After meeting behind closed doors for an hour and a half, House Democrats emerged from a legislative committee room Thursday night having nominated Reps. Brendan Sharkey and Joe Aresimowicz as next year’s House speaker and majority leader.
Sharkey’s designation, which still requires a ratification vote by the entire House on the first day of the legislative session Jan. 9, was never in doubt. As the previous majority leader he was expected to take over for departing House Speaker Chris Donovan, who ran an unsuccessful congressional bid this year.
But Aresimowicz, who represents Berlin and Southington, faced Rep. Jeffrey Berger of Waterbury for the leadership position of majority leader.
As they milled about the second floor of the Legislative Office Building before caucusing to cast their secret ballots, several lawmakers said they believed Aresimowicz had the votes to win.
They turned out to be right. Aresimowicz said he already was starting to lay out a “to-do list,” which included getting the 19 freshman House Democrats up to speed for the session. He said he was looking forward to sitting down with all of them to learn about the issues important to their towns.
Sharkey brings different skills to the office of speaker, while Aresimowicz — like the departing speaker — has a labor background, working as a service representative for AFSCME Council 4.
During a labor rally in September, Sharkey remarked that his background is different than Donovan’s.
“I’m not a lifelong labor organizer, so obviously my skills on that front are not the same as Chris’. I actually own my own small business and I’m coming at it from a private-sector perspective, but also as a Democrat,” he said. Sharkey is a lawyer and also co-owner of a consulting firm that specializes in expediting zoning and permits for national retailers. Conversely, Sharkey also has supported legislation to control sprawl.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol press room Thursday, he laid out some of his legislative priorities for next year, which he said include encouraging regionalism among the state’s towns, as well as energy and trade initiatives.
Sharkey said that earlier in his career he didn’t expect to end up in a leadership role in the House. He said the new position is humbling.
“I always have told people that I’m very, very lucky to be here in the legislature. People think of politics and public service often times as kind of a dirty business and a difficult thing to keep your morals about you. I always tell people that’s not the case here,” he said.
But Sharkey takes over the speakership with something on the horizon that could potentially complicate relations between legislative leaders. Neither House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero nor Senate GOP leader John McKinney have ruled out running for governor in two years.
Sharkey said he doesn’t believe either will use their leadership positions to further their political ambitions.
“Knowing both John and Larry, I think they’ll try as hard as they can to play it down the middle without taking political potshots they think might benefit them for the races if they choose to run for governor,” he said.
Senate Democrats voted on leadership earlier in the day Thursday and issued a press release saying they’d voted to keep Sen. Donald Williams the senate president and Sen. Martin Looney as its majority leader.
Williams has served in the position since 2004, Looney since 2003.
Williams said he looked forward to continuing efforts to improve the state’s economy and get more people back to work. Looney said they took an important step when they passed last year’s bipartisan jobs bill and expanded it this year.
“We have achieved important goals for the people of our state in recent years, including the historic Jobs Bill of 2011, a responsible budget, a major education initiative, and expansion and protection of programs and services for low income families and persons in need,” he said.