GREENWICH -- Tom Foley is back and hoping for a Republican turnaround that will become Connecticut's own Wisconsin moment.
After coming within less than 1 percentage point of becoming governor in 2010, in Connecticut's closest gubernatorial election in more than 50 years, Foley is expected to be in the thick of the fight in a 2014 rematch with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
"I keep talking about 'when is the Wisconsin moment going to come to Connecticut,' " Foley said during a recent interview, referring to the high-profile Republican takeover in once-liberal Wisconsin in 2010. "These things happen almost when you least expect it."
Foley stresses that he has not decided whether to run and has not announced his candidacy. He says it's premature -- more than 15 months before the election -- to say if he would pick a running mate as lieutenant governor or let the candidates fight it out as they did in 2010.
But for an unofficial candidate, Foley certainly is full of criticisms of the Malloy administration.
For the past 21/2 years, he has been watching the Capitol from 90 miles away at his home in Greenwich, and he doesn't like what he sees. Foley, who spoke during an interview at a restaurant in his hometown, said Malloy has failed to create a pro-business climate that would make companies want to move to Connecticut and expand in the state. He cited a recent federal study that showed Connecticut as the only state last year that had negative growth.
In blue Connecticut, most of the major unions endorsed Malloy in the 2010 battle and helped provide the narrow margin of victory in the nail-biter contest against Foley. Now, Foley says, Malloy has failed to create a better fiscal climate in a state with too many business regulations and too much government spending.
"He's trying to out-Vermont Vermont," Foley said of Malloy. "Taking care of the unions, feeding all the people who are benefiting from public spending and sending the bill to the taxpayers."
Foley, a longtime Republican fundraiser who served as the former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, also criticized Malloy's "First Five" program of offering incentives to businesses. At the Jackson Laboratory under construction in Farmington, Foley said, the subsidy for an estimated 300 jobs in 10 years amounts to $1 million per job.
"He's buying jobs, and he's paying too much for them," Foley said. "It's knuckleheaded. It's a travesty that he's wasting taxpayers' dollars like that. All the money is borrowed. When that has to be paid back, someone else will be governor."
Foley is hoping that person will be him -- even though he has not yet declared his candidacy. One of Foley's most formidable potential rivals, House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk, recently dropped out of the race and is instead considering running for re-election after 20 years at the Capitol. Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who ran for lieutenant governor on Foley's ticket in 2010, are also considering running for governor.
Foley, 61, says he believes Connecticut is ready for Republicans to wrest back some control in the same way that they held the governor's office for 16 years and three of the five congressional seats -- when Republicans Rob Simmons, Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays held power from 2001 until 2007.
But Roy Occhiogrosso, a former Malloy administration spokesman who expects to advise Malloy's 2014 campaign, said Foley should not expect Connecticut to duplicate the Wisconsin experience.
"He'll be waiting a long, long, long time," Occhiogrosso said. "Tell him not to hold his breath."
Concerning Foley's statements about Vermont, Occhiogrosso said, "That's why there are fewer government employees than the day Dan Malloy took over. Is that what he's talking about? That's why he negotiated the largest savings over the longest period of time that's ever been negotiated in the history of the state, including by Tom Foley's good friend, John Rowland. Is that what he's talking about?"
"Being a governor is a serious job," Occhiogrosso said. "It's not like buying a company, breaking it up, and laying people off."
Democrats are expected to continue questioning whether Foley would have signed a strict gun-control bill, as Malloy did following the shooting deaths of 20 children and six women at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Gun control became the biggest issue of the last legislative session, but Foley has repeatedly declined to say whether he would have signed the bill. Instead, he continues to say the bill would have been completely different if he was governor.
"Newtown was a mental illness case," Foley said. "There wasn't much in there at all" on mental illness in the bill that became law.
CT POLICY INSTITUTE
Since the 2010 election. Foley has created the Connecticut Policy Institute, a think tank with an annual budget of about $150,000 that produces research papers and has recently expanded into hosting guest speakers in public discussions on timely topics.