Steve Kotchko, the longtime dean of the state Capitol press corps, is marking a milestone as he starts his 40th year of covering Connecticut politics.
Kotchko’s career goes back before the days of Governor Ella Grasso, and he is the only current member of the press corps who interviewed former U.S. Senator Thomas J. Dodd, the father of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. The elder Dodd lost a memorable three-way race in 1970 to a little-known Republican from Greenwich named Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. The elder Dodd died in 1971.
Through the years, Kotchko has conducted interviews with all the major players in state politics, as well as many on the national scene. Many of those came during presidential campaign swings back in the day when the candidates routinely came through Connecticut, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Herbert Walker Bush. Later, he also interviewed Bill Clinton.
Kotchko covered an infamous event in Hartford on October 14, 1975 when President Gerald Ford’s limousine was accidentally hit by another car at a downtown intersection. Fred Biebel, a high-level Connecticut Republican who was riding in the car with Ford, was injured in the crash, but Ford was not injured in a story that made national headlines.
Reporter Christopher Hoffman wrote a profile of Kotchko in Tuesday’s Hartford Courant, and it is published in its entirety below:
WETHERSFIELD — — When the General Assembly reconvenes this week, veteran radio reporter Steve Kotchko will mark a milestone: 40 years of covering the legislature.
During that time, Kotchko, a longtime Old Wethersfield resident, has seen seven governors and had a front row seat to many political dramas.
It’s all a bit of a blur for the widely respected Kotchko. Asked recently if the upcoming session was his 40th, Kotchko had to go back and do the math.
“It seems like a very long period, but in reality it doesn’t seem that,” he said, his face breaking into a broad grin.
The biggest change that Kotchko, news director for Connecticut Radio Network, has seen in 40 years is the growing workload on the governor and the state’s lawmakers. What used to be a part-time legislature has evolved into much more, as special sessions, task forces and summer hearings proliferate, he said.
“It’s much closer to being a full-time job for these folks,” he said.
Feeding that trend is gridlock in Washington, D. C., Kotchko said. When the federal government began freezing up in the 1990s, individuals, industries and interest groups turned to the states, he said.
“When there’s nothing going in Washington and you’re passionate about an issue, you’re going to go to the state legislature,” he said.
Another major change is the disappearance of party bosses and the shriveling of political parties, Kotchko said. When he first arrived in Hartford, legendary Democratic State Committee Chairman and kingmaker John M. Bailey still held sway over state politics.
After Bailey’s death in the mid-1970s, power dissipated from the party apparatus, Kotchko said. By the early 1980s, office-seekers realized they didn’t need parties and began seeking office on their own, he said.
“They didn’t fear [the party structure] any more,” Kotchko said. “They didn’t want to wait. I don’t want to say party chairman have no power, but they have very little power compared to John Bailey.”
Asked the biggest political news events that he has covered, Kotchko listed three: Gov. Ella T. Grasso’s resignation and subsequent death from cancer in 1981; the state income tax fight in 1991, and Gov. John G. Rowland’s resignation in 2004.
Of those, Kotchko said the once popular and powerful Rowland’s fall from grace was the most dramatic.
The three-way 1990 gubernatorial race ranks as the most interesting of Kotchko’s career, he said. Just two years after losing his U.S. Senate seat, Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. staged an unlikely comeback, running for governor as an independent, he said.
“Unheard of in the Land of Steady Habits and he won,” Kotchko said.
Among governors, Kotchko ranks Weicker as the most forceful and Rowland as especially effective working with the other party. He characterized current Gov. Danel P. Malloy as having a CEO-like approach to governing.