Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Robyn Porter (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—Thirty-one House Democrats formed a caucus Wednesday and announced their intention to push a progressive agenda for social, economic, educational and criminal justice for all.

The press conference, organized by Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, was held at the state Capitol.

Elliott started the year off by asking all of his Democratic colleagues where they stood on a number of issues. If they weren’t deemed progressive enough he was going to find a challenger who was more progressive to challenge them in a primary.

“We are going to be fighting for what is right for working families in Connecticut,” Elliott said Wednesday, to cheers.

Elliott said the goal of the group was to not just talk about the issues that are important middle and lower middle class residents, but to take legislative action.

“We are going to be talking and fighting over the issues that matter, yes,” Elliott said. “But we as a group also intend to get the issues that matter to us up on the board and get a vote on them,” he added to head shakes and applause from his fellow Democrats and those in the audience.

The group, Elliott said, has formed to build solidarity driving key issues for working people and families across the state.

Elliott said he hasn’t polled his colleagues about where they stand on issues since the beginning of the year, but plans to do it after the 2018 election.

He said he wants to make sure people who aren’t afraid to take a vote on an issue are elected.

Elliott has been critical of his own Democratic leadership for debating and tabling issues last year.

Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, said they’ve seen recently that “there’s a handful of corporate Democrats that can be obstructionists.”

She said for whatever reasons there’s a handful of Democrats who are perceived to be in the middle who are controlling the agenda. 

“To solve some of the challenges facing the state we need progressives to be organized and working together in a strategic way.” Farrell said.

One of Elliott’s allies in this mission is Rep. Robyn Porter of New Haven, who co-chairs the Labor and Public Employees Committee.

“We will be fighting for working families in this building,” Porter said. “We just got a pay equity bill out of the House and we are expecting it to land on the governor’s desk.”

The pay equity bill easily passed through the House with 142 in favor and only four Republicans in opposition.

The bill, which would simply prohibit employers from asking about a person’s salary history, now goes to the Senate. If the Senate approves it and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs it Connecticut will become the 5th state in the country to pass legislation.

Porter said while the pay equity bill was a big step forward there is much more to be done – and much more the “Progressive Democrats” can and will be lobbying for in the future.

She said one of the first things the new group should get behind is legislation to raise the minimum wage in Connecticut to $15.

The legislature’s Appropriations Committee forwarded a minimum wage increase to the House, but it’s full passage is questionable because it only passed by a 27-24 vote.

The committee was largely divided along party lines with Democrats supporting an increase and Republicans opposing it.

The bill would raise the state minimum hourly wage from $10.10 to $12 on Jan. 1, 2019; from $12 to $13.50 on Jan. 1, 2020; and from $13.50 to $15 on Jan. 1, 2021. Once the minimum wage reaches $15 in 2022, the bill indexes any future increases to annual increases in the consumer price index.

“We need to call this bill,” Porter said to more cheers. “It’ll help elevate the working people in this state. Is $15 enough? No, but it’s a start,” Porter said.

Another legislator who was with the “Progressive Democrats” was James Albis, D-East Haven, who said he wanted to be part of the group “to combat inequality in our state.”

Albis said study after study shows that families making lower incomes in the state paying a higher percentage of taxes than wealthier families.

He called that fundamentally unfair.

Albis said the “Progressive Democrats” will work with all other legislators in the General Assembly. “We want to work with everybody to make Connecticut a better state,” Albis said.

Another member, Bob Godfrey, D- Danbury, said: “The fight for working families, students, senior citizens, and children, and the fight for social equality, equal justice, and sympathetic care are being renewed. This is a fight sweeping the country and energizing our state.”

Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, told his fellow Democrats who stood with him at the press conference that their job won’t be easy but the goal is doable.

“We need to work in concert,” Rosario said. “Let’s keep fighting.”

Members of the “Progressive Democrats” are: Reps. Terry Adams, James Albis, Juan Candelaria, Mike D’Agostino, Joe de la Cruz, Michael DiMassa, Josh Elliott, Andy Fleischmann, Bobby Gibson, Bob Godfrey, Gregg Haddad, Joshua Hall, Jack Hennessy, Susan Johnson, Roland Lemar, Matt Lesser, Rick Lopes, Brandon McGee, Russ Morin, Robyn Porter, Geraldo Reyes Jr., Kim Rose, Robert Sanchez, Ezequiel Santiago, Hilda Santiago, Chris Soto, Peter Tercyak, Ed Vargas, Toni Walker, Kevin Ryan, and Mike Winkler.

Democrats have lost seats in the House since 2008, the first year former President Barack Obama was elected. They went from having a super majority of 114 members that year down to their current 79 members.

Elliott believes this happened because they failed to make the hard decisions and force votes on issues like Paid Family Medical Leave, equitable taxation, and a $15 minimum wage.