Fasano Elected Senate GOP Leader; Witkos As Deputy [The Courant]

November 7, 2014

The Hartford Courant

Three years ago, the state Senate Republicans had three rising stars who all graduated from Yale.

Senators John McKinney, Andrew Roraback, and Leonard Fasano were all moderate Republicans who served together for years and crafted legislation together.

After McKinney and Roraback both ran for higher office and lost over the past two years, Fasano was the only one left from the original trio.

On Thursday, Fasano was elected unanimously by his caucus members as the new Senate Republican leader.

“I am humbled. This is a tremendous honor,” Fasano said. “I am grateful to our entire caucus for giving me the opportunity to promote the policies that we believe best serve the people of Connecticut.”

Fasano was elected on a day when legislators picked their caucus leaders at the Capitol complex. Longtime Democrat Martin Looney of New Haven was tapped by his caucus Thursday as the next Senate President Pro Tempore. Since Looney will be the leader of the entire Senate, his election does not become official until the full 36-member chamber votes on opening day in January. But his caucus will hold the majority next year at 21 to 15, and the election of the top Senate leader is traditionally done on a bipartisan vote.

As expected, Senator Bob Duff of Norwalk was also elected as Democratic majority leader to run the chamber along with Looney.

In the House, Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz were both expected to be reelected to their leadership positions for another two years by their new, 87-member Democratic caucus.

Sharkey, who had a close working relationship with outgoing House Republican leader Larry Cafero, said he expected to have a solid relationship with the new Republican leaders.

“I think, generally speaking, because we’ve created an atmosphere where I think the other side of the aisle [in the House] feels that they have been included in the process … I think that will continue,’’ Sharkey said in an interview.

In the Senate, Fasano immediately named Sen. Kevin Witkos of Canton as the deputy leader with the title of Senate Republican leader pro tempore. A veteran lawmaker who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2002 before winning his first Senate election in 2008, Witkos is known at the Capitol for working quietly behind the scenes to get amendments passed without much fanfare. He is particularly known for his work on energy and law enforcement issues because he served as ranking member of the energy committee and spent more than two decades as a police officer.

In addition, Witkos represents the conservative wing of the caucus on various issues. For example, Witkos was one of only two senators who voted in 2009 against banning the transfer of a machine gun to anyone under the age of 16.

The bipartisan bill, which was later signed into law by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, passed by 31 -2 and was prompted by the tragic death of an 8-year-old Connecticut boy at a Massachusetts gun club. The law prohibits the physical transfer of the weapons to children – in response to the death of Christopher K. Bizlij, an Ashford boy who lost control of a Micro Uzi submachine gun and accidentally shot himself in the head in October 2008 in Massachusetts.

The third-grade boy, who stood 4 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 66 pounds, could not control the recoil of the high-powered weapon.

Witkos, who said he had fired an Uzi in the past, said on the Senate floor during the debate that minors could still get access to firearms.

“It’s not going to fix anything,” said Witkos, who has since retired as a longtime Canton police officer. “It’s notgoing to prevent a tragic accident like this from happening. I think education is the way to go – not prohibiting gun ownership.”

In the accident, the 8-year-old boy was firing at a pumpkin with a 9mm Micro Uzi that can fire at a rate of 1,700 rounds per minute. The boy lost control of the weapon, which is manufactured for and used by the Israeli Special Forces.