Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle returned to the state Capitol Thursday to elect their legislative leaders for next two years.
The only incumbent legislative leader who faced a challenge was House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, tried to gather votes to unseat Klarides in a closed-door caucus Thursday evening, but he was unsuccessful.
Republicans have credited Klarides with boosting their ranks by picking up eight seats in Tuesday’s election cutting the Democratic majority from 87-64 to 79-72. Ackert said she won “handily.”
Klarides was the first female to take the reins of the House Republican caucus two years ago. She’s the only female in a leadership role within any of the four caucuses.
Klarides said Republicans picked up seats Tuesday because the “state of Connecticut is angry. They’re angry and they are sick and tired of their elected officials saying one thing and doing another.”
What does that mean going forward?
“The mandate that the majority party has had for all these years is now over,” Klarides said.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Deputy Senate Minority Leader Kevin Witkos were also returned by their caucus to their leadership positions.
The Senate Democratic caucus unanimously re-elected New Haven Senator Martin Looney to president and Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk to deputy majority leader. The full Senate will vote on Looney’s appointment in January.
The House Democratic caucus elected Hartford Rep. Matt Ritter to majority leader and plan to elevate House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, to House Speaker in January. Aresimowicz has served for the past four years as majority leader and was first elected to the General Assembly in 2004.
As majority leader, Ritter will be the second-ranking official in the House and will serve as the leading spokesperson for floor debates and help control the flow of legislation that comes to the floor.
At a press conference outside the House chamber Thursday, Ritter said what happened on the campaign trail is over and now it’s time to “get down to governing.”
He insisted that his caucus would be punctual, prepared, and work in a bipartisan fashion.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, had been vying for the position of majority leader, but dropped out of the race a few weeks ago.
Aresimowicz announced Thursday that she would remain co-chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee. He declined to set a deadline for the remainder of the chairmanships.
“Our view as a caucus is that we didn’t care if it was 100 to 51 or what it is, it’s 79 to 72. That the best way to move the state of Connecticut forward is to work in a bipartisan manner,” Aresimowicz said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy congratulated the legislative leaders Thursday in a statement and said he looks forward to meeting with them in the days ahead to begin discussions.
“Throughout my experience here, we’ve come together across party lines time and again on many important issues, and I am confident that this bipartisan, productive collaboration will continue,” Malloy said.
Aresimowicz said the platform his caucus released two months ago at Goodwin College in East Hartford includes a lot of Republican proposals from previous years, such as exempting residents living on Social Security from the state income tax. That one proposal alone will cost the state about $47 million in revenue.
Aresimowicz was unable to say exactly how they would find the money to move forward with that particular proposal at the same time as they are restoring previous budget cuts for other state-funded programs and not raising taxes.
“Promoting job growth and economic development is the way we will find our path out of this budget crisis,” Aresimowicz said. He said they can’t continue to cut the state budget because those cuts have a negative economic impact.
At the same time, based on estimates released Thursday, the state could be facing a $3 billion budget deficit over the next two years. Aresimowicz acknowledged that the economy is not going to grow enough revenue to make up for the loss of revenue or the restoration of previous budget cuts.
But he didn’t necessarily have the solution Thursday.
Discussions will continue in the six weeks leading up to the Jan. 4 start of the 2017 legislative session.