue against the texts and heavy case law its based on.

In more recent cases, such as the Plan B proposal vs. Catholic Church, it makes conservatives very nervous - will she defer to Blumenthal again?

Which is exactly why Blumenthal didn't run. Why would he need to when he has such a strong voice on public policy through the state's leader anyway?

MikeCT said...

Wolcottboy,

Rell doesn't look to Blumenthal's opinions for guidance but for political cover on controversial issues. ("Our lawyer said it was OK/we had to.")

RRDonovan said...

As someone who worked for Jodi Rell for over a year, I can say that she is everything that her "image" suggests. She always has been that way and really doesn't know how to be any different. I have worked for other people (inside politics and out) since working for her and can say that nobody listens as much as Jodi Rell. She makes every effort to see both sides of every issue and is truly conciliatory, rather than partisan. If that doesn't play well in a world of Rahm Emanuels, John DeStefanos, Tom DeLays and the like, so be it. I will always have the utmost respect for Jodi Rell. She's the genuine article, and the shallowness of our partisan political system is evidenced by the comments made by individuals who find her straightforward manner obnoxious.

BDRubenstein said...

Deanfan is close to the truth here...the fact is alot of democratic elected officials only go thru the motions of supporting the democratic nominee when they have been doing business with Rell and before her Rowland for years. Those democratic officials dont want to deal with a fellow democrat with as much or more power than they have. In my years as Finance Chair for the state democratic party we caught many elected democrats giving money to rowland,including former chiefs of staffs of one or more congrssional folks.

Belle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Belle said...

Belle said...
Poodle - dry or wet - Rell has a few advantages. When voters think of Rell, they see Rowland lurking in the background. They compare the two, and voila - Jodie Rell looks awfully upstanding.

She has a household name. I've talked to her, and she appears to be honest, and sincere. She's had breast cancer, and didn't miss a beat. She's strong. She's just become a grandmother. I'm sure she loves apple pie.She'll be hard to beat.

I think Malloy is the one who can. He has the presence, the "thing."
He speaks in a convincing and dynamic way.

Destefano comes across as a teacher, a lecturer. Some of his mannerisms are detractors. I've never seen him give a "stump"like speech.

What do you folks think? I'm still researching where Malloy stands on the issues.

Wolcottboy said...

Rell is honest, and that comes across as the Grandma Rell character. But, she plays the political game as well (Rell-Blumenthal '06). She speaks sincerely, but knows when to hide and let others do the dirty work for her. Its usually not hard to notice.

goodbye said...

There is an election for governor this year? Huh, few people are even talking about it that I know of.

DeanFan84 said...

That's right. The real campaign will start after Labor Day. Let's hope that Lieberman doesn't do that Indy run he's threatening, cuz it would destroy the Dems chances.

goodbye said...

cuz it would destroy the Dems chances Huh, chances of what? Awakening the public out of a what's sure to be a boring gubernatorial campaign among amateurs? The Senate race will be a race unto itself however it plays out..

cgg said...

I have to agree with what Belle says about DeStefano's speaking style. Much as I liked the content of his speech last week, it did feel more like a lecture. And constantly being asked to provide answers to his rhetorical-like questions got old fast.

goodbye said...

RRD says about Rell She makes every effort to see both sides of every issue and is truly conciliatory.. and that is her weak spot - she does not lead!!! But who knows if Malloy can show us he can help lead CT to something more than a state with high real estate costs and many sevice jobs as turffgrrrl pointed out on another post that we are headed to be.

FrankS said...

Rell's I'm not John Rowland act has served her well, while using her office to promote herself.

Take Rell's recent Bridgeport vist to spend bond money in developing Steel Point. It was lauded in the media, but never mentioned is the impact that her overdue juvenile detention facility would have in the same area.

She's adept at rewriting history to suit her image and our state's media reporters ignore her faults, as they did Rowland's for so long. If Malloy or DeStefano can begin a debate with her, the public can better measure her performance. Unitl then these polls are beauty contests.

goodbye said...

FrankS is absolutley right about how smooth Jodi is. She learned from the master of smooth, John Rowland. The local media makes too much money off of campaign advertising to go after any big time politician unless it is crystal that they are wrong. Inconsistency doesn't count with the media - they'll report the news but rarely make the right commentary.

And another Republican Governor goes down in a corruption scandal

Thomas Craven said...

Get over it, the woman has been a good Governor.

!


*we have a report of some bad acid going around. dont eat the brown acid.*

goodbye said...

I was thinking of taking a 'magic carpet ride' myself.

Rear_Admiral said...

Isn't it "1 in the Stink?"

Otherwise you're gettin' greedy.