Sen. Patricia Billie Miller of Stamford was elected Tuesday evening as chair of the legislature’s all-Democratic Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, defeating the vice chair, Rep. Bobby Gibson of Bloomfield.
Miller, who appears to be the first Black woman to lead the caucus, succeeds Rep. Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury, who is Latino. The caucus alternates its leadership every two years between Black and Latino or Hispanic members.
By tradition, Gibson was expecting to move from vice chair to chair after a pro forma election, but the caucus bylaws allow members to contest for the chair without first serving as vice chair.
“I ran because I thought the caucus could benefit from my leadership,” said Miller, who won a special election to the Senate in 2021 after a dozen years in the House.
Gibson called the contest amicable.
“We’re still very united,” Gibson said. “There are no ill feelings.”
It is unclear what the relatively rare succession contest portends for the goals and visibility of a caucus whose members hold 37 of the 187 seats in the General Assembly.
The caucus generally has pursued a progressive agenda, and its influence has waxed and waned depending on the year, the issues of the moment, and the personalities and ambitions of the leaders.
Named when the only Hispanic lawmakers were Puerto Rican, the caucus is open to Black, Latino and Hispanic members. Once limited to the state’s largest cities, its membership is now geographically diverse and at a record high.
Miller is a case in point. She is the first person of color elected from a district that covers portions of Stamford, the state’s second-largest and fastest-growing city, and its wealthy suburb of Darien.
Other new members include Rep. Hector Arzeno of Greenwich, a native of Argentina who flipped a seat long held by Republicans, and Rep. Derrell Q. Wilson, the first Black person elected to the House from Norwich.
Reyes said 39 lawmakers elected in November were eligible for membership, but the caucus lost two members: Rep. Edwin Vargas Jr. of Hartford resigned, and Rep. Quentin Williams of Middletown was killed in a car accident.
The actual tallies in the races for officers of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus were not disclosed.
Ballots were cast anonymously, the results tallied by a legislative staffer who was directed by the caucus to announce only the victors for chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer and not the vote totals, Reyes said.
Rep. Antonio Felipe of Bridgeport defeated Rep. Hilda Santiago of Meriden for vice chair. Rep. Andre Baker Jr. of Bridgeport was reelected as treasurer, and Rep. Aundré Bumgardner of Groton was elected secretary.
Bumgardner is a freshman with an asterisk. 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 joined the Democratic Party in 2017 and won an open race for his old seat in 2022.