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Connecticut's General Assembly will look different next year. Will it change the session's outcome?

The Connecticut State Capitol Building
Wikimedia Commons
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Wikimedia Commons

January will bring new faces to the halls of the Hartford Capitol building. How will they differ from the Connecticut lawmakers of the past?

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas to discuss his article, “Small shifts in power hide big changes within CT General Assembly,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Hi, Mark. What’s a change that will be seen in the state's new General Assembly next year?

MP: The balance of power is completely the same. Well, I'll take that back. The Democrats picked up one seat in each chamber. But the bottom line is the same. The Democrats remain in firm control of the Connecticut General Assembly. But there's a significant turnover in personnel. It's the third consecutive election cycle that we've seen this kind of change. And so there's been kind of a quiet revolution here in that almost two-thirds of the Senate and more than half of the House are people who were elected since 2018. So that brings in a lot of new fresh blood in Connecticut.

Even though there is a significant pay increase that will be effective on January 4, when the next term begins, it's still very much a citizen legislature, you know, where most of the people work outside the building. And this new group is going to bring another diverse collection of occupations from outside the building. We're gonna have a physician, another one in the state Senate, we're gonna have somebody who's written cookbooks, we're gonna have somebody who worked for the Army and then retired as an intelligence officer for the Department of Homeland Security. And as always, we must have lawyers, there are more lawyers and a bunch of educators.

WSHU: Also, we have some union reps who are now in the Legislature?

MP: Very much so, and that will be interesting. You know, one of them is Jan Hochadel, who is still the president of the AFT. In Connecticut, they’re broader than just teachers, but AFT originally stood for the American Federation of Teachers. And she's also a national officer in the AFT. She will join some very strong union people that are here, including Senator Julie Kushner of Danbury, who was the UAW regional director for years before she retired and then was elected to the General Assembly in that big class of 2018 when the Democrats took firm control of the Senate after two years in which they had been tied.

So yeah, that's something that the business groups will be a little bit nervous about. The question is, will the agenda get more aggressive on behalf of labor? Labor has had significant victories during Governor Lamont’s first term, a bill that will result in a $15 minimum wage next year, the creation of a family and medical leave program. They passed a captive audience bill, which limits how businesses can compel employees to sit and listen to their arguments against unionization. Among other things. There was a bill that passed the Senate last session that didn't go anywhere in the House, and that would have created unemployment benefits for strikers. So you know, we'll see what this new group of labor folks wants to push in 2023.

WSHU: Another interesting realignment is the fact that the Republican party seems to be the party of the working class now. They lost all the lower Fairfield County seats that they used to have that represented the high end of high-income earners.

MP: As Vinnie Candelora, the House Republican leader said to me, we are officially the party of the middle class. He said the Democrats are going to be governing from the economic extremes, representing some of the richest census tracts in America and some of the poorest census tracts in America, as well as certainly a fair amount of diverse suburbs in between the rich and the poor. But yes, the question is, how will that change things in the General Assembly? If there is a push to raise the top rates for the wealthiest, will the Republicans do what they historically have done and argue against that? On the basis of saying it's bad for economic growth, and in fact, it may encourage some of Connecticut's wealthiest taxpayers to look for homes elsewhere.

WSHU: Very interesting. So it's gonna make for some interesting legislation coming up in this new session that we're about to go into in January.

MP: And it's funny because the Republicans traditionally were sort of in check with this governor, this governor by Connecticut standards is really something of a fiscal centrist, and he is vehemently opposed to raising any income tax rates. He said Connecticut does not need it. He doesn't think it's good for economic growth and the diversity of the tax base. And so there could be some interesting dynamics as to what will be the alliances if the left of the Democratic Party really decides this is the time to push for higher tax rates on the very wealthy, perhaps to match Massachusetts. Massachusetts by a referendum passed a tax increase on households with more than a million dollars in income. And right now, in Massachusetts, their overall income tax rate is lower than Connecticut's top rate. But these are the kinds of things that give people ideas in a general assembly session as to, you know, what can be tweaked and what can be changed to give the state a more progressive tax structure.

WSHU: And also we have a Republican in 2014, returning as a Democrat in 2022 — Andre Bumgardner.

MP: Yes, and he was the story in 2014 because when he declared his candidacy he was 19 years old. He still didn't have his driver's license. I don't know what it is about this generation, and kids are very slow to get their driver's licenses. But he was elected at the age of 20. He was defeated two years later by a Democrat. And then he really grew disenchanted with the Republican Party, mainly over President Trump, his rhetoric about banning Muslims, and then how the president reacted after the violent march in Charlottesville. He told me once that it was also the paucity of Republicans in Connecticut who spoke out. There were some, you know, Len Fasano, who was the Senate Republican leader at the time, was certainly outspoken in his opinion that Donald Trump was really not fit in some ways. But in any event, Andre Bumgardner is coming back at the age of 28. He's had quite a month of November, he was elected to come back as a Democrat and he also was married the day after Thanksgiving.

WSHU: Interesting. Well, thank you so much, Mark. Always a pleasure talking with you.

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.
Molly is a reporter covering Fairfield County. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.