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What's Behind The High Profile Republican Retirements In Hartford?

fasano_klarides.jpg
Jessica Hill
/
AP
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, leans in to listen to House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, as then-Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy delivers his budget address at the Capitol in 2016.

The Republican minority leaders in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly announced recently that they would not run for reelection. Political observers say this might indicate dimmed prospects for Republicans in both the state House and state Senate in November. 

Themis Klarides, a Republican from Derby, has served in the Connecticut House for 22 years. She says the last four as House minority leader demanded too much of her time.

“At a certain point you say to yourself I have another life to live. And your family and your personal life and your other jobs all fall by the wayside because this is your life. This is who you are. This defines you while you are doing it.”

She says she announced her decision now in order to give fellow Republicans time to campaign for her seat.

“When you get to the point when you know you are two weeks out from when session should normally end, and conventions are in May, and you know we have to start thinking about the future and elections and who is running for what seat. I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to the caucus and to my district to wait any longer.”

Klarides says she’s now focused on her upcoming marriage, for which the date is uncertain because of COVID-19. But she’s not ruling out future political office.

“I’ll get married at some point. And for whatever the future holds, I don’t think any of us knows for sure, but I do know for certain that my time in public service is not over.”

Klarides’ counterpart in the state Senate, GOP Minority Leader Len Fasano, is also retiring but not ruling out future political office.

Sacred Heart University political scientist Gary Rose says he’s not surprised. 

“I believe the Republicans in the state House and state Senate are facing a very difficult election in 2020.”

Rose says Connecticut Republicans made steady gains winning seats in the state legislature in the later years of President Barack Obama’s presidency. But they’ve faced headwinds since the Donald Trump presidency.

“Things were looking quite good for the Republican Party, but then there was the Trump effect. And I think it’s settled in in Connecticut, and more generally New England, Northeast.”

He says that’s dimmed GOP prospects in Connecticut.

“Donald Trump is going to do well in some states obviously, and possibly even in swing states, but in traditional blue states now I would say that his stock has gone down even further.”

Ron Schurin, a political scientist at UConn, says Connecticut Republicans are facing a double whammy because they also have to contend with Democratic Governor Ned Lamont, whose poor public approval for a failed highway toll proposal has been turned around.

“People are not talking about tolls. They are talking about the coronavirus crisis. And he seems to have had not only a steady hand but a collaborative approach. And that has worked very well for the governor, playing to some of his basic strengths in terms of his personality and his approach to leadership.”

Schurin says the bottom line is this.

“The governor has been doing well and that will help Democratic legislative candidates.”

But Rose cautions that neither Klarides nor Fasano should be ruled out of politics.

“I would not be surprised quite frankly if we find them starting to possibly try to gather some delegates for the next Republican gubernatorial nomination contest.”

In the meantime, the state GOP convention is scheduled for mid-May. And the campaign is on for Republicans vying for the open legislative and leadership seats in the midst of a coronavirus lockdown. 

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
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