With House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, seeking a promotion to Speaker of the House, New Haven Rep. Toni Walker and Hartford Rep. Matthew Ritter are lining up to take over his spot as the number two person in the House of Representatives.
At the moment it’s a friendly competition with Walker and Ritter making their pitches to their colleagues without challenging the other’s credentials.
Walker, who was named co-chair of the legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee in 2010, said Monday that she’s actively seeking the support of her colleagues.
She said she wanted to wait until the session ended because she didn’t want it to seem like she was using her position as Appropriations Committee co-chairwoman to gain support.
Walker, who has served 15 years, said she’s the best person for the job because it’s critical to have someone in budget negotiations who knows the process. Next year, the state is facing a $1.26 billion budget deficit.
As co-chair of Appropriations for six years and co-chair of Human Services for four years, Walker believes she’s the best women for the job. She said she also looks forward to creating a mentorship program for freshman lawmakers to help teach them how to engage in the process.
It’s not the first time Walker, 64, has expressed interest in the position. Back in 2009, Walker’s name was also mentioned as someone who was interested in the position, which eventually went to Sharkey.
Ritter, 34, is the son of former House Speaker Tom Ritter.
Ritter said he’s been eyeing a run for majority leader, but thought he would have to wait until 2018 for the position to open up. He said he began to have casual conversations about his intentions earlier this year, but that those calls began in earnest over the past five days as it became clear House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, wouldn’t run for re-election.
He said he wanted people’s feedback to guide his decision. He said he didn’t want to be a candidate who was viewed as candidate on the left or the right or urban versus suburban. He said he wanted to make sure their was “broad based” support for his effort before going forward.
Sharkey had enough confidence in Ritter, who unseated a Democratic incumbent in a primary in 2010 by two votes, to name him co-chair of the Public Health Committee, two years ago.
The father of two young children, Ritter said, it was also important for him to get the blessing of his wife to run for the position. Asked if he talked to his father about the decision, Ritter said he talks to his family about everything.
Ritter said his political ambitions don’t lead to Washington. He said he’s enjoys representing Hartford in the legislature and doesn’t have his eye on higher office.
“Toni is a friend and a mentor. There’s nothing adversarial about this,” Ritter said.
Of course, both Walker and Ritter’s ability to seek the position requires the Democratic Party to retain its majority in the House.
Currently, Democrats hold an 87-64 advantage over the Republican Party. The last time Republicans controlled the chamber was 1984. There are at least 11 Democratic members who announced they won’t be seeking re-election this year. On the Republican side there are 10 lawmakers who won’t be seeking re-election.