Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, is joined by other members of the Senate Republican caucus at a press conference Wednesday. Kyle Constable /
Senate GOP leader Len Fasano outlines the Republican alternative to tolls. mark pazniokas /

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, is not seeking re-election, opening a fight to succeed him in a suburban New Haven district and as leader of the GOP minority in the Connecticut Senate.

Fasano, who filed papers creating a campaign committee in February, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. But a staff member confirmed that the senator has informed colleagues and supporters of his decision not to seek a 10th term representing the 34th District of Durham, East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford. 

Fasano, 61, is a centrist Republican lawyer who was elected to the Senate in 2002 and succeeded John P. McKinney as the caucus leader after the 2014 election cycle, when McKinney ran for governor instead of re-election. Fasano was re-elected in 2018 with 58.5% of the vote.

Republicans have not controlled the Senate since a two-year run in 1995 and 1996, but they won an 18-18 tie in 2016, forcing a rare power-sharing arrangement with Democrats, who retained nominal control due to the tie-breaking ability of a Democratic lieutenant governor.

With Donald J. Trump in the White House and the Democratic base energized, Democrats won 23 of the 36 Senate seats in 2018. The Democratic advantage fell to the current 22-14 after Republicans picked up a seat in a special election last year.

As the caucus leader, Fasano both fought and, on occasion, worked cooperatively with two Democratic governors, Ned Lamont and Dannel P. Malloy. And he kept his distance from the president, declining an invitation to be a Trump delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention. He exhibited frustration that summer at the endless questions about Trump.

“I never endorsed him. I purposely didn’t go to the convention. I don’t feel I have to defend or attack every statement he makes,” Fasano said.

His focus, he said then, was Connecticut’s fiscal crisis and electing a Republican majority to the state Senate.

“That’s why I’ve taken a hands off attitude,” Fasano said. “He is the nominee of our party. I respect that. But I don’t feel I have to defend him every step of the way.”

He opposed Lamont’s various proposals to increase transportation spending by imposing highway or bridge tolls, but he offered an alternative: Using budget reserves in a complex and creative way to finance a transportation overhaul without tolls or new taxes.

The plan would have used nearly two-thirds of the state’s budget reserves to pay down pension liabilities, producing an annual savings of $130 million that could be spent on transportation. Another $100 million would come from cutting annual borrowing for things such as capital spending on local schools and public universities.

Lamont rejected it as too risky, but complimented Fasano for coming to the table with the idea.

Recently, Fasano has praised Lamont for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he gave a poor review in December of the governor’s political skills.

“It’s a lack of understanding in that building that has been an impediment to the governor closing the deal” on transportation, Fasano said. “I think the business principles and brains are of value, but they are nullified if you can’t navigate the building.”

Fasano’s opposite number in the Democratic caucus, Senate President Martin M. Looney of New Haven, said he would be missed.

“I am disheartened to hear that Senator Fasano’s time in the state Senate will be coming to an end. Len is a pillar of the General Assembly and leaves a distinguished legacy as a true statesman of the Connecticut Senate,” Looney said. “While we may serve as leaders of different parties, Len and I have worked together countless times to solve problems, help people in need, and get vital things done.”

The two leaders worked together last year in passing a bipartisan patient protection bill, the third in a series of health care measures they co-sponsored. Looney said those laws have been a model for other states

“The Senate circle will not be the same without him,” Looney said. “I am fortunate to have counted Len as a friend for over 30 years and I will miss him dearly. I wish him, his wife Jill, and his family the very best.”

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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