After learning last week that Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, will be running for Secretary of the State in 2010, a handful of state lawmakers began jockeying for her position.
The House was buzzing with activity Monday as lawmakers sought to shore up support from their colleagues in what will end up being an 11-month campaign for the number two slot in the chamber.
While nothing is carved in stone at the moment, the informal list of lawmakers vying for the position includes: Rep. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, Rep. Tony Guerrera of Rocky Hill, Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford, Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven, Rep. Steve Fontana of North Haven, Rep. Sandy Nafis of Newington, and possibly Rep. Kevin Ryan of Oakdale.
When asked what she thought about all the politicking over her post, Merrill said, “I hope they know what they’re getting into.”
“You have to know how to bring people together,” Merrill said.
As majority leader, Merrill is responsible for building consensus on legislation amongst the caucus’ 151 lawmakers. And, as if that wasn’t a tough enough job, she also is responsible for getting lawmakers re-elected by helping to manage the House Democratic campaign operation.
Sources inside the Democratic caucus expressed concern recently over Merrill’s ability to run her own statewide campaign and help the caucus get re-elected.
A handful of lawmakers vying for her position said they will step in and fill any void she may leave as she focuses on her own campaign, but they also believe she’s capable and talented enough to continue doing both jobs until Nov. 2010.
“To the extent there is any void, I will take the responsibility to fill it,“ Fleischmann said. “I’m a good campaigner.”
Fleischmann said he knows how hard the job of majority leader is, but he also knows how critically important it is. He said as majority leader you have to find, “win-win-win” situations in negotiations between the House, Senate, and the governor’s office. “As chairman of the Education Committee, I did that,“ Fleischmann said.
Sources say Fleischmann has been aggressively pursuing the position and calling every single member of the caucus.
Fontana, who also is vice chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee, said he never would have predicted that Merrill would run for Secretary of the State.
“It’s an exciting time,” Fontana said, adding that he would be working hard to recruit candidates and get lawmakers re-elected this year.
Sharkey also said he would, as he has done in the past, work toward getting his colleagues re-elected.
Walker said she’s running because now is a good time to restructure the caucus. As someone without a legal background, Walker thinks she could help change how the caucus is managed and create a vision for its future. Walker’s background is in school administration.