Amid an Election Day 2010 that saw Republicans retake the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, add six new U.S. Senators to their ranks, and a half-dozen new Governors, the results were, by many measures, disappointing for the Grand Old Party faithful in Connecticut. U.S. Senate nominee Linda McMahon was defeated by Richard Blumenthal, Dan Malloy squeaked by Tom Foley in the race for Governor, and Republicans struck out completely in the state’s five Congressional races and in the contests for statewide constitutional offices.
The lone bright spot for the GOP was in the state House of Representatives where the party picked up fourteen seats, the best showing for the party since 1984 when they won twenty-one races during the 1984 elections and the third best in the modern era of the legislature. Many observers have been dismissive in their assessment of Republican strength in the upcoming legislative session given that all of state government’s levers of power will be controlled by Democrats for the first time in a generation. But in combination with the magnitude of the state’s ills, a larger minority caucus could ironically be an impetus for greater bipartisanship at the state Capitol.
It has been difficult to be a member of the House Republican caucus for the last several years. They haven’t held the majority in the 151 seat body since the Reagan landslide of 1984 and haven’t comprised more than forty percent of the chamber since the Republican Revolution of 1994. The Democratic wave years of 2006 and 2008 shrank their numbers to an underwhelming thirty-seven for the 2009-2011 legislative sessions. The party control disparity was the fourth largest in the nation.
But the Grand Old Party’s showing on Election Day 2010 should give the majority great pause. Though it is a bit cliché to note, elections do matter. It won’t go unnoticed in the House chamber that longstanding incumbency was no salvation for Representatives like James O’Rourke, Steve Fontana, and Ted Graziani, who collectively served in the legislature for forty-six years, who along with eight other incumbents were defeated in bids for re-election.
Triumphalism about “surviving the Republican wave” is equally misplaced for those remaining incumbents as eleven more Democrats won their seats by margins of less than 400 votes. If dissatisfaction continues to percolate in the voting public, narrow wins can easily turn into losses for incumbents in tenuous districts.
Nor can incumbents find comfort in regional strongholds. The victories also give the House GOP a much broader footprint across the map of Connecticut. After being hunted to the brink of extinction in many regions of the state, Republicans again represent residents in every county of the state and in at least a portion of ninety-eight towns.
With a restive electorate acting as a stick and self-preservation serving as a powerful carrot, bipartisan solutions are less farfetched than they might otherwise seem. Even a handful of dissenting Democrats throwing their lot in with the Republicans could dramatically change the balance of power in the House regardless of who occupies the Governor’s office.
Connecticut’s fiscal crisis looming large, the economy was lackluster even before the most recent recession, and high costs are driving young people and businesses out of the state to greener pastures. The state is in dire need of leadership that dispenses with ideological dogma and starts focusing on delivering real solutions. Whether it is motivated by fear of defeat or desire for change, bipartisanship represents both the best hope and the strongest foundation for progress.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester. His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He also is the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a website design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com.