With taxes the issue, GOP gets a do-over in special elections

With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed $1.5 billion tax increase still dominating the headlines, Republicans get a do-over Tuesday in special elections to fill six House and three Senate seats left vacant by Democrats who won in November, only to resign before the legislature convened Jan. 5.

On WFSB’s “Face the State” on Sunday, Malloy was unsure if the nine state legislative races will be interpreted as an early referendum on one of the state’s biggest tax increases, but the Democratic governor seemed resigned to seeing his party’s substantial legislative majorities shrink.

“I think we’ll probably lose some seats,” he said. “We’ll win some seats.”

The balance of power cannot shift in a significant way Tuesday, since Democrats are guaranteed to end the day still holding at least 20 of 36 seats in the Senate. In the House, the GOP is seriously contesting only in four races, meaning that Democrats will end up with at least 96 of 151 seats in the House.

But a Republican sweep of the four House and three Senate races they are targeting could rattle Democrats about the wisdom of the largest tax increase since another new governor, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., responded to another inherited fiscal crisis in 1991 with Connecticut’s first broad-based tax on income.

Taxes have been a common theme in most of the races, but the abolition of the death penalty — an issue whose fate could be settled Tuesday — was introduced as an issue in one race over the weekend with an endorsement by Johanna Petit Chapman, the sister of Dr. William Petit, the survivor of the Cheshire home invasion.

New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart, the Republican candidate trying to succeed Democrat Donald DeFronzo in the 6th Senate District, said automated calls went out over the weekend with an endorsement message from Chapman, whom he called a friend.

“I am a strong advocate for the death penalty, always have been,” Stewart said.

His Democratic opponent, former Rep. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, said she was unsure how she would vote on a bill Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed in 2009 that would have abolished the death penalty for future cases. She is the only Senate candidate not on record as opposing repeal.

The repeal bill passed two years ago in the Senate, 19 to 17. After the November election, the Senate appeared to be evenly divided, 18 to 18. Of the three senators who resigned, Andrew McDonald of Stamford favored repeal and the other two, DeFronzo and Thomas P. Gaffey of Meriden, voted against repeal.

Democrat Thomas Bruenn and Republican Leonard Suzio, the two candidates seeking Gaffey’s seat in the 13th District, oppose repeal.

“I happen to believe that with the DNA evidence that we present that it is almost impossible for an innocent person to be on death row,” Bruenn said.

In Stamford, Republican Bob Kolenberg is opposed, and Democrat Carlo Leone voted against repeal in 2009 as a member of the state House of Representatives.

The death penalty has not been a major issue in any of the House races, according to strategists in both parties.

Bruenn said when he goes door to door voters want to talk about taxes, jobs and the cost of health care.

Voters have told him that Malloy’s tax increases are too heavily weighted toward the middle class, and Bruenn said he agrees with them. He would like to see higher taxes on couples making more than $500,000 a year and lower the tax rates for the poor and middle class.

Suzio could not be reached for comment, but he has campaigned against taxes. He signed a pledge last month saying he would vote against any effort to raise taxes, and said during a debate the same day Malloy presented his budget, “I don’t like the tax increases. Not a penny. No new taxes. No more taxes. No way.”

In New Britain, Gerratana distanced herself from Malloy’s tax plan, saying it wasn’t “appropriate” for the district.

“I think people are a little bit outraged what they saw the other day,” Stewart said. “I would say taxation is a huge issue for every person in the district.”

Stewart’s refusal to say when he would resign as mayor if he wins has been an issue. Stewart said he would perform both jobs during a transition period.

“His approach is it is OK to do both,” Gerratana said. “I would be a full-time senator.”

Gerrantana is one of two former House members on the ballot Tuesday. In West Hartford, Republican Allen Hoffman is competing with Democratic Councilman Joe Verrengia for the seat vacated by David McCluskey. Hoffman was a one-term representative in the 1990s.

Four Republicans running Tuesday were on the ballot in November.  In East Haven, Republican Linda Monaco is making a second try for the 99th House District seat. Janet Peckinpaugh, the former TV anchorwoman who was the GOP nominee for congress in the 2nd District, is running Tuesday in the 36th House District.

Kolenberg was the GOP nominee in the 27th Senate District in November, losing to McDonald, who quit to become Malloy’s top legal adviser. Suzio was the GOP nominee in the 13th, losing to Gaffey, who resigned after pleading guilty to double billing for legislative travel.

Republicans have given the 27th District special attention, drawing campaign stops over the weekend by former Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele, who once challenged McDonald for the seat, as well as the GOP’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate nominees, Tom Foley and Linda McMahon.

Malloy had no scheduled campaign appearances over the weekend, though he has helped raise money for a couple of candidates, said his staff. Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford, did make a pitch on “Face the State” on behalf of Leone.

“He’d be a great state senator,” Malloy said.

The GOP did not nominate a candidate in the 25th House District, ceding the seat to Democrat Robert Sanchez.

In Bridgeport’s 126th House District, the state GOP is putting no resources in the race to succeed Democrat Chris Caruso, but a Republican, James Keyser, is on a crowded ballot. Joining Keyser and Democrat Charlie Stallworth are five petitioning candidates, including former Rep. Robert Keeley, a Democrat trying to make his second comeback.

Senate 6Berlin, Farmington and New Britain
(Vacancy: resignation of Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain)
Terry Bielinski Gerratana (D)
Timothy T. Stewart (R)
Terry Bielinski Gerratana (WF)

Senate 13Cheshire, Meriden, Middlefield, and

(Vacancy: resignation of Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden)
Thomas E. Bruenn (D)
Len Suzio (R)
Thomas E. Bruenn (WF)
Len Suzio (Independent Party)

Senate 27Darien and Stamford
(Vacancy: resignation of Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford)
Carlo Leone (D)
Bob Kolenberg (R)

House 20West Hartford
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford)
Joe Verrengia (D)
Allen Hoffman (R)
Allen Hoffman (Connecticut for Lieberman)

House 25New Britain
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain)
Robert Sanchez (D)
Robert Sanchez (WF)
Richard Marzi (Write-In)

House 36Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex)
Philip J. Miller (D)
Janet Peckinpaugh (R)

House 99East Haven
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven)
James M. Albis (D)
Linda Monaco (R)
James M. Albis (WF)

House 101Guilford and Madison
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. Deborah Heinrich, D-Madison)
Joan M. Walker (D)
Noreen S. Kokoruda (R)

House 126Bridgeport
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport)
Charlie L. Stallworth (D)
James Keyser (R)
Mark P. Trojanowski (Petitioning Candidate)
Carlos Silva (Petitioning Candidate)
Robert T. Keeley, Jr. (Petitioning Candidate)
Thomas R. Lombard (Petitioning Candidate)
Verna Kearney (Petitioning Candidate)