(Updated 5:10 p.m.) Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, choked back tears early Wednesday afternoon as he announced plans not to seek re-election in the 118th District in November.
The announcement from Amann, an 18-year veteran who has been Speaker of the House since 2005, was greeted by teary-eyed legislators on both sides of the aisle who were shocked by the news Wednesday.
However, Amann said he plans to stay on as speaker for the remainder of the legislative session and also over the next several months to help re-elect the 106 Democrats in the House.
Amann said his decision leaves room in his schedule for his job as a fundraiser for the multiple sclerosis society and also to reconnect with his constituents and party delegates while exploring a possible run for the governor’s office.
Majority Leader Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, who has been patiently waiting for an opportunity to run for Amann’s post and is expected to handily win the position, responded from the floor of the House with a compliment.
“You have a heart so big you let everybody in and I thank you for that,” Donovan told Amann.
Amann said he didn’t plan on overstaying his welcome and running for a third term as speaker, like the three speakers who preceded him.
Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who has served with Amann for 18 years, said everybody loves the speaker because he is genuine and compassionate. Caruso pointed out there were members with tears in their eyes after Amann’s announcement, which he said he’d never seen for previous leaders.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said Amann is the type of guy who, when you make a deal with him, it’s a deal. “He won’t promise what he can’t deliver,” Tercyak said.
“I always knew he was destined for something great,” Caruso said. “He will make an outstanding governor.”
Given the news of Amann’s decision, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell humorously said, “I am crushed to learn of the Speaker’s impending retirement. The General Assembly is losing one of its most dynamic voices and the people of Milford one of their staunchest advocates. I wish him well in all—nearly all—of his future endeavors.”
Amann is the first in the Democratic Party to officially announce his intention to run for governor. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, and Senate President Donald Williams all are expected to show interest in running for governor, but none has officially announced any intention to do so. Amann opined that he doesn’t think Rell will run for a second term and that Blumenthal will seek a Congressional seat.
Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper said the governor is considering the formation of an exploratory committee for the 2010 race, but is focused right now on the issues facing the state. She remains one of the most popular Republican governors in the nation.
If history is any measure, the Democrats are facing an uphill battle. The party hasn’t won a gubernatorial election since 1986—when then-Gov. William A. O’Neill was re-elected in a landslide—despite outnumbering Republicans by more than 295,000 registered voters in Connecticut. But the party currently holds two-thirds majorities in both the state House and the Senate and also controls six out of seven seats in Congress, so maybe there is reason for members to be hopeful.
Amann said the biggest problem with the Democratic Party is that its strength is in its diversity, and its weakness is in its division.
“We eat our own,” he said.
Amann, who is far from the left within the Democratic Party, said he listens to people and is fair and balanced.
“I listen to people and I keep my word,” he said.