2011 turned out to be a much more dramatic political year than a lot of people thought, from tense budget fights to special elections and more, and I expect another year full of surprises in 2012! There’s lots going on both in the legislature and on the campaign trail, so what will the big stories be? Here’s a list of topics to keep an eye on:

1. Gov. Malloy and the teachers unions

The big item on the legislature’s checklist in 2012 is education reform, and while there aren’t any specific proposals yet, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has signaled that nothing is off the table; including tenure. So far the teachers unions have seemed to be on board, with union leaders making encouraging statements, but if Malloy is serious about reforming tenure and other more dramatic changes then that support might evaporate. Teachers care deeply about having a quality faculty in every school, but they also care about job security and protection from budget-minded administrators. Also teachers, rather like state employees, won’t react well if they think the administration is trying to do what the media and the public often do: pin the blame on them for lousy schools. Malloy will have to walk a very fine line with teachers and their unions, I suspect.

2. Redistricting court battle

The fun hasn’t even begun when it comes to redistricting. No matter what the Supreme Court’s special master and the redistricting commission come up with, I’m guessing it’ll land back in court somehow. The last time a court appointed a special master to draw districts, in 1971 (interestingly, the special master was Robert Bork. Yes, that Robert Bork) a new map was drawn, but was challenged in court. Eventually the 1971 redistricting fight was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court—two years later. Let’s hope things don’t get that bad this time around! Just in case, though, it’s worth knowing that the 1972 elections, which happened during the dispute, went through using the map from the previous redistricting cycle.

3. U.S. Senate

This race for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat could either be very exciting or very, very boring. The 2010 race turned out to be a lot less dramatic than people thought, and I have a suspicion the same may be true of 2012’s general election. We may see some competitive primaries, however. Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz is running a strong, populist campaign against favorite Rep. Chris Murphy, but will anyone vote for her at either the convention or the primary? The other possible primary, between Linda McMahon and former Rep. Christopher Shays, could be a microcosm of the current GOP presidential primary which matches someone who can’t win against someone Republicans suspect is far too liberal.

Another possible story, of course, is Lieberman himself. What, you thought he’d go into retirement gracefully? I fully expect him to try and do something attention-grabbing with the presidential race.

4. The fifth district

Open congressional seats don’t happen often; the last one was won by John Larson in 1998 when Barbara Kennelly left her safe 1st district seat for an unsuccessful gubernatorial run. This time the fifth district is the one left open by an incumbent seeking higher office; Rep. Murphy is running for U.S. Senate. Current Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan looks like the early favorite, at least from a name recognition and influence standpoint, but surprises have often come from that part of the state. It’s also very possible that the redrawn district map, when and if it exists, will mean a much more conservative 5th. Expect a close, interesting and hard-fought race, especially if Sen. Andrew Roraback is the GOP nominee.

5. Unsettled waters

If the economy remains bad, and if politics in Washington stays toxic, the American electorate could become anything but predictable. Expect to see the unexpected during next year’s campaign season! I wouldn’t be surprised to see strong independent candidates emerge here and there (though maybe not for the presidency) and new lines of thought enter the mainstream debate. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the election turn on something not related to the economy at all, especially as the outside world grows ever more combustible. I think we could see some interesting changes when the dust settles in November.

Those are the stories I’ll be watching next year. How about you?

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.