Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Nov. 27, 2022. Read more of CT Mirror’s “Best of 2022” stories here.
When the newly elected class of lawmakers takes office on Jan. 4, the balance of power in the Connecticut General Assembly will be little changed — a net gain of one seat by the Democratic majority in each chamber.
But the arrival of eight new senators and 28 new representatives also will continue an era of rapid change: More than half of the seats in the House and nearly two-thirds in the Senate will have turned over since 2018, some more than once.
“It’s crazy,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, who was elected in 2006 and was surprised to realize recently he is the third longest-serving member of his caucus.
The 2018 election ended nearly a decade of steady Republican gains that crested in 2016 with an 18-18 tie in the Senate and 72 seats in the House, tantalizingly close to the 76 necessary for a majority.
In January, Democrats will hold majorities of 98-53 in the House and 24-12 in the Senate. By winning all three seats in Greenwich and making other gains in Fairfield County, the House Democrats will represent some of the richest and poorest census tracts in the U.S.
“I think the only way you can govern when you have such a diverse party is you create a culture, and I use that word with the caucus a lot,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.
Ritter said that culture must be one of tolerance for the different needs and interests of his members.
“He has a much harder job than I do,” said Candelora, whose candidates were largely rejected by the upscale suburban voters in Fairfield County. “We’re officially the party of the middle class.”
The new lawmakers in the class of 2022 will bring their stories, experiences and perspectives to a citizen-legislature where a majority of the members hold outside jobs. There are retirees and 20-somethings, grandparents and newly married.
There is a physician, a nurse anesthetist, a visiting nurse, a union president, a cookbook author, an architect, a retired intelligence officer, two licensed clinical social workers, two preachers, at least four lawyers, business owners and educators.
“The different classes take on different personalities, have different experiences,” Ritter said.
Marcus A. Brown of Bridgeport will be the first openly gay Black man seated in the House.
He and Rep.-elect Dominque E. Johnson of Norwalk, also an LGBT activist, recently joined the two openly serving gay members, Reps. Jeff Currey of East Hartford and Raghib Allie-Brennan of Bethel, in a personal statement denouncing the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Our voices are loud — but strength comes in numbers,” the four Democrats said. “Even as we add two new representatives to our LGBTQ+ community under the Capitol Dome, more representation is needed. Our voices, our stories, and our struggles need to be shared to put an end to this hate.”
Sen.-elect Herron K. Gaston of Bridgeport is a young Black clergyman with degrees from Yale Divinity School and Quinnipiac School of Law and a memoir about being falsely accused, and then cleared, of a sexual assault while a college student in Florida.
He also wrote a book on mass incarceration.
“A lot of my scholarship and my work have been around the criminal legal system in the United States and critiquing that system through a theological lens," Gaston said. "And a lot of my theological work had been around looking at biblical references that's replete with individuals who technically can be seen as Second Chance persons.”
The influx of new faces comes after the election to the House of 31 new members in 2018 and 21 in 2020. In the Senate, 21 of the 36 members who will begin new terms in January were elected in 2018, 2020 or 2022.
Some of the seats have changed hands repeatedly.
Republican Chris Aniskovich, a mortgage broker who chairs the Clinton town council, unseated one-term Democrat Christine Goupil. She had won an open seat vacated by Jesse MacLachlan, a young Republican who was elected in 2014 and did not run in 2020. Aniskovich’s brother is William Aniskovich, a former state senator.
Rachel Chaleski, the Republican chair of the Danbury Board of Education, unseated Kenneth Gucker, the Democrat who had unseated a Republican in 2018.
The newly elected physician is Jeff Gordon, a Republican from Woodstock who will join Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, as one of two practicing physicians in the Senate. Gordon is an oncologist and hematologist.
“There are doctors who are doing this type of work and who I've talked with about how they've managed to juggle it all. So I've gotten a lot of good advice,” Gordon said.
Gordon said he’s spoken to Anwar and Dr. William Petit of Plainville, a Republican who did not seek another House term, and Dr. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury, an allergist who did not seek reelection to the House in 2018.
The Democratic senator-elect from Manchester is MD Rahman, an immigrant from Bangladesh and entrepreneur who launched businesses in health care, construction, and real-estate investment.
He is one of at least four lawmakers-elect born outside the U.S.
Two others are the Democrats who flipped Republican seats in Greenwich: Hector Arzeno, who is from Argentina, and Rachel Khanna, who is from France. Joe Hoxha, a Republican who won an open GOP seat in Bristol, emigrated to the U.S. from Albania as a young child.
Arzeno, a retired finance executive who favors the state continuing to use surplus funds to pay down debt and maintain robust budget reserves, said Ritter told him he was elected in 2010, when the state had no reserves and faced a huge deficit. Arzeno said Ritter seems committed to fiscal discipline.
“So far, I like what I hear. I mean, given my background, I like what I hear,” Arzeno said.
The Senate Democratic caucus is also adding two ardent unionists who may have a different take on fiscal policy.
Running for the third time, Martha Marx of New London won the seat opened by the retirement of Republican Paul Formica. Jan Hochadel, the president of AFT Connecticut and a national VP, will succeed Democrat Mary Daugherty Abrams of Meriden.
Aundré Bumgardner of Groton will be a House freshman for a second time.
In 2014, he was a 20-year-old Republican whose election brought diversity of youth and race to the GOP caucus, flipping a Democratic seat. Bumgardner is Black.
Democrat Joe de la Cruz unseated him in 2016, the year that Donald J. Trump was elected and the start of a period of introspection for Bumgardner.
Bumgardner left the GOP in 2017, turned off by Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration as a candidate, his seeming defense of white supremacists after a violent protest in Charlottesville, Va., and the paucity of GOP voices willing to object.
He joined the Democratic town committee, served as the campaign treasurer for the man who defeated him, and was elected to the town council.
In January, Bumgardner will succeed de la Cruz, who did not seek a fourth term, and return to the House — this time as a Democrat.
“I am very excited to be part of the 2023 freshman class. I've still in contact with the 2014 class,” he said.
Bumgardner, now 28, got married the day after Thanksgiving to Kayla Reasco, a former staffer to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat. He remains on good terms with at least some Republicans from the class of 2014.
His best man was Jesse MacLachlan, the young Republican from the class of 2014 who didn’t run in 2020. The guest list was bipartisan.