Legislative delegation from region has its work cut out for it [New London Day]

January 6, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New London Day

After losing some of its legislative heavy-hitters to retirement or defeat, southeastern Connecticut’s delegation to the General Assembly will have to “work even harder,” according to one veteran lawmaker.

“The region’s delegation has had to constantly jump up and down and wave our hands in the crush of legislation for big cities,” said state Rep. Diana Urban, a Democrat elected last November to her seventh two-year term representing the 43rd District comprising Stonington and North Stonington.

“Now, with the loss of seniority and people in leadership positions, we’re going to have to work even harder,” she said.

Many long-dominant Democrats from the region got voted out last fall, with eight of southeastern Connecticut’s 15 seats in the state House and Senate going to Republicans. In the last session, Democrats occupied 13 of the 15 seats.

While state Sen. Andrea Stillman did not lose her seat, Democrats did lose her political clout when Stillman decided not to seek re-election. After a combined 22 years in the state House and Senate, Stillman was chairman of the Education Committee, vice chairwoman of Transportation, and a member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. She was also chairwoman of the General Bonding Subcommittee and the Senate’s deputy president pro tempore.

Friend and fellow Democratic lawmaker Betsy Ritter, a ranking member of numerous committees and a deputy speaker of the House, ran for Stillman’s Senate seat but was beaten by Republican Paul Formica.

Ritter’s 38th District House seat also was taken by a Republican, Kathleen McCarty.
Some of the other experienced Democrats who were ousted from the House were six-term lawmaker Edward E. Moukawsher in the 40th District and four-term 41st District Rep. Elissa Wright.

Deputy Speaker Kevin Ryan, an 11-term House Democrat representing the 139th District, echoed Urban in saying that the delegation will have its work cut out for it when the session begins in earnest.

“We did lose some impact,” said Ryan, “and everybody else will have to work harder to make up for it.”

Veteran 39th District Rep. Ernest Hewett, who was easily re-elected and on Monday was named an assistant majority leader, said he’s less concerned about Democrats losing leadership positions and more concerned about the lack of seniority in the delegation.

Hewett, a Democrat, said his decade of tenure, not a title in front of his name, is what helps to take care of his district and constituents’ business.

Hewett is confident the new delegation will work as a team for the betterment of southeastern Connecticut.

And both incumbents and newly elected lawmakers agreed that regardless of party affiliation, representing the needs of the region is the top priority.

“There are certain things that we will not agree on, but at the end of the day, we all want things like reasonable taxes and quality education,” said Formica.

“We’re all different, we have different ideologies, but we all want what’s best for the region,” said Aundre Bumgardner, the new Republican in the 41st House District.

“It’s better to have a bipartisan delegation because we have a real fiscal crisis that has to be addressed honestly and prudently,” he said.

A new crop of lawmakers can be a good thing, added Urban.

“Yes, we’re losing experience and institutional knowledge, but we’re getting new ideas and new blood,” she said.

On Monday, for the second time since the November election, members of the delegation met informally to prioritize the region’s legislative issues, discuss areas of possible collaboration, and for experienced lawmakers to guide and assist the newcomers.

Ryan joked after Monday’s session that Bumgardner pointed out to him that Ryan has been in the General Assembly for longer than Bumgardner’s been alive.

And new House Republicans John Scott, R-40th District, and Mike France, R-42nd District, who car-pooled together to another meeting in Hartford afterwards, agreed that the meeting was a good opportunity to share ideas, set priorities, and meet one another.

Urban said until Monday, she hadn’t met McCarty or Bumgardner.

“New people inject new ideas into the process,” she said. “And it will be really fun to have Aundre (Bumgardner). He’s boundlessly enthusiastic. And he’s not shy at all about fixing things that he thinks are worthwhile.”

The delegation’s priorities include perennial issues like the budget, education cost sharing, municipal aid, transportation, and some local issues, such as including New London’s magnet school project in this year’s legislative school construction funding package.

“It’s the issues du jour that always come up, and figuring out ways to be creative,” said Urban.

Formica, who is giving up his seat as East Lyme’s first selectman, said he would like to advance some of the same savings at the state level that he has in his town. And, as promised while campaigning, he said he will focus on housing, transportation and jobs, all things that he said are ultimately connected.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will deliver the State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday, and both the veterans and the newcomers in the local delegation are anxious to get started.

“I’m looking forward to Wednesday and getting our feet wet,” said France.