Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R)
Elected: Assumed office July 2004, term expires Jan. 2011, 1st full term.
Born: June 16, 1946, Norfolk, VA .
Education: Attended Old Dominion U., Western CT St. U..
Family: Married (Louis); 2 children.
Elected office: CT House of Reps., 1984-1994; Lt. gov., 1994-2004.
M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, became the 87th governor of Connecticut in July 2004 after the resignation of John Rowland, also a Republican. Rell was born Mary Carolyn Reavis and grew up in Norfolk, Va. Her mother died when she was 7 years old. She spent summers with relatives in North Carolina, picking tobacco and driving a truck. A teenage boyfriend nicknamed her Jodi. She attended Old Dominion University but dropped out to marry her husband, Louis Rell, a Navy pilot. After military service, he became a pilot for what was then Trans World Airlines, and the Rells moved to Parsippany, N.J. They later moved to Brookfield, Conn., to a house built in 1843 with views of wild turkeys, deer, and foxes. Rell worked as an office clerk for an investment firm in Danbury. After her children were born, she became a stay-at-home mom, active in the PTA and a volunteer for the local Republican Party. She took classes at Western Connecticut State University but did not graduate. In 1984, Brookfield state Rep. David Smith, an Eastern Airlines pilot, told Rell that he was not running for re-election and thought that she should run for the seat. Connecticut has small legislative districts, and this one was heavily Republican. Rell was elected with 64% of the vote.
|M. Jodi Rell (R)||710,048||(63%)|
|John DeStefano (D)||398,220||(35%)|
|M. Jodi Rell (R)||Unopposed|
In the state House, Rell’s maternal manner helped weld the minority Republicans into a solid voting bloc. House Minority Leader Robert Ward said: “When it appeared that most of us were supporting something that was good for the state, a good Republican issue, and, say, 90% of us were behind it, she knew if she could get us to 100% we’d be a more effective voice. That became known as ‘Rell’s Rule.’ ” She moved up the leadership ladder to become deputy minority leader. In 1994, Rowland, whom she had met 10 years earlier at a campaign event, was running for governor and asked her to be his lieutenant governor. The Rowland-Rell ticket won a narrow victory in a three-way race, and then was re-elected in 1998 with 63% of the vote and in 2002 with 56%. As lieutenant governor, Rell presided over the state Senate, where she was regarded as businesslike and fair. Rowland named her his chief liaison to municipalities, and she traveled to all 169 Connecticut cities and towns. She continued to live in Brookfield, where she rose each morning at 5:30 and started the day with a two-hour walk. She was known for writing personal notes, baking brownies for her staff, and delivering food to friends when they were sick.
Scandals dominated the headlines during Rowland’s last term. In 1999, former state Treasurer Paul Silvester, a Republican appointed by Rowland, pleaded guilty to federal charges involving a scheme to steer state pension funds to investment firms in return for campaign contributions. Rowland was forced to fire his two co-chiefs of staff in connection with the troubled Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, the state trash-collection agency, and in March 2003, Rowland’s former deputy chief of staff pleaded guilty to accepting bribes. Then, in December 2003, charges surfaced that Rowland had accepted gifts from contractors who had received $100 million-plus no-bid contracts. Rowland said he hadn’t received gifts, but then admitted he had lied.
Rowland’s poll numbers plummeted, and three newspapers called for his resignation. Rell, who by all accounts had not been part of Rowland’s inner circle, said, “I feel sick at heart. I’m disappointed, and I’m angry.” As the state House geared up for impeachment proceedings, Rowland announced he would resign on July 1, 2004. (He later pleaded guilty to income-tax evasion and served 10 months in a federal prison.) On that day, Rell was sworn in as governor. “Today, we begin to restore faith, integrity, and honor to our government,” she said. Rell announced that she would accept no gifts of any kind. She demanded that all appointees submit resignations, and she proceeded to fire four commissioners and accept the resignation of a fifth. She installed an ethics lawyer in the governor’s office, ordered a review of contracting provisions, and banned lobbyists from her office. In October, she suspended four transportation managers after contracting irregularities were discovered. In June 2004, her favorable job rating in polls was just 34%. By November, it was at 80%.
In December 2004, Rell received a diagnosis of breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. A few days later, she delivered a State of the State address at the Capitol as legislators of both parties applauded and wept. She unveiled a budget that raised cigarette, alcohol, and gasoline taxes to close a projected $1.2 billion deficit. Democratic leaders insisted on a “millionaire’s tax” on people who earned more than $1 million annually, and Rell said she would go along if Democrats agreed to spending cuts. In June 2005, when the budget deal was hammered out, neither side got exactly what it wanted. The sin and gasoline taxes were not increased and no millionaire’s tax was enacted. Rather, the state restored its tax on the transfer of estates valued at $2 million or more. Rell also signed measures that established a 10-year, $100 million plan to fund embryonic-and adult-stem-cell research, increased the minimum wage, and allowed civil unions for same-sex couples. She vetoed a heavily lobbied bill that would have restricted the sale of junk food in schools and mandated at least 20 minutes of recess every day for elementary school children. Rell said it infringed on local control of schools; some school officials were reluctant to give up vending-machine revenues. She also vetoed a major ethics bill, prompted by the Rowland scandal, that was designed to stop corrupt contracting practices. Instead, she issued an executive order with many of the same provisions that gave the governor the power to appoint all five members to a state contracting standards board.
After refusing for a time to say whether she would seek a full term in 2006, Rell announced in October 2005 that she was running. “I want you to believe in me,” she said. “I want you to know I’m a different kind of governor.” That month, she called a special session of the Legislature to deal with campaign finance reform, which lawmakers had failed to pass in the regular session that ended in June. In December, she signed into law a wide-ranging measure that created a voluntary system of public financing for statewide office, and banned contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. As with many of her other accomplishments, Rell worked with Democrats, who held large majorities in both chambers, to get the law passed.
In 2006, a budget surplus led her to seek elimination of the property tax on noncommercial motor vehicles, which she partially paid for by eliminating the property-tax credit under the state income tax—a credit created by Democrats. All in all, her tax relief proposals totaled about $295 million, pleasing even Republicans who had voted against her budget the year before. Her earnest and pragmatic style kept her riding high in the polls. “She’s already at 80 percent,” Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, told the Connecticut Post in April 2006. “I don’t know if she can get any higher.”
On the Democratic side, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy battled for the gubernatorial nomination through the summer. With support from labor unions, DeStefano won 51%-49%, but ended up paired with Malloy’s designated running mate for lieutenant governor, former Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman, who defeated his preferred candidate, West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka.
Sprawl and job creation were key issues in the general election. Rell campaigned on her record, and used her executive powers to create an Office of Responsible Growth. DeStefano tried to link Rell to Rowland, running an ad with video from the 2002 Republican state convention where she referred to Rowland as “the greatest governor Connecticut has ever had.” But with three closely contested U.S. House races and a contentious Senate race involving Sen. Joe Lieberman, the governor’s race took a back seat that year. Rell ran a low-key campaign, eschewed negative ads, and raised nearly $4 million without accepting contributions from lobbyists or political action committees. DeStefano, after the hard-fought Democratic primary, struggled to raise money in the final weeks. Rell won 63%-35%, carrying Stamford, Waterbury, and nearly everywhere else outside the bigger cities. DeStefano won Bridgeport 56%-42% and carried New Haven and Hartford with 65% or more, but turnout in those areas was too low to overcome Rell’s suburban margins across the state.
In February 2007, Rell shocked both Democrats and Republicans with a two-year, $36 billion budget that called for a $3 billion increase in the state income tax over five years, from 5% to 5.5%, to significantly boost education spending. She told legislators that it was time to invest “in the generations—in this generation and in the generations to come.” The increase signaled the first proposal from a Connecticut governor to raise rates since the state income tax cap was instituted in 1991. Her push for more education funding stunned Republicans, and one Democratic lawmaker gleefully told The Hartford Courant, “Frankly, you could just put a Democratic head on her shoulders, because it sounded more like a Democratic response to major issues in our state.” Democrats supported her emphasis on education, but some questioned whether her motives were aimed at enhancing her résumé for a run for higher office. Democratic House Speaker James Amann, with whom Rell had a testy relationship, told The Courant that she “didn’t have the guts to tell people” in her 2006 election that she planned to raise taxes.
Democrats countered with a plan supporting some of Rell’s education increases while adding more health care funding. Their tax hike affected only couples making more than $190,000. Rell said she would veto the Democratic plan, but with Democrats holding veto-proof majorities in both chambers, she said she was open to negotiations. Republican lawmakers had a “no tax increase” proposal but were mostly sidelined. By May 2007, Rell had shied away from her own tax plan, instead saying that her budget could be passed without the tax hikes thanks to a projected budget surplus of $1.2 billion. However, the Senate and House passed competing plans, both with tax increases and each differing over the tax burden on wealthier taxpayers. The final bill contained Rell’s proposed increase in the cigarette tax to $2 per pack, up from $1.51, but her proposals to eliminate personal property taxes on cars and to enact a 3% cap on annual property-tax increases were left out.
With the economy trending downward, Rell took a different approach in 2008. She did not propose raising taxes or increasing the state’s spending cap. To spur growth, she proposed cutting business taxes and hiring more state troopers to improve public safety, primarily on roads. But the state’s fiscal crisis grew critical—with an $80 million deficit—and legislators agreed to leave the second year of the two-year budget they had passed in 2007 in place. Rell and the Legislature did agree on a mortgage bill to provide lower interest rates to struggling homeowners. Lawmakers also approved an increase in the state’s hourly minimum wage, from $7.65 to $8 by 2009 and to $8.25 in 2010. Although she had signed a previous increase, Rell vetoed the bill, citing the weak economy and potential harm to employers. The Legislature narrowly overrode Rell’s veto, by a single vote in both the House and Senate. She also vetoed a controversial health care bill that would have allowed municipalities and small businesses to join the state’s health insurance plan, promising to work with legislators the following year on a better bill.
Heading into 2009, another budget battle was brewing. In a $19 billion, one-year proposal, Rell promised not to cut municipal aid or raise taxes, although the state faced a deficit of nearly $6 billion over two years in maintaining its current level of service. Detractors said that her revenue estimates were too optimistic. One of her proposals to boost revenues was to allow bars at casinos to stay open 24 hours, but after a Connecticut College student was killed in a drunken-driving accident, Rell said she would rethink that proposal. In the spring of 2009, Rell was widely expected to run for a second full term. Her old nemesis, Amann, who retired from the state House in 2008, had already announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Stamford Mayor Malloy were also expected to run in the Democratic primary.