House Speaker Matt Ritter and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney in 2021. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

Democrats retained large majorities Tuesday in the Connecticut General Assembly, blunting a Republican campaign centered on high inflation with one of the largest tax cuts in state history and four years of fiscal stability. 

Democrats maintained their 97-54 margin in the House and — at a minimum — had kept their 23-13 advantage in the Senate based on unofficial vote tallies for Democratic and Republican leadership in both chambers.

Legislative leaders from both parties agreed that Democrats held 23 Senate seats to the nine for the GOP with votes still being counted in four other close races early Wednesday morning. 

“People remember where we were as a state 10, 14 years ago,” House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said, referring to the deficits that plagued state finances almost annually for a decade, starting with the arrival of the Great Recession in 2008.

“We really immunized ourselves” against the next recession, said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, adding voters are happy to see state taxes and programs protected from the “rollercoaster effect” of the national economic swings.

Saving rather than spending huge state tax windfalls tied heavily to investment earnings, the state amassed a record-setting $3.3 billion rainy day fund and used nearly $6 billion more in surplus to pay down pension debt.

Democratic leaders said that mattered greatly to voters, particularly in Connecticut’s affluent suburbs, which were hit by progressive income tax hikes in 2011 and 2015.

Democrats make gains in Fairfield County

Democrats now control all three House districts in Greenwich, one of the state’s wealthiest communities, after capturing two GOP-held seats, according to unofficial results from leadership of the House Democratic and Republican caucuses.

Democratic challenger Rachel Khanna defeated Republican incumbent Kimberly Fiorello in the 149th and Hector Arzeno outpolled Republican Peter Sherr in the 151st District seat currently held by Harry Arora, who gave that up to campaign for state treasurer.

Democrats also captured a new 42nd House District created by reapportionment in Wilton. That went to Democrat Keith Denning, who defeated Republican Kim Healy.

Democrats lost three seats they currently hold: Republican Chris Aniskovich unseated Rep. Christine Goupil in the 35th District seat that stretches across Clinton, Killingworth and most of Westbrook; Republican Mark DeCaprio won the open 48th District in Colchester; and Republican Rachel Chaleski unseated Democrat Kenneth Gucker in the 138th District in Danbury.

The Danbury race appears to be headed for a recount, caucus leaders said, as is Democratic newcomer Christopher Poulos’ apparent win over Republican Tony Morrison for an open seat in the 81st District in Southington. The margin of victory in both races appeared to be within the 0.5% standard set by state law for a mandatory recount.

In the Senate, New London Democrat Martha Marx outpolled Old Saybrook Republican Jerry Labriola Jr. to win the 20th District seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme.

But it was unclear early Wednesday whether Windham Democrat Mae Flexer, the incumbent in the 29th District, had survived a challenge by Thompson Republican Susanne Witkowski.

Caucus leaders also were tracking close races in three other districts that Republicans currently hold:

  • The 8th Senate District race between Harwinton Democrat Paul Honig and Avon Republican Lisa Seminara;
  • The 35th Senate District race between Coventry Democrat Lisa Thomas and Woodstock Republican Jeff Gordon;
  • And the 36th Senate District contest in Greenwich between incumbent Republican Ryan Fazio and Democrat Trevor Crow.

GOP: Democrats deflected voters’ attention from economic issues

Republican leaders, who had hoped to make gains Tuesday, said Democrats used two strategies to divert voters’ attention from inflation that has topped 8% since March and climbed above 9% in June.

While Democrats touted a $650 million tax relief plan as one of the largest in state history, it reflected hurried campaign gimmicks rather than sound fiscal policy, GOP leaders argued. 

Roughly half of the plan involved one-time measures. And thanks to a confusing application process, a $250-per-child income tax rebate for middle-income families delivered only two-thirds of the $125 million in relief that was promised. 

Democrats were “more focused on a healthy balance sheet,” said Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, whose party pitched a $1.2 billion relief plan that included the first state income tax rate cut since 1995. “What good is that balance sheet if we’re not helping people who need some help?”

Rather than discuss why more couldn’t be done to help working families, Democrats also tried to insist access to abortion in Connecticut was at risk, said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. Most Republicans support the 1990 state law that codifies the framework of the Roe v. Wade — that abortion is legal up to fetal viability.

“I think the Democrats tried to scare people to the polls,” Candelora said. “I would call it a form of election terrorism.”

But Ritter rejected the argument that abortion access doesn’t need defending in Connecticut.

“Says who?” Ritter said, adding that other states are passing laws that could impact Connecticut residents, and Democrats offered the only unequivocal pledge to defend access.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.