Republicans take 8 seats in region's delegation to legislature
There was a seismic shift in the complexion of southeastern Connecticut’s General Assembly delegation Tuesday when Republicans captured eight of the region’s 15 seats in the state Senate and House.
Before Tuesday’s voting, the Democrats occupied 13 of those positions.
With Republican Paul Formica’s commanding win in the 20th District Senate race, there are now two Republican and two Democratic state senators in the local delegation. The incumbent first selectman in East Lyme and longtime operator of a local restaurant, Formica out-polled Democrat Betsy Ritter for the seat that has been held by Democrats for more than 20 years.
“I think more than anything, people were looking for a change,” said Formica on Wednesday. “Everywhere I went and everyone I talked to, people were looking for change. That was evident everywhere.”
Of the 11 local House seats, Republicans won six, knocking out five Democrats and keeping one seat for the Republicans. In the 38th District, incumbent Ritter vacated her seat and her position as Deputy House Speaker to run for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of longtime Democratic lawmaker Andrea Stillman.
But Ritter was soundly defeated by Formica, even in her hometown of Waterford, where Formica garnered 439 more votes than she did. And Republican Kathleen McCarty won Ritter’s House seat, the first time the GOP has taken that post since 1972.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, the incumbent Democrat who prevailed in her re-election bid in the 19th District, attributed the GOP gains to a quality batch of candidates. The sprawling 19th District covers 10 towns, including Ledyard, Montville and Norwich and rural farm communities farther north.
Other observers agreed, saying that where Republicans fielded strong candidates who waged issue-oriented campaigns, they beat out Democrats.
“People are hungry for work to get done, so it doesn’t surprise me,” said Osten. “There were some very good candidates on both sides.
“This year (voters) were looking at a lot of things, and they decided race by race,” she said. “There was not a central line, it was not a Democratic or Republican year.”
Osten, who is just completing her first term, said she also believes some Democrats lost because of their support of stricter gun control measures in the wake of Sandy Hook shooting massacre.
Incumbent Democratic State Senator Andrew Maynard, won a fifth term representing the 18th District even though he has not been able to serve or campaign since suffering a serious brain injury in a July fall at his Stonington home. He easily defeated Republican Kevin Trejo of Groton.
Republicans who knocked out Democratic incumbents in the region include John F. Scott, who defeated six-term lawmaker Edward E. Moukawsher in the 40th District; Mike France, who unseated Tim Bowles in the 42nd District; and Doug Dubitsky, who beat Brian Sear in the 47th District.
Political newcomer and Republican Aundré Bumgardner also blocked Democrat Elissa Wright’s effort to be elected to a fifth term in the 41st House District. On Wednesday, it was announced that Bumgardner had won by 39 votes.
Republicans were also successful in two other contests. With the retirement of six-term incumbent Marilyn Giuliano in the 23rd House District, the candidate she endorsed, Republican Devin Carney, fended off his Democratic challenger, keeping the seat for the GOP. And incumbent state Sen. Art Linares prevailed, holding off two opponents in the 33rd District Senate race.
John Scott, the Groton Republican who unseated Moukawsher, said he believes voters’ primary concerns are jobs and the economy, and they want more from Hartford.
“People are really struggling to survive,” he said. “And I own a small business — I’m one of the small businesses that struggles to make a go of it — and (voters) want to see things that encourage small businesses to grow.”
Scott said he is confident the local delegation will come together as a team to represent the best interests of southeastern Connecticut.
Democrat Ernest Hewett, who was elected to a sixth term in the 39th House District, entirely in New London, agreed.
“There is plenty we will disagree on, I can promise you that,” he said. “But there are a lot of things we will agree on, and those are the things that will benefit southeastern Connecticut.”
And it is important, Hewett said, that the local delegation works as team.
“One person can’t make change in Hartford,” he said. “What we have to do is work together, and not be divisive and partisan. We have to work as a team for southeastern Connecticut.”
Formica said partisan politics will not be on his agenda.
“We absolutely will work together, that’s our first job,” he said. “I think that was the message sent to everybody by the voters (Tuesday). They want an improved economy and a better life for the citizens of southeastern Connecticut.”
Zak Sanders, communications director for the Connecticut Republican Party, cited economics as the reason for the local GOP gains.
“(Tuesday) night was a big night for the Republican Party in southeastern Connecticut,” he said in an email.
Sanders said families and businesses felt the pinch of tax increases and other economic policies of the Democratic majority and decided they’d had enough.
“That’s why they’re sending a new group of state legislators to Hartford who will represent the needs of their communities and champion a new pro-growth vision for Connecticut,” he said.
Overall, Democrats will maintain control of both the state House and state Senate. With one Senate race still undecided Wednesday afternoon, Democrats occupied 20 of the 36 seats. In the House, Republicans gained 10 seats in the 151-member body. Two other races were still not solidly decided Wednesday.
The 20 or 21 Senate seats the Democrats will have are just shy of the 22 votes needed to increase the constitutional spending cap. The party will also lose its veto-proof majority, although as CT Mirror reported, it isn’t a significant issue since the legislature never attempted an override in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s first term. Malloy was re-elected Tuesday.
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