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Conn. GOP Sees Chance To Gain Seats In State Legislature This Fall

M. Spencer Green

The passage of a tough Connecticut budget that calls for cuts to social spending and the layoff of state workers has caused some Democratic lawmakers to not seek re-election to their seats in the General Assembly.

And many who are seeking re-election are withholding support for Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy’s “Second Chance” criminal justice reform bill, which would abolish bail for most misdemeanors and allow 20-year olds to be treated as juveniles for certain crimes. They are concerned that if they vote for the bill, they’ll be viewed as soft on crime.

This is making state Republicans feel confident about picking up seats this November.

WSHU Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma spoke with Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser about the situation. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Ebong, I gather that was the feeling you got from speaking with some of the attendees at the Connecticut GOP’s big fundraising event in Stamford this week.

That’s correct. You know the annual Prescott Bush Award dinner attracts the state GOP’s biggest donors, so you’d expect them to be optimistic about their party’s fortunes.

For example, here’s John McKinney. He used to be state Senate minority leader. He had an unsuccessful run to be his party’s nominee for governor two years ago. He seems to believe an opportunity has opened up for Republicans because of the way Connecticut Democrats have handled the economy. Here’s what he told me.

“We’ve seen GE and other companies leave the state of Connecticut because of those Democratic policies. And what you are seeing is some Democrats recognize that the state can’t keep going on the route it’s going and raising taxes. And yet the core constituency is saying wait a minute, we need to be raising more taxes and not cutting spending. And I think that division is going to play out in the fall. In Connecticut maybe not so much on the national races, but it’s definitely going to play out in the state legislative races. And I am extremely excited and hopeful that Republicans are going to take a majority in the legislature.”

When was the last time that happened?

Well, about 20 years ago. That’s when the GOP had control of the state Senate, following the implementation of the income tax by Independent Governor Lowell Wiecker. So you can imagine they are quite excited now. Here’s State Senator Toni Boucher of Wilton.

“We are now nationally considered a toss-up state, which means we could take over one of the House or the Senate. I’m in the Senate. I’m hoping we do because I see a divided House and Senate as much more of working together, bipartisan, have to compromise. Certainly the policies we’ve seen in the last few years have not helped that state at all.”

You know the Republicans fortunes have improved since 2004 when Boucher was first elected to the state House of Representatives and only 37 of the 151-member chamber were Republicans.

“Now we’re 64. When I started in the Senate, we were 12, now we are 15. So the trend line is going towards the middle rather than one party right now.”

That’s 15 out of the 36 seats in the state Senate?

Yes. The state Senate is made up 36 seats, and the Republicans have 15 of them right now.?

So Ebong, while I have you here, another question, how enthusiastic are Connecticut Republicans about Donald Trump now being their presumptive nominee for president?

Well, you know Donald Trump got about 58 percent of the vote in the Connecticut primary. So I figure the rank and file might be pretty excited. But the audience at the dinner this week, they were mainly the donor class, and they didn’t seem that excited. Here’s how the 500 people in the room responded when beloved longtime state GOP activist and Republican National Committee member Pat Longo brought up Trump.

“If you love America you must vote Republican. And this year our Republican candidate will be…Donald J. Trump.” [scant applause]

Interesting. So that’s the way things look right now?

Yes, but this is politics, the landscape could be very different five months from now, at election time in November.

Thank you, Ebong.

Thank you, Tom.