Right-Leaning Dems Push Dem-Controlled Conn. State Senate to the Brink

It may seem like Democrats still have control of the Connecticut state Senate with an 18-18 tie and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman breaking the tie for Dems, but the reality is that there are some caucus members who routinely vote with Republicans, meaning Democratic-control of the chamber is tenuous at best.

The state Senate went from a 21-15 Democratic majority to the new 18-18 tie when Republicans Heather Somers, Len Suzio and George Logan all won, making up the three-seat GOP gain. Somers, a former candidate for lt. governor, won an open seat. Suzio beat incumbent Dante Bartolomeo and Logan bested longtime Sen. Joe Criso.

The fate of hotly contested issues in the state Senate may now rest with returning Democrats who have routinely sided with Republicans in the past. Sens. Joan Hartley, Paul Doyle and to a lesser extent, Gayle Slossberg have all shown independent streaks and are willing to cross party lines and side with the Republicans.

This puts more pressure on Senate President Marty Looney and Majority Leader Bob Duff to keep their caucus members in line. Looney is an infinitely qualified and capable lawmaker who understands the legislative process. Duff enjoys substantial respect in the caucus. They’ll be tested.

Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven)

Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven), left, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven)

Republican leader Sen. Len Fasano has adeptly put the issues of taxes and spending squarely on the table, issuing far more news releases than his predecessors and holding the Democrats—in the legislature as well as Gov. Dannel Malloy—accountable for gigantic tax increases and cuts to human services. (The Republicans’ solutions to the budget mess have routinely relied on big labor concessions.)

“There is no longer a majority party in the state Senate,” Fasano said, surrounded by his caucus. “We are now a chamber of equals. The old way of doing things is gone – is gone. We need a brand-new playbook. We need brand-new rules. This is uncharted territory, but what is clear is the Republican state Senate is equal to the Democrat state Senate. We have equal voice, equal power and equal policy making,” Fasano was quoted by CTMirror as saying at a news conference Wednesday.

Just how successful Republicans can be in getting Hartley and/or Doyle to flip on major legislation remains to be seen. Many times they were “released”—able to vote with the Republicans because the end tally was not in doubt. They may feel compelled to “stay home” and vote with their fellow Democrats.

What remarkable is that Connecticut voters differentiated between their dissatisfaction with the state legislature, Gov. Malloy and the debacle that is the state budget and their comfort level with their federal elected officials. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and US Representatives John Larson, Elizabeth Esty, Rosa DeLauro and Jim Himes all won easily.

Fasano and company no doubt have new found clout. At the very least they can force Senate Democrats go to the extreme of having Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman break a tie. That brings more media attention.

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