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Dannel Malloy Takes Over Democratic Governors Group

Connecticut's governor, Dannel P. Malloy, has been auditioning for this moment.

By Neil Vigdor

Connecticut's governor, Dannel P. Malloy, has been auditioning for this moment.

Trading jabs with New Jersey rival Chris Christie: check. A fracas with Louisiana's Bobby Jindal outside the White House: yup.

Oh, and don't forget Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who has become Malloy's favorite sparring partner on LGBT rights and the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Malloy will make his debut Monday as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, giving the ambitious and hard-nosed pol the national platform he's been craving to promote his progressive agenda, perhaps position himself for his next gig -- and settle scores.

There are 12 gubernatorial races on the calendar in 2016, highlighted by the bellwether of Missouri in a presidential election year and contests in New Hampshire, Vermont and Indiana. The Hoosier State is pegged as safe for the Republicans, but don't tell that to Malloy, who is expected to push marriage equality, raising the minimum wage, Medicaid expansion and gun control reform in his national role.

"I think the Indiana race is developing, since Governor Pence signed his homophobic legislation and then back-tracked," Malloy told Hearst Connecticut Media.

Pence's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, Malloy banned state employee travel to Indiana and called Pence a "bigot" after lawmakers there passed a religious freedom law that Malloy said legitimized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Then after last month's terrorist attacks in Paris, Malloy welcomed a Syrian refugee family to Connecticut after it was turned away by Indiana.

Democrats currently control 18 governorships, compared to 31 for Republicans and one independent in Alaska. With one more pickup, the GOP would return to its high water mark that it had going into 1970 and 1998.

"That has left Democrats in a pretty huge hole," said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "It's a smaller club at the moment. I would think Malloy would be viewed as a fairly important person."

The DGA tapped Malloy a year ago for the leadership post, but will vote on its chairman Monday morning in New York City during the group's annual meeting in what is considered a formality. Terms are for one year.

On Sunday, the governors will hold a major fundraiser at MetLife Stadium during the Jets vs. Giants football game. It's unclear whether Malloy, a Giants fan, will be in attendance. But his GOP critics are already casting him as the moonlighting governor.

"He's been not focused on the state. That's for sure," said J.R. Romano, the state GOP chairman. "The Democratic party talks about being for the working man, meanwhile, he's sipping Champagne at $100,000 events at Giants stadium."

Romano's criticism of Malloy extended to DGA fundraising.

"He is shaken down every state contractor for the DGA already," Romano said.

The game is in New Jersey, where Christie's successor won't be elected until 2017. Malloy is already thinking ahead.

"I'd like to see a Democrat back in New Jersey," Malloy said.

Christie, who is struggling to get traction in the presidential field, led the Republican Governors Association in 2014. He came to Connecticut five times to campaign for Malloy's opponent, Tom Foley, who lost his rematch with Malloy.

Political experts say that the prestige of leading the RGA or DGA isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

"Being head of the RGA hasn't necessarily gotten (Christie) into prime position for winning the Republican nomination for president," Skelley said.

As the head of the RGA, Christie's security detail cost New Jersey taxpayers close to $1 million, for which he was widely criticized, because it was political in nature.

Malloy's office said it is vigilant about separating out costs for political travel so that they can be paid for by the DGA, and that Malloy's hands-on approach to running the state will be unchanged. It is likely that Malloy's security costs will be shouldered by taxpayers, however.

(c)2015 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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