Rep. Matt Ritter
Rep. Matt Ritter Arielle Levin Becker /
Rep. Matt Ritter
Rep. Matt Ritter Arielle Levin Becker /

The leadership of the state House Democratic caucus is set for 2017 — so long as the Democrats do not lose more than 11 seats on Nov. 8, when all 151 seats in the House are up for election.

Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, dropped out of the race for majority leader Tuesday, conceding the contest to Rep. Matthew D. Ritter, D-Hartford. Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, the current majority leader, is unopposed in his bid to succeed the retiring J. Brendan Sharkey as speaker.

By resolving the post of majority leader now, the Democratic caucus can focus on the November campaign without distraction, Ritter said in an interview.

“There’s 21 days to go. You have one of the most interesting, toxic environments for elections in a long time. Joe was a great facilitator. He though this might not be a bad time to put everyone in the caucus united with one laser-like focus — the next 21 days,” Ritter said. “The timing is not meant to be presumptuous. The timing is meant to bring everyone together.”

Walker, who had described the contest with Ritter as amicable, will remain as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, a key post given the budget challenges projected for 2017.

Toni Walker
Toni Walker The CT Mirror

“We thought it was time to come together to move our caucus forward and I believe Matt and Joe will do great things for our caucus,” Walker said in a statement. “During these difficult budget times that our state is facing, I feel that with the experience I have, I can be most effective for our caucus and the people of Connecticut as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee.”

In anticipation of Aresimowicz becoming speaker in January 2019, when Sharkey would hit the informal limit of three terms, Ritter already had been lining up support for majority leader. Then Sharkey surprised legislators last spring with his decision not to seek re-election.

Walker, 64, a legislator for 15 years and co-chair of the Appropriations Committee for nearly six years, had to play catch up, making calls to gauge the depth and commitment of Ritter’s support while pitching her own qualifications. Her pitch was that the 34-year-old Ritter would be a great majority leader, but he could afford to wait.

Walker would have been the first black majority leader of the House.

The detente between Ritter and Walker is effective only if Democrats can block Republicans from winning 76 seats, which would require a net gain of a dozen seats. Democrats now have a 86-64 majority, with one vacancy.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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