Gov. Malloy today is hosting a day-long “jobs summit” designed to generate interest in his self-declared “Connecticut is Open for Business” theme and the upcoming legislative special session on job retention and creation. This event comes after the governor’s statewide “jobs tour” that took him to nearly 70 events. So with what stories is he competing for headlines and reporters’ attention these days? The answer is the on-going ethical questions about his Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Daniel Esty. Mr. Esty has become a constant distraction and headache that Malloy doesn’t need. The governor can’t be blamed for standing by his highly respected choice to run DEEP. However for the good of the state, Mr. Esty should gracefully bow out.
Make no mistake, there doesn’t seem to be an indication that Mr. Esty violated ethics rules but the on-going drumbeat of doubt is troublesome. Is there anything wrong with the fact that he has made $1.2 million in speaking fees since 2006? On its face, no. It shows his expertise in the field. But things get a bit murkier when some of those fees came from companies and organizations that his state agency now regulates.
The situation gets more troublesome for Malloy when, as my political commentating colleague (usually from a differing viewpoint) Kevin Rennie points out, the governor and his commissioner can’t get on the same page.
The administration should have seen this unneeded problem coming when back in April Mr. Esty co-authored an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled, “Pain at the Pump? We Need More.” Whether one agrees with the argument in the article is irrelevant. The fact is, when a Malloy administration commissioner pens such a piece, one automatically assumes it reflects Malloy’s views. We don’t see any other commissioner going off the reservation, giving personal views in a major media outlet.
Mr. Esty, in defending his ethical standards, yesterday said that ethics officials have told him that he had done more “than anyone in the history of the state of Connecticut” to be sure he didn’t have a conflict of interest. If that’s the case, he should have no problem disclosing which state ethics officials told him that so the statement can be vetted.
The view here is that Gov. Malloy has some extraordinary accomplishments in his time as governor. It took incredible strength to do what was necessary to right the financial ship of this state and great courage to be willing to suffer in the polls (probably temporarily) as a result of doing the right thing. He simply doesn’t need this headache.
Similarly, Mr. Esty is a nationally renowned Yale professor, author, lecturer, consultant and top expert in his field. That doesn’t necessarily make him the best choice for the state’s DEEP commissioner. In fact, it’s those very accomplishments that have caused the problems and at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
In the best of the Malloy administration and therefore the state, Mr. Esty must go.