Lawmakers welcomed the unexpected return of a convalescing Sen. Andrew Maynard as they began the 2015 legislative session Wednesday morning at the state Capitol.
He nodded when asked if he was present Wednesday, but there was no doubt he wanted to be there. His return was met with a round of applause and tears from some of his colleagues.
He was escorted into the chamber by Sen. President Martin Looney, former Senate President Donald Williams, and Majority Leader Bob Duff.
Maynard fell at his home in July and suffered a traumatic brain injury, which left him with aphasia when it comes to his speech. His family says he can process language and understand others, the condition just impairs his ability to speak.
Denise Mahoney, Maynard’s sister, said her brother insisted on being at the state Capitol to take the oath of office.
“The rate of his recovery from his injuries has been nothing short of remarkable,” Mahoney said.
Maynard has been convalescing at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.
The scars on his head were visible, but he was able to walk into the chamber without any help and accepted hugs and congratulations from his colleagues and friends.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said Maynard’s return surprised everyone in the chamber and will probably be the high point of the 2015 legislative session.
Markley said Maynard’s return proved very moving and he hoped that it would be an omen for the whole session.
“It reminds you we are all human beings and progress can be made,” Markley said. “Some things move in the right direction.”
Maynard was appointed by Looney to be the co-chairman of the Transportation Committee again this year.
The committee’s co-chairman Rep. Antonio Guerrera said he was “ecstatic” to see his colleague.
“The first thing I did was come up here and give him a big hug. He looks good. Every day seems to be getting better and better,” Guerrera said.
Looney said Maynard told him on Saturday that he wanted to be present to take the oath on opening day.
“It was so gratifying to have him with us and to see the extent of his recovery to date,” Looney said.
Three new legislative leaders were sworn in during Wednesday’s opening day following retirements last year. Looney, a New Haven Democrat, took over as president of the senate and North Haven Republican Sen. Len Fasano became the leader of the chamber’s minority caucus. Meanwhile, Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby became the first female minority leader in House.
The House re-elected Rep. Brendan Sharkey as its speaker. During his remarks, Sharkey encouraged House members to work together and avoid the pitfalls hyper partisanship. He told the chamber that before running for office he sought advice from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died last week.
“Mario Cuomo’s message was to hold firm to one’s political beliefs, but to avoid the type of political labelling that pushes the other side into pigeon holes toward the extreme,” he said.
Klarides endorsed Sharkey’s nomination as speaker and praised his efforts in the past two years to work in a bipartisan fashion. But as she took over the chamber’s minority party, Klarides couldn’t resist tweaking the majority party over gains Republicans made during the 2014 election cycle. At 64, the caucus is now larger than it has been at any time since 1994.
The House chamber is loosely divided with Republican lawmakers sitting to the right of center and Democrats to the left. Klarides she reminded Sharkey the line had shifted somewhat.
“Mr. Speaker, I want to say how darn proud I am of this caucus and how far over we are in this chamber. Did you miss that earlier? I don’t know if you were in here,” she said.
“I was in the back room. I was trying to ignore that but I heard, thank you” Sharkey said.
In addition to returning legislators, 33 freshmen lawmakers were sworn in Wednesday and three former House members moved to the third floor as senators. Seven freshmen Senators took the oath of office Wednesday.
Two state representatives, Auden Grogins and David Scribner, did not take the oath of office. Grogins was nominated to become a Superior Court judge and Scribner was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to serve as a commissioner in the Consumer Protection Department.
Sen. Andres Ayala of Bridgeport also did not take the oath of office and instead accepted Malloy’s nomination to become commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles.