Hugh McQuaid Photo
Sen. Anthony Musto (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Lawmakers continued to squabble over which political party gets top billing on election ballots Wednesday when a legislative committee passed a bill that would reverse a Supreme Court decision.

Last September, the state’s high court ordered that Republicans be given “Line A” on election ballots, despite the fact that the sitting governor, Dannel P. Malloy, is a Democrat.

By state law, the top line on ballots goes to the political party whose candidate received the most votes in the most recent gubernatorial election.

In 2010, Malloy won a close election against Republican Tom Foley. However, Malloy’s votes were split between the Democratic line and the Working Families Party’s line. Foley’s name only appeared on the Republican ballot line. And although Malloy was elected, when the votes were totaled, more voters had cast ballots on the Republican line than on the Democratic line.

In 2011, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill gave top billing to Democrats since their candidate occupied the governor’s mansion, but Republicans challenged her in 2012 and the Supreme Court agreed.

On Wednesday, the Government Administration and Elections Committee passed a bill that would change the law so that the political party the governor was a member of at the time of the election gets top billing, rather than the party that gets the most votes.

Republicans on the committee objected to the bill. Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford, cited the Supreme Court’s decision and called the legislation an abuse of power.

“When this lawsuit was brought, the Democrat Party tried to fight it. So first they tried to thwart the law. Then they fought the law. Now after they lost, this represents an attempt to change the law,” he said. “The bill represents an abuse of the majority party’s power.”

Democrats didn’t accuse the court of interpreting the law incorrectly, they just said they wanted to change the law to reflect its original intent.

According to Sen. Anthony Musto, the committee’s co-chairman, everyone always assumed the governor’s party got the top line, at least until 2010’s unusually close election highlighted the language of the statute.

“Frankly, every time I’ve been elected to office it’s been on Line B. It doesn’t really matter to me but some people think it’s important and we’re trying to make the law consistent with what people thought it was and what it’s effectively been since the law was passed,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Rep. Tony Hwang (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

The committee’s ranking Republicans insisted Democrats were just trying to change the rules because they didn’t like the Supreme Court decision.

“What I’m hearing right now is, ‘We’re not liking the rules so we’re going to go change it,’” Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said.

Sen. Michael McLachlan agreed.

“That’s what’s going on,” he said. “As long as everybody is clear that’s what’s going on, I’ll vote ‘No.’ I suppose some others might vote ‘No.’ Chances are, nobody in the majority party will vote ‘No,’ but let’s move on.”

Musto pushed back, saying the General Assembly changes laws in response to court cases “all the time.”

“The law is the law until the legislature decides differently unless it’s a constitutional concern, which this is not,” he said.

Musto said he personally agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to give Republicans the top line on ballot last year because of the way the law was written. But he did not think that was the intent of the law.

The committee’s passage of the bill prompted a statement from House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero, who accused Democrats of altering the rules because they could.

“It is total arrogance,” he said.

The bill passed the committee on an 8-5 vote and heads to the House for further action.