State Democratic Chair Nancy DiNardo at center, Republican Chair Ben Proto on right, with Patty McQueen, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party, on left. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

In a rare display of bipartisan harmony, the chairs of Connecticut’s Democratic and Republican parties appeared together Monday before a legislative committee to speak in support of two proposals, including a bill to change the date of the state’s presidential primary.

Republican Chair Ben Proto sat beside Democratic Chair Nancy DiNardo as she addressed the Government Administration and Elections Committee. When the Democratic chair had finished her remarks, the Republican began his.

“What Nancy said,” Proto said, prompting laughter from some legislators and onlookers in the conference room of the Legislative Office Building.

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The unlikely pair made the trip to Hartford to support two bills. One proposal would make changes to Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, including raising the limit on contributions to the two political parties from $10,000 to $15,000.

The other would move the date of Connecticut’s presidential primary from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday of the same month. This latter change would need to be approved by the national parties, which set the calendar for presidential primaries.

The two-party chairs said they had worked together to help craft both the proposals, which they believed would help Connecticut emerge as more of a player in national politics.

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“Presidential primary season traditionally focuses enormous attention on a handful of states in January and February,” DiNardo said. “For too many presidential elections, Connecticut voters have been short-changed in the primaries, scheduled on the last Tuesday in April, so late that most of the decisions about the field of candidates in both the Democratic and Republican party have already been made.”

Proto said the earlier date would help the two parties engage more voters in the process and likely provide an economic boon for Connecticut if the earlier date convinced presidential candidates to campaign in the state. 

“We know that when the candidates come to a state they spend a lot of money, not only on their media buys but also within our hospitality industry, on salaries, on staff,” Proto said. “So there’s a tangential benefit to doing this, to making us a competitive state that candidates want to come to.”

The party chairs also urged the committee to raise their fundraising contribution limits, saying they rely on donations to fund their work.

“Fundraising limits have not been updated, I believe, for more than a decade and over that time, with inflation, other costs have increased significantly,” DiNardo said. 

The rarity of seeing the two parties in agreement was not lost on members of the GAE committee. At the outset of their testimony, Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the panel, made “a little accommodation” to parliamentary rules and allowed them to testify together “because we have a rare moment of bipartisan comity on this committee.”

Proto thanked the panel for allowing both he and DiNardo to testify together and said their cooperation may not be as unusual as it appears.

“Contrary to popular belief, we work together on things more often than might otherwise be known,” he said.