Bitterly estranged from the Senate Democratic leadership on matters of policy and personality, Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, confirmed Friday she would not seek an eighth term from a competitive district, dealing a blow to Democrats’ chances to win clear control of the evenly divided Senate this fall.
Slossberg infuriated Democrats by breaking with the party on the budget last year and more recently by announcing she would recuse herself from voting to confirm a former Senate colleague, Andrew J. McDonald, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, giving Republicans an effective veto in the Senate over the confirmation.
But she was a firebreak against the GOP’s regaining what once had been a safe GOP seat. Two of her three immediate Republican predecessors, Win Smith Jr. and Tom Scott, were widely seen as among the most conservative politicians to serve in the Connecticut Senate in recent decades.
“It was a very right-wing Republican seat,” Slossberg said of her first race in 2004 against Smith in the 14th Senate District of Milford, Orange and a portion of West Haven. “Everybody told me I couldn’t win. I knocked on 8,000 doors.” A portion of Woodbridge was added to the district after the 2010 census and redistricting.
With her announcement and the decision by Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., D-Branford, not to seek re-election in the 12th Senate District, two competitive shoreline districts on either side of New Haven are open.
“I think the district traditionally has been a Republican seat. I think Gayle did a good job after taking the seat from Win in holding it,” said Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven, the GOP leader. “It’s definitely a seat that is in play for 2018. We think with the right candidate we could pick up that seat.”
Scott, who gave up the seat to run for Congress in 1990, said the portions of West Haven in the district are populated by blue-collar Democrats moved by economic issues.
“Those precincts are winnable,” Scott said. “The Democrats are available to us with the right message.” Scott said he had no intention of seeking the seat.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the district has changed since Slossberg first won, in part from the inclusion of Democratic voters in Woodbridge.
“I’m bullish on a Democrat winning that seat,” Duff said. “With the right candidate, we can win.”
Republicans won only 12 of the 36 Senate seats in 2004, Slossberg’s first election. In 2016, the GOP achieved parity, at 18-18. Democrats retained nominal control only because of the tie-breaking ability of Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat.
At least seven Senate seats will be open this fall, because of retirements or incumbents seeking higher office. Four are held by Democrats, three by Republicans. Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, who joined Slossberg and Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, in blocking passage of a Democratic budget last year, is one of the four Democrats giving up their seats. Doyle is running for attorney general.
An irony of the trio’s budget votes is that they produced a positive political result for fellow Democrats: After Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a GOP-crafted budget, the legislature agreed on a bipartisan plan — sharing responsibility among the two parties.
Slossberg downplayed her estrangement with the leadership as a factor in her decision to leave the Senate after 14 years.
“It had nothing to do with this decision,” Slossberg said. “In our house, we said for a long time, 14 years for the 14th District.”
Slossberg carved an independent path. She broke with Democratic leaders in 2009 over their alternative to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget and again in 2011, when she voted against Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first tax-and-spending plan, which imposed a tax increase of nearly $1.8 billion.
She also cast some key votes for progressive issues: minimum-wage increases, same-sex civil unions and marriage, post-Newtown gun controls and, most dramatically, the repeal of the death penalty.
But with the Senate tied 18-18, her refusal to vote with Democrats on the budget seemed to grow more personal, her relationship with the Democratic leadership souring to the point of being toxic.
On Friday, she did not notify Duff or Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, of her decision, which was rumored Friday morning at the State Capitol. Approached at midday about her plans, Slossberg was coy, telling a CT Mirror reporter to call her at the end of the day.
Looney issued a statement saying, “I wish Senator Slossberg, her husband David and their children nothing but the best as the senator moves toward the conclusion of her service in the State Senate, an institution that I know she deeply cherishes.”
“It’s the ups and downs of legislative service,” Slossberg said. “But the bottom line is that job was never about me. It’s been about the people I represent.”
Slossberg did not rule out a further interest in electoral politics, but she will not seek statewide office in 2018. And despite her conflicts with colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus, she will remain a Democrat.
“I am a Democrat. I’m born and raised a Democrat, and I sat today with two Democratic town chairs and my Democratic mayor,” Slossberg said. “I’m a big-tent Democrat, and I believe our party and our country and our state do better when we are inclusive and work to find common ground.”