(Updated 7:28 p.m.) With the session’s major legislation passed and sent to the governor’s desk, the General Assembly took some time out on the last day of session to bid farewell to some long-serving members.
With cheers and some tears, each departming member was celebrated in their respective chambers by their colleagues.
The Senate honored the work of departing Sen. Edith Prague for 90 minutes.
Prague, an 86-year-old Democrat from Columbia, is retiring after serving eight years in the House and 18 in the Senate, as well as two years as commissioner of aging. In a sometimes tearful send off, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed Prague as a tireless and tough advocate for the elderly and the working class.
Late last year, Prague suffered a minor stroke but she returned this session and helped pass a bill extending collective bargaining rights to home and daycare workers paid through state programs.
Prague said that while she made a miraculous recovery from the stroke, her doctor advised her not to get into stressful or exhausting situations. Campaigning qualifies as both, she said.
“I can’t run that risk because I don’t want to go to my grandson’s graduation from college in a wheelchair,” she said.
However, her colleagues credited her as a zealous advocate.
“Representatives and senators half her age do not have the energy or the persistence that Sen. Prague has right now,” Senate President Donald Williams said. “For her entire career she has been a tireless fighter for working men and women and their families.”
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said he and Prague often weren’t on the same side of issues but he’s respected her position nonetheless because they were always rooted in her convictions.
“I remember all the times we stood up and asked you many questions, perhaps too many questions, and you always stood, unwavering and answered all of them to the best of your ability and never backed down,” he said.
Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, said the only group that may miss Prague’s presence at the Capitol more than the Senate will be members of the press corps, referring to her tendency to make quotable statements.
“Some of the quotes that Edith’s had over the year, I’m not going to repeat,” LeBeau joked.
Several senators tried their hands at quoting her and attempting to imitate her distinctive voice.
“I’m going to miss you,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if I’m in this chamber and I don’t hear ‘That’s outrageous!’ Because only you can make that statement.”
When it came time for her to speak, Prague made good on a bet by making it through her remarks without tears, but she said her colleagues made her feel like she had accomplished her life’s work during her time as a lawmaker.
“I can’t thank you, each and every one of you, enough, for making me feel so wonderful. What a feeling that is, to feel so good about yourself,” she said.
Then she went back to work.
With only a few hours left in the legislative session, Prague was still lobbying to get enough votes to raise a bill increasing the minimum wage in the Senate. The bill passed the House but hasn’t had strong support from Senate Democrats. So Prague was trying to pick up votes elsewhere, from Republican Sen. Tony Guglielmo, who supports the bill.
“Tony, think you can get me two more votes out of your caucus?” she asked after he congratulated her.
House Speaker Chris Donovan
Speaker of the House Chris Donovan of Meriden, who is leaving the House of Representatives after 20 years to run for Congress, got choked up as he talked about his relationship with House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, who gave him a touching farewell speech.
Cafero recalled some classic battles between himself and Donovan when the two served on the Labor Committee together years ago. But despite their ideological differences, they became friends, he said.
“We got close because I respect a person who’s comfortable in their own skin, and that’s what Chris is,” Cafero said.
Donovan understood he was speaker of the entire chamber and was always respectful of the voice of the minority party, he said.
“I’m going to miss him a lot. He’s become a very dear friend of mine,” Cafero said.
Donovan joked that his hair has gotten lighter and Cafero has gotten thinner over their 20 years together in the House.
Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who will succeed Donovan as speaker next year, took a more serious tone. He called Donovan a “consummate vote counter” who is dedicated to his principles.
“You have held firm with your beliefs and you have sought to make this state, this chamber a better place because of the things that you believe in,” Sharkey said. “You never lost sight of notion that in a position of power that you have you have an opportunity to do a lot of good things, or a lot of selfish things, in everything that you’ve done it’s been the selfless that you’ve had in mind.”
Former Speaker of the House Jim Amann, who is now a lobbyist, said he remembers his last day as a mix of emotions.
“You get excited looking forward to all the things you want to do going forward, but it’s almost like leaving your family for the first time,” Amann said.
Amann left the House in 2008 to launch his gubernatorial campaign. Almost two years later he was one of the first candidates to drop out. Donovan is hoping his Congressional campaign doesn’t end the same way, but there are a lot of unknowns for politicians upon retirement from the General Assembly.
Donovan’s departure and Congressional campaign may have some wondering what will happen to “The Bad Reps,” his band.
Donovan may be the frontman and guitar player for the band but said he has no plans to go solo and leave Reps. Peter Tercyak and Chris Perone behind. He said if he gets elected to Congress he would still be a representative so the name of the band wouldn’t have to change.
However, Tercyak said he wouldn’t be surprised if Donovan finds a second band in Washington, D.C. to occupy his Sunday afternoons. Tercyak said the Bad Reps won’t be performing until after the election though, because he doesn’t want Donovan to lose votes if his bass line is off.
In addition to Donovan, Reps. Chris Coutu, Lile Gibbons, John Hetherington, John Rigby, Melissa Riley, Richard Roy, Linda Schofield, Peter Villano, and Bruce Zalaski also won’t be seeking re-election
Sen. Andrew Roraback
The Senate also said goodbye to one of Donovan’s potential congressional opponents, Republican Sen. Andrew Roraback. Roraback has the distinction of never having missed a roll call vote during his time in the General Assembly. He’s cast 8,468 consecutively.
Roraback has been described as a “Yankee Republican” for his progressive position on social issues and has served in the General Assembly since 1995. Colleagues praised him for his ability to work well with members on the other side of the aisle.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said Prague and Roraback retiring on the same day was a loss to the Senate. Bye said when she was a House member, Roraback was the only senator she wasn’t a little afraid to approach because he was always so welcoming.
“You’re a gentleman senator who works so hard at your craft to make sure you get it right,” Bye said.
Though Roraback never served as part of the majority party, Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, said he managed to make a mark by carving out a niche on environmental issues.
Roraback said he was proud to have served in the Senate, which he said is an amazing institution.
“The delicious irony is that there are a whole bunch of state senators sitting around saying nice things about one another when there’s complete pandemonium and chaos about 30 feet away,” he said.
Unlike Washington, D.C, where he’s hoping to serve next, Roraback said that members of the Senate in Connecticut still have the ability to be friends at the end of the day, despite their differences.