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Behold the governor who came to dinner

By Dick Ahles

Publication: The Day

Published May 04. 2013 4:00AM

Having attended a number of White House Correspondents Dinners back in the last century without ever hearing a serious word spoken over drinks, dinner and lavish post dinner parties, I'm truly impressed that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was able to do so much important state business amid all that frivolity. I just wonder how the other partygoers felt about listening to him.

According to spokesman Andrew Doba, there were "substantial" conversations about the state's Hurricane Sandy Relief plan and small investment programs under the JOBS Act with Small Business Administrator Karen Mills; a strategy session on reviving gun control legislation with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and a review of proposals for the establishment of a regional infrastructure bank with Congressman Steve Israel.

And when he was done, did he rest or rub a few shoulders with the rich and famous? Not our governor. There was still time to "promote Connecticut's economic development agenda in discussions with numerous business and media leaders," said Doba.

It makes you wonder why Mr. Malloy felt he had to reimburse his host, People magazine, $1,234.62 for his airplane ticket, hotel room and dinner.

Admittedly, things were slightly different at those dinners I attended years ago. Most of the attendees were actual White House reporters, photographers, producers and other employees of news organizations that maintained Washington bureaus to cover the White House, Congress and other federal agencies. Our owner, Post-Newsweek Stations, operated a Washington bureau for its television stations in Detroit, Jacksonville, Miami and Hartford. Those were the days, journalistically speaking.

We did invite guests, mostly members of Congress and other government types, but no one brought a governor along. I can remember pleasant dinner table talk with lawmakers from our state, but serious stuff was sort of out of place.

The closest these ancient gatherings came to having a celebrity guest happened the 1980s when someone invited Fawn Hall, who was celebrated for having been caught smuggling incriminating documents related to the Iran-Contra scandal from the Reagan White House office of her boss, Marine Col. Oliver North. There was considerable debate over the propriety of inviting Ms. Hall, who used her boots, as I recall, to hide the papers. Nowadays, that would qualify her as a serious newsmaker.

So it was rather out of the ordinary for People magazine to go to the trouble and expense of having a more serious guest like the governor of Connecticut at its table at the April 27 gala. He wasn't, after all, one of the finalists for its sexiest men in the world issue or anything like that. Maybe they couldn't get Chris Christie.

At any rate, Gov. Malloy's attendance at the dinner caused considerably more stir at home than it did at the Washington Hilton. The fun began after Channel 8's Mark Davis reported People picked up the tab for not only the dinner but also the governor's air fare from Windsor Locks and back and his overnight stay. Such spending was well over the $100 limit that state employees can accept in a year from a "non-restricted donor," defined as someone not doing business with or lobbying the state.

Rather than a rule violation, the governor saw the jaunt as "an offer to have the governor of the state of Connecticut, in his capacity as the governor of the state of Connecticut, attend a very important meeting, session, series of events."

Wow. That must be a record for how many times you can mention being "the governor of the state of Connecticut" in a single sentence. But the governor wasn't the only one engaging in rhetorical overkill . There was this from Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who, by coincidence, is a potential Malloy rival for governor next year.

"If the governor is seriously claiming that his attendance at the White House Correspondents Dinner was legitimate state business," McKinney huffed, "he should produce the invitation to attend describing the purpose, the agendas for the event, a list of discussion topics, meeting minutes and any other evidence of the official purpose and business conducted on behalf of the state."

Faced with all that, I guess it's not surprising the governor opted to pay the $1,234.62, despite his serious efforts amid the glitter and the glamour.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury.

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