New GOP legislator says voter anger fueled his win

Special elections are almost always about local issues and personalities, but newly elected Rep. Sam Belsito, R-Tolland, said Wednesday his landslide victory last week had nothing to do with him or his opponent.

“This election was not about the local candidates – was not, absolutely not,” Belsito said after taking the oath of office in the Hall of the House.

Belsito said his victory in the 53rd District of Ashford, Tolland and Willington was fueled by broader voter anger over taxes, the economy and the gun control legislation that passed in April with support from 20 of the other 52 members of the House GOP caucus.

“Almost to a person that I spoke to, they are very angry. They are mad,” Belsito said. “They just cannot believe what the state legislature has done to them, from last year with the Second Amendment rights, all the way down to increasing taxes.”

Belsito succeeds Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Tolland, who resigned to accept a post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The newest member of the General Assembly gives the GOP its 53rd member in the 151-seat House, the most in nine years.

Roy Occhiogrosso, a Democratic strategist, said viewing one House race as a bellwether “would be a mistake.”

“If there is a wave of change in local elections, then perhaps you can make that point,” he said.

In February 2011, Democrats pointed to wins in seven of nine races to fill legislative vacancies as evidence that voters had not turned on Democrats over a $1.5 billion tax increase Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had just proposed. The GOP had tried to make those special elections a referendum on the budget.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Belsito’s win, the overall GOP legislative performance in 2012 and recent polling showing dissatisfaction with Malloy could be a broader indicator of voter unrest with majority Democrats.

“I think in this particular case you’re taking about a district that had for 40 years elected Democrats,” Cafero said.

Cafero said it also was noteworthy that the GOP did not lose state legislative seats in 2012, despite President Obama carrying the state by double digits.