Fazio: “I feel an urgency to do the job well.”

February 10, 2022

(From Hearst CT)

Dan Haar: For the three newest lawmakers, an opening day of ideals

Opening Day.

A moment of renewal, of looking ahead to the possibilities, dreams of the highest ideals.

That’s true for everyone in baseball and politics, all the more for the newest players on the team.

As the General Assembly’s gaveled in 2022 on Wednesday, three lawmakers experienced their first regular session as everyone else returned for another year.

Rep. Treneé McGee, Democrat of West Haven; Rep. Hubert Delany, Democrat of Stamford; and Sen. Ryan Fazio, Republican from Greenwich, all won their seats in special elections after the end of the 2021 session.

Like everyone in the ornate, historic House chamber, they heard Gov. Ned Lamont describe a Connecticut approaching its best — a budget deep in surplus, big projects coming on line and much more.

And like everyone else, these three newest faces are keenly aware of the opposition view, the Connecticut with longstanding economic growth woes, high costs and a few new headaches, too.

I spoke with all three, together, and came away with the unmistakable message that, yes, they’re here to advance their different ideas, but they’re committed to working together, to being part of a new generation in politics literally, as millennials, and also in the way they hope to see their legislative careers unfold.

They are not wowed by the gaping divide between the parties.

“When you look at the three of us, we represent diversity,” Delany said. “Women, people of color, younger folks…What we’re trying to show by being here is to show that is isn’t an ideal, that it’s an actual practice, and we’re willing to put the work in.”

McGee is 27, an acting coach and teacher, writer and producer. Delany, 28, is a military journalist, recently off of active duty, now in the Reserves.

And Fazio, the old man of the rookie trio at 31, is a financial analyst, formerly in alternative energy.

“Both Rep. Delany and Sen. Fazio and myself, I think we are a reflection of the way we’d really desire politics to go. And that’s listening. Leadership and effective listening,” McGee said. “But it’s also finding a way to work with one another and support each other for our home districts. Everybody really has a desire to effectuate change.”

She added quickly, “We may not all politically agree.”

“It feels like a major responsibility,” Fazio said. “There is important business that gets done here that affects people’s lives; whether they can afford to put meals on the table for their family or whether they have a job or whether their kids are being educated well and people are safe. So I feel an urgency to do the job well.”

We will see the hard work sooner than in most legislative sessions, starting Thursday in the House and Monday in the Senate, as lawmakers vote on the controversial extension of a dozen of Lamont’s coronavirus executive orders.

Fazio is clear and blunt: He will vote no, as he did late last summer in his first vote in a special session after he won a special election to succeed former Sen. Alex Kasser, a Democrat.

“It was an easy vote, it was a vote I was proud to cast,” Fazio said.

Delany and McGee said they’re still listening, still deciding. “We as a community have a lot of work to do to restore the public’s faith and our process to be able to handle this pandemic and the process to be able to take care of them,” Delany said.

There will be many opposing votes, and some fights.

Call me naive and idealistic, but I came away feeling more secure that this generation can handle Connecticut’s version of hardboiled politics. 

All three talked about it in generational terms, as young people with a different perspective.

They drove home the point in one voice as I photographed them in the House chamber and they said no, better still, we’re millennials, we’ll do a selfie — in our style.

McGee talked about listening, her main objective, not just to learn but to translate that into action.

“We’re not stuck in our ways We are layered people, nuanced, we have vast life experiences,” she said.

Fazio repeated the idea of responsibility, of representing his whole district of Greenwich, much of New Canaan and part of Stamford. 

And to reach across the aisle.

“I certainly, as soon as I was elected, felt the weight of responsibility of everyone I represent.”

Opening Day brought a lot of warm welcomes that I witnesssed, as Rep. Quentin Williams (formerly Phipps), D-Middletown, advised McGee to let her voice be heard and to tell her story. Delany met his new legislative mentor, Rep. Pat Boyd, D-Pomfret, co-chair of the Veterans Affairs committee — although Delany is not on that committee.

“I’m in max learning mode,” he told Boyd, as they talked about the armed services.

“As someone who stands in both rooms, as someone who came up through active duty but is still serving as a reservist now,” said Delany, a sergeant — and Boyd finished the sentence for him: “You’re a valuable resource.”

The three rookies all talked about leadership and what it’s like being the least senior among 181 lawmakers — actually, it’s 179 and they will soon have two newer House members after upcoming special elections.

“It’s equal parts hope and anticipation,” said Delany, the last to be sworn in just last week after a special election to succeed Caroline Simmons, now the Stamford Mayor.

“I’m leading now in a different capacity,” he said. “All the easy stuff has already been done. Everything from here is hard….No one is going to expect that you’re going to be able to tackle systemic racism by being the most vocal person in the room.”

As for the task at hand: “Now for me it’s about taking that nervousness, it’s about taking that feeling of hope and being able to translate into real world problem-solving.”

Fazio was not shy to offer criticism of the Lamont administration and the way things are going now, listing the talking point issues of crime, scandal and costs. “So the problems that have been facing Connecticut since before the recession are still facing the middle class across the state and we still need a major change in direction.”

But he was equally clear about everyone working together and McGee and Delany echoed that. House Speaker Matt Ritter kidded McGee in the opening welcome about her location as members applauded her. “How did she snag a back row seat? That’s prime real estate Representative McGee, someone likes you.”

And she turned that back to her theme. “What I love about the back row is that you can really see everything, so I’m able to take in, observe, listen,” she said.

The hard work starts Thursday with the debate on he orders, including the one that controls school mask mandates. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” McGee said after a whirlwind opening day.