In reflecting on her accomplishments while head of the state, Governor M. Jodi Rell said Thursday she is most proud of her work in saving the Groton submarine base when the Department of Defense threatened to shut it down. Along with former Congressman Rob Simmons and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd, Rell said she succeeded in keeping thousands of jobs in Connecticut.

"We worked our you-know-whats off getting that done," Rell told 240 members of the Westport Y's Men last week.

Offering an insider's view of issues facing Connecticut, Rell frankly discussed "The State of Our State" with the group of semi-retired and retired men at their Thursday meeting at the Saugatuck Congregational Church.

During her talk, Rell addressed the polarization of the country's two political parties. She noted, "Politics is not what it used to be."

Moreover, Rell is adamant about not seeking the gubernatorial seat for another term. She said, "I knew it was time to leave. We need a fresh face."

Rell explained that the overall tenure in the General Assembly has changed since she first took office in 1985.

Back then, although there were disagreements and differences, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle -- Democrats and Republicans -- worked together. "After a debate on the floor, people shook hands and went out for a beer."

Rarely does this happen in today's political arena.

"We don't have statesmen anymore," Rell commented. "We have

politicians who are looking out for themselves and their next election."

In fact, Rell admitted that she's had a difficult time convincing good candidates -- especially women -- to run for office. She said that women are not willing to have their children used in negative campaign tactics. "Anyone is fair game," Rell explained.

When asked about her plans for the future, Rell replied that she has always wanted to be a teacher and would maybe like to pursue work teaching English as a second language. "We'll see what the future holds," she said.

Rell's first priority after leaving Hartford, though, is to spend more time with her children and three grandchildren.

The Westport Y's Men were obviously excited to welcome Rell back for a second visit and gave her a standing ovation as soon as she stepped to the podium. Rell initially spoke to the organization several years ago when she held the post as Connecticut's lieutenant governor.

During an introduction by State Minority Leader John McKinney, Rell was described as "one of the most popular -- if not the most popular -- figure in the state" despite having to govern "during tremendous times of ethical problems and during tremendous times of financial problems."

Praising Rell's ability to connect with people, McKinney quipped, "Unlike many politicians, her head is the same size today as it was when she first was elected."

As they tackled challenges, such as Connecticut's budget deficit, McKinney had the opportunity to observe her leadership style firsthand. "She doesn't put partisanship ahead of policy," McKinney explained. "She sits in a room and says, `Let me hear your ideas.' This is unique, I'm sorry to say."

Rell didn't shy away from discussing last year's struggle to bridge the budget gap. In fact, she admitted that some people criticized her for not outright vetoing the budget sent out by the state's Democratic-run majority.

She also spoke about hot-button issues, such as Connecticut's death penalty. Rell noted that lawmakers recently had a "heated debate" about how to streamline death penalty cases. "You can imagine the passionate and emotional debate around this issue," Rell noted.

A strong proponent of the death penalty, Rell said that she was in office when convicted killer Michael Ross was executed. However, she quickly added, "This is nothing that any governor wants to be part of."

Rell told the audience she was thanked years later by one of the victims' fathers.

"There are some crimes in this world that I believe are so heinous that warrant the death penalty," Rell said.

Reviewing one of the sadder parts of her job, Rell touched on the Kleen Energy power plant explosion that happened early February.

A committee, led by retired federal judge Alan Nevas, of Westport, was assembled to investigate the Kleen Energy power plant explosion.

"We want to determine if we need to change anything on a state level so that this won't ever happen again," Rell said.

On a lighter note, Rell described "The Pickle Bill," which is now being discussed by members of the General Assembly. Legislators are trying to determine whether local farmers should be able to sell homemade pickles at farm stands throughout the state. They are already allowed to sell homemade jams and jellies provided they adhere to strict safety regulations.

Although she doesn't intend to sell any, Rell admitted to making homemade pickles in her Brookfield residence.

"However, should we allow farmers to sell them? In all likelihood, the answer will probably be yes, providing that they have met all of the safety measures," Rell said.

Local dignitaries in attendance were Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein, former Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss and former State Rep. Jo Fuchs Luscombe.