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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's first campaign commercials dealt with the extraordinary challenges the state has faced during his first term, the economic struggles, the disastrous storms and, most of all, the awful consequences of the "unimaginable evil let loose in a school."
It was the governor's sad duty to rush to Newtown that December morning and inform parents that their six- and seven-year-olds had been murdered. And then, to offer them and the people of Connecticut what comfort and consolation he could. Later, he oversaw the passage of gun control reforms over the opposition of sportsmen and other gun interests.
Was it proper for the governor to review the challenges he has faced in the past four years in a campaign commercial? Of course. Could he be expected to avoid any mention of this greatest of all challenges? Of course not.
Neither of the two men then vying to run against Gov. Malloy saw a need during the primary to criticize him for mentioning Newtown. Both Tom Foley, the primary winner, and state Sen. John McKinney had been debating the gun laws that Mr. Malloy and Mr. McKinney supported during the primary campaign.
But Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola saw an opportunity to make a couple of political points. He quickly accused the governor of politically "exploiting" not only the Newtown killings but even hurricane Sandy, of all things, in his ads.
Mr. Labriola seemed especially exercised about Mr. Malloy's endorsement by Nicole Hockley, the mother of one of the murdered children. She is seen in the commercial commending the governor for having "the courage and conviction to stand up and do the right thing."
Ms. Hockley is one of several Newtown parents who have actively supported the gun control legislation that was passed following the massacre. She has confirmed that she approached the Malloy campaign to offer her endorsement and said the words in the ad are her own. "It's not like there was a script or anything like that," she said. This separates her from the anonymous, "average citizens" we usually see endorsing candidates in political ads.
Unfortunately for Mr. Labriola, his complaint also came the same week as the death of Jim Brady, the press secretary severely wounded in the 1981 attempt on President Reagan's life by an assassin with a cheap, illegally purchased handgun. Mr. Brady and his wife Sarah are the namesakes of the Brady Bill, the federal gun control legislation inspired by that attack. Would Mr. Labriola label Mr. Brady an exploiter of a gun tragedy for political gain?
The there's the sheer absurdity of Mr. Malloy's alleged exploitation of the hurricanes.
The way a governor responds to natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and blizzards has counted for something when he or she seeks re-election. This has been the case at least since the days of Abe Ribicoff, whose leadership during the 1955 floods helped him win a second term by nearly 300,000 votes after a considerably closer margin of 3,000 the first time. His response to the flood became an inspiring symbol of his service to the state.
Since then, governors of both parties have followed the Ribicoff example of being highly visible when calamities strike. The exception often pointed to is Gov. Thomas Meskill, who failed to come home from a ski trip to Vermont when an ice storm crippled much of the state in 1973. During his governorship, Mr. Meskill established the state lottery as an income-generating alternative to an income tax. He also founded the Department of Environmental Protection and converted an inherited $265 million deficit into a $65 million surplus.
But when he declined to seek a second term, public anger over the ice storm was cited as the reason by most political observers. And when he died in 2007 after a long and highly regarded career as a federal judge, obituaries in newspapers across the nation prominently featured the story of the ice storm.
Gov. Malloy has faced an unusual number of disasters and tragedies in his first term. He has shown strong leadership in doing so. It's not exploitation, just good politics, for him to make that case. If Republicans think he did a poor job, let them make that argument, otherwise move on.