Figuring Out Jodi Rell

The New York Times‘s Mark Pazniokas has penned a lengthy piece about Gov. Jodi Rell, in which people from all across the ideological spectrum wrack their brains to try and figure out where her immense popularity, strong even in the face of economic disaster, comes from.

Some respondents think it’s because she hasn’t made hard decisions.

“Politicians of all stripes who maintain high approval ratings sometimes do so at the expense of doing anything hard, making any tough decisions,” said [Yankee Institute head] Fergus Cullen.
[…]
“Change agents don’t have high approval ratings,” said State Representative David McCluskey, Democrat of West Hartford. “Change agents are the ones who polarize people. She is not a risk taker. She is playing it safe.” (Pazniokas)

This is an argument we’ve heard before. Rell is a lightweight who won’t make any tough decisions, she blows in the wind, reads the polls, gives the public what they want and never takes unpopular stands. There’s a certain amount of truth to that. Gov. Rell is constantly reinventing herself based on the situation.

And yet the public doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe part of the key to Rell’s popularity is that her variable convictions come from a place that is not ideological.

“She doesn’t have a real partisan identity,” said Adrienne Fulco, the director of the public policy and law program at Trinity College.

She doesn’t come off as a hypocrite, because she rarely appears as a representative of a particular ideological point of view. Or, as I’ve been suspecting for a while, voters care less about sticking with a single point of view than people in the political and pundit classes think. After the past eight (or thirty, really) years, who can blame them?

There’s an academic paper or twenty in trying to figure out the secret of why Jodi Rell is so popular. A few more of my own thoughts not covered above:

  • Rell comes across as very sensible and pragmatic without being preachy or dogmatic. She has an understated style that resonates with many people in this state. She isn’t particularly compelling or charismatic, but she has turned that into a strength. Her speeches, especially her high-profile ones, have tended to be simple, down to earth and straight to the point.
  • She’s kind of the un-politician, or at least, that’s her image. She does not project a huge ego (contrast with Rowland, John G). She is, however, politically adept. She’s out-maneuvered the Democratic leadership more than once. Speaking f the Democrats, they make a very useful foil for her (especially Jim Amann. She must miss him).
  • She didn’t have to run for governor before having occupied the office for over two years. I think this is crucial. The very things that make voters like Rell as governor would have been handicaps as a first-time gubernatorial candidate. Think about this: Rell made barely a splash in state politics before becoming John Rowland’s lieutenant governor, and kept a low profile during her lengthy tenure in that position. She briefly considered running in 2002 before Rowland announced for a third term. If that had happened, she would have had a difficult time. It’s hard to see her breaking out of a pack to win a primary, or defeating a Democratic opponent from the position of lieutenant governor in either 2002 or, if Rowland had not been brought down by scandal, in 2006. I don’t believe a sitting lieutenant governor has ever won the governorship in Connecticut’s modern history, either, which makes things even more difficult.
  • Lisa Moody plays an incredibly useful role in the Rell administration, in that she is the source of all political skulduggery, while Rell stays clean. Someone’s screwing Rob Simmons out of a job? Someone’s holding ethically questionable fundraisers? Someone’s got a list of arts donors? That must be Lisa Moody. Jodi Rell’s not involved. Moody soaks up all the badness. It reminds me of the old Russian trope that held that the Tsar was good and kind, it was just his advisers who were bleeding the people dry.
  • She keeps very intelligent, tight control of her image as a frugal, grandmotherly, competent figure. Everything she does reinforces this image, which is why recent criticisms of her as being disconnected or even absent from her job have not stuck. No attacks lobbed against Rell by Democrats have ever managed to pierce this image. They may have more success as 2010 rolls around, but it isn’t something to count on.
  • People like divided government. I don’t know how large of a role this plays in the complex set of factors that make up her popularity, but I do think that Rell acts as a counterbalance to the Democrats, and that many voters like her in that role.

Rell has yet to announce for 2010, but I would be very surprised if she decided to pass on re-election at this point. She will almost certainly be re-nominated by the GOP, despite some differences with her party. Whichever Democrat emerges from what is certain to be a hotly-contested primary will face a mountain to climb.

Rell’s stratospheric popularity has survived five years, a re-election campaign, several small scandals and a financial meltdown. It is, despite all claims to the contrary, solid. Is there anything (or anyone) out there capable of putting a dent in it?

Source
Pazniokas, Mark. “What Polls Don’t Tell About Gov. Rell.” New York Times 10 April, 2009.

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14 responses to “Figuring Out Jodi Rell

  1. Bruce Rubenstein

    good post Chris…i think her popularity is abit all of the above with no one example being very dominant. Having said that, its my belief that if she and/or her husband is in sound health, she will run again. This crew of 3 aspirants will have a very hard time running against her….that isnt to say that Rell is unbeatable.The way to beat Rell is to make use of the large regisration lead that the democrats have and stir up the base….neither of the 3 candidates are the stirring up type. They seem to prefer the running as a safe moderate roll, which by their personalities,politics and known positions on issues, they are,which will not excite the base in the area where the democrats have the advantage.

  2. People like divided government. I don’t know how large of a role this plays in the complex set of factors that make up her popularity, but I do think that Rell acts as a counterbalance to the Democrats, and that many voters like her in that role.

    It is generally true that people like divided government, however, we do NOT have divided government in Connecticut. Holding super majorities in both chambers in the legislature, every constitutional office and having a liberal Supreme Court vs. a Governor is in no way “divided” government.

  3. way2moderate

    Holding super majorities in both chambers in the legislature, every constitutional office and having a liberal Supreme Court vs. a Governor is in no way “divided” government.

    Not to be picky, but the Governor is a constitutional office. So is the Lt. Governor.

    The “other” Constitutional offices, assuming that’s what you mean, don’t get to veto legislation. Nor does the Supreme Court — at least not in the same legisllative way. And they don’t oversee the activities of the vast state bureaucracy.

    So long as the Governor enjoys stratospheric approval ratings, and thus can move public opinion when she chooses to, state government is divided. And it matters.

  4. Connecticut throughout Rowland/Rell enjoyed a period of economic stability, this has avoided the major tax shifts to raise revenue that dooms political approval ratings. O’Neill and Weicker both touched this “third rail” in facing the task of balancing major revenue losses and spending budgets, each declined to seek office again after their approval ratings dropped.

    Rell now faces this task, without much legislative support from her party, in determining to embrace spending cuts or revenue increases.

  5. “Change agents don’t have high approval ratings,” said State Representative David McCluskey, Democrat of West Hartford. “Change agents are the ones who polarize people. She is not a risk taker. She is playing it safe.” (Pazniokas)

    Pure stupidity. Which isn’t surprising considering the lightweight source.

    Change agents don’t get high approval ratings? I thought his idol Barack Obama was a change agent? No? His approval ratings are rather high now, are they not?

    Jodi Rell has made far more difficult decisions than a third-rate political hack and union shill like David McCluskey ever will in his stunted, insignificant political career. The only one who has trimmed the state budget so far in any significant way through recisions, or proposing agency consolidations or eliminations is Jodi Rell and Republicans.

    What difficult choices has McCluskey made? Raising taxes? Give me a break. If a failure to make tough choices and “playing it safe” equaled high approval ratings, David McCluskey could be elected God.

  6. Happy Monday Heady!

    You may want to ease off the caffeine a bit and go outside and enjoy this Spring Day. Way too much vitriol so earl in the am..

  7. Bruce Rubenstein

    Headless…..the attacks on McCluskey are outside the bounds…keep it civil …you can disagree with him on issues and policy of course, but calling him names and disparaging him in print is wrong….

  8. You may want to ease off the caffeine a bit and go outside and enjoy this Spring Day. Way too much vitriol so earl in the am..

    I wouldn’t want to confess enjoying a Spring day to you. You might levy an enjoyment conveyance tax.

    Now that we’re out of the morning hours perhaps the honorable deputy speaker can enlighten us on his remarks in the NYT.

    If what he says is true, and if Barack Obama is a change agent, why is his approval rating so high? Or perhaps McCluskey reveals what he really thinks and knows… Obama isn’t an agent of change at all, and simply represents a new face on the failed old liberal way of doing things.

    Next, please treat us to an example of courageous legislative decisions being made in the General Assembly. The empty rhetoric out of Democrats at the Capitol is that the Governor isn’t leading when in fact she is the only one who has actually made some difficult choices. Democrats just decided not to cut anything and just bond our deficit. Truly courageous!

  9. Hi Heady, As you neglected to mention, my printed comments were similar to Fergus Cullen’s. In general, people don’t like / reward difficult change. George Bush’s 8 years in office, made Americans more willing to risk voting for Obama, a black president with a change message.

    I guess Civil Union would be a vote that was one of the most divisive in my district. I think my 2 hour plus filabuster of Governor Rowland’s Public Health implementer bill in the fall of 2003 (that my Speaker Moira Lyons also supported) was somewhat risky. In 1991 and 2003, during those difficult economic times, we did tax increases, budget cuts, used rainy day funds and did short term borrowing. After all the rhetoric, that is where we will end up this time too.

  10. Bruce Rubenstein

    If what he says is true, and if Barack Obama is a change agent, why is his approval rating so high? Or perhaps McCluskey reveals what he really thinks and knows… Obama isn’t an agent of change at all, and simply represents a new face on the failed old liberal way of doing things.

    Headless, FDR was a indisputable change agent( he changed the governemt,politics and policies in fundamental ways…and certainly I would guess,BAD( from your point of view…but good from my point of view) with a high approval rating.The evidence of his high ratings is the multiple elections he won.In my opinion change agents come with all sorts of approval ratings, not simply low ratings ( though they can have them) as David asserts.

    In addition and perhaps more importantly then what David thinks about change agents is your assertion of ” failed liberal way of doing things” As you might be aware the historical recent liberal way starts with FDR’s election of 1932 and only ends with Reagan in 1980…a run of 48 years when America became a super power….then you have basically a conservative era from 1980-2008…and perhaps starting with Obama is a refined liberal way of doing things…we dont know yet and the jury is out for that….time will tell.

    There are some centrist responsible political hisorians that believe that American politics and government runs in liberal-conservative cycles, I tend to believe it, based upon evidence of presidental victories and policies of the various presidents once they had obtained office, and that it might be the liberal time again..Rest assured that if that is true, then undoubtedly a conservative time will happen in the future.Both cycles need dominance at a given time in order for America’s politics to “even out”. The inherent glory of our wonderful country is that the citizens make room for both liberal/conservative cycles and seem to be better change agents then those political operatives mired in one cycle or another.

  11. Wow.

    I asked for a list of courageous decisions currently being made in the General Assembly over the current budget crisis, and all you can come up with for yourself is a years-old vote for civil unions, and a fillibuster against John Rowland six years ago?

    If those can be considered courageous (and I don’t think they can) they are still cashed checks. What brave positions have you taken on this current budget? Can you offer us anything a little less yellowed around the edges and mothball -scented?

  12. Bruce Rubenstein

    Headless…are you going to grace me with a reply ?

  13. ..the attacks on McCluskey are outside the bounds…

    Bruce, you know the rules.

    Public figure = Fair game

  14. Hi Heady, My apologies. I was responding to your earlier rant about “Jodi Rell has made far more difficult decisions than a third-rate political hack and union shill like David McCluskey ever will in his stunted, insignificant political career. ” BTW I think Larry Cafero will stipulate that I am a second rate political hack. On the budget, no I haven’t taken any brave positions yet, just like Governor Rell. This is just the preliminaries . I have been a big proponent of results based budgeting for years and want performance measures to drive our budget decisions. I have actually come out in favor of regional collective bargaining for teachers and public employees which is not something they have embraced. It’s still light outside Heady. Go out and take a deep breath of fresh air – I promise not to tax it.

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