Legislators go home, and 24 won’t come back

Unless they are called back to override a gubernatorial veto, the tenures of 21 House members and three senators likely ended early Wednesday with the close of the one-day special session.

Fifteen Democrats and six Republicans are not seeking re-election to the House this fall, an unusually high number that guarantees a 14 percent turnover in the 151-member House, even before the remaining 130 legislators stand for re-election.

Six of the 21 House departures reflect ambition: three Democrats and two Republicans are running for the state Senate, a Republican is running for probate judge, and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, is seeking an open congressional seat in the 5th District.


At least 21 of these seats will have new owners.

House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who is set to succeed Donovan, said the pace of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first two years in office played a role in pushing others to leave.

“It was the amount of time and energy it takes away from family and from business, now more than ever, that was a consistent factor,” Sharkey said.

With twice as many Democrats leaving as Republicans, the GOP minority hopes to add to the gains made in 2010, when they increased their numbers from 37 to 51, a modern record.

They picked up a 52nd seat in a special election in 2011, leaving Democrats with a 99-52 advantage.

But 2012 is a presidential election year, and Democrats have gained between three and seven seats in the state House in every presidential year since the re-election of Bill Clinton in 1996, when they made a net gain of five seats.

In 2008, the coattails of President Obama helped Democrats pick up seven seats to win 114 of the 151 seats, the most won by Democrats since the post-Watergate election of 1974, when they captured 118.

Another downside for the GOP is they have to defend 15 freshman seeking re-election for the first time.

Republicans say Obama’s coattails will not be as long this year, as the state and nation struggle with an on-again, off-again economic recovery.

“He is a far different President Obama, and this is a far different America and far different circumstances than four years ago,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. “I am very optimistic.”

Cafero said the GOP will try to make the case this fall that one-party rule has left the state without appropriate checks and balances.

For the first time since Democratic Gov. William A. O’Neill left office in January 1991, the governor and both chambers of the General Assembly are in the hands of the same party.

“The first year of the Malloy administration, the legislature was just a rubber stamp, where they did everything he wanted,” Cafero said.

Sharkey said the Democratic governor and Democratic legislature have been “the adults in the room,” erasing a deficit of more than $3 billion left by Malloy’s Republican predecessor, M. Jodi Rell.

“Having a Democratic governor working with a Democratic legislature has produced results,” Sharkey said.

Democrats control the state Senate, 22-14. The voluntary turnover in the upper chamber is more modest: One Republican and two Democrats.

Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, is seeking the open 5th Congressional District seat, while Democratic Sens. Edith Prague of Columbia and Eileen Daily of Westbrook are retiring. At 86, Prague is the Senate’s oldest member.

The departure of the three senators is having a ripple effect in the House, prompting four representatives to pass up re-election for a chance to move upstairs.

The House members with designs on the Senate include a freshman, Rep. James Crawford, D-Westbrook, who is trying to succeed Daily, and four-term Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, who is running for Prague’s seat.

Rep. Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport, is waging a three-way primary for the seat held by Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport. Former Sen. Ernest Newton, back in Bridgeport after serving time for corruption, is the party-endorsed candidate.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Rep. Clark Chapin of New Milford is seeking Roraback’s seat, while Rep. Chris Coutu of Norwich abandoned a congressional campaign to take a crack at the seat Prague won in 1994.

Rep. T.R. Rowe of Trumbull is running for probate judge. The other Republicans not seeking another term are John W. Hetherington of New Canaan, Lile R. Gibbons of Greenwich and John B. Rigby of Winsted.

The other Democrats leaving the House are: Gail K. Hamm of East Hampton, Marie Kirkley-Bey of Hartford, Chris Lyddy of Newtown, Melissa Olson-Riley of Norwich and Kelvin Roldan of Hartford.

Also, Richard Roy of Milford, Linda Schofield of Simsbury, Joseph Taborsak of Danbury, John W. Thompson of Manchester, Peter F. Villano of Hamden and Zeke Zalaski of Southington.

Olson-Riley’s husband, Emmett Riley, is trying to succeed her in the House.