(Updated 8:19 p.m.) With the 2014 elections over, new and returning lawmakers picked their leaders in three of the four legislative caucuses Thursday. Sen. Martin Looney will lead the Senate Democrats, Sen. Len Fasano will lead Senate Republicans and Rep. Themis Klarides will lead House Republicans.
House Democrats are the only group with a returning leader. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey of Hamden was re-elected Tuesday and is expected to be sworn in to another term in January by a vote of the entire General Assembly.
The other three caucuses picked new leaders to replace outgoing Senate President Donald Williams, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, and House Minority Leader Larry Cafero. All three leaders declined to seek re-election this year.
Senate Democrats promoted longtime Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, to replace Williams during a lunch at Carbone’s Ristorante in Hartford. Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, became the majority leader.
“I am honored and grateful for the support and confidence of the Senate Democratic Caucus,” Looney said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the members of our caucus, with [Democratic Gov. Dannel P.] Malloy and with Republicans of good will in continuing our efforts to create jobs, expand economic opportunity, and fight on behalf of middle-income families.”
Senate Republicans passed the mantle of minority leader to Fasano, a Republican from North Haven, during a meeting in their Capitol caucus room Thursday. Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, was elected to Fasano’s former minority leader pro tempore.
Outside his office in the Legislative Office Building, Fasano said his caucus would increase its outreach to urban communities. He said he would also work to improve communication and cooperation with the Senate Democrats.
“I’ve known Marty Looney for 30 years or something and we have a great relationship,” Fasano said. “We will meet and we want to try to move things along a little more briskly, if possible, work in a more bipartisan fashion, if possible, and get our caucuses together a little more frequently. We can disagree on issues, but let’s make sure we know what the issues are we’re disagreeing about.”
Democrats and Republicans in the House also met Thursday night for their own elections. Although Sharkey’s re-election vote will wait until January, Democrats re-elected Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, as their majority leader.
House Republicans elected their first female caucus leader in Klarides, a Republican from Derby. Following the election, she said the election had a symbolic quality for the party.
“The reality is, particularly for a Republican, we have to hear about this ‘war on women’ that I don’t think exists. I think that is put to rest with women being elected to leadership positions,” she said.
Klarides will take the reins of a House Republican Caucus which made major gains during Tuesday’s election when it picked up 10 seats. At 64 members, the caucus will be larger than it has been since 1994.
“People are sick of what’s going on and they’re not happy. Secondly, we had great candidates who ran great campaigns,” she said.
Only lawmakers who will be serving in the legislature next year cast votes in leadership elections. The elections happen behind closed doors, away from typically present legislative staffers.
But following the elections, newly re-elected Gov. Dannel P. Malloy dropped in to address both Republicans and Democrats.
“Listen, I’ve worked with a bunch of these folks,” Malloy told reporters. “When voting on the floor we don’t necessarily agree but there’s always issues that we work together on. Bonding issues, projects, or things they want to get done. No one has ever accused me of holding back money on projects of importance and I want to continue to work together.”
Malloy also greeted Cafero, often one of his harshest critics during his first term, just after Cafero turned the reins over to Klarides.
“Larry’s got his own style,” Malloy said of the outgoing Republican leader. “I mean, I wish we had more of a relationship but ideology sometimes prevents that from happening.”