How often did state legislators stick with their party, and how was their voting attendance?
Median attendance for legislative votes this year was 98 percent in the Connecticut House of Representatives and 99 percent in the state Senate, and Republicans were more likely to vote against their own party than Democrats in both chambers, a review of voting records shows.
The clerk's offices for the House and Senate each compile a "statistical summary" that shows the number of times each member voted and what percentage of the total votes that is, and that is further broken down into times voting with the majority, against the majority, with party and against party.
This serves as an unofficial record, while the official record is the House Journals and the Senate Journals, available online. The Connecticut State Library acquired the five-page statistical summary last week.
While media attention is often focused on the rifts between Democrats and Republicans, the record shows that Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, on average, 80 percent of the time in the Senate and 74 percent of the time in the House.
Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, voted with the majority more than any other Republican, at 85 percent. Rep. Pat Boyd, D-Pomfret, and Rep. John Hampton, D-Simsbury, voted with the majority less than any other Democrats, at 93 percent.
The 13 members of the Conservative Caucus voted with the majority less than 64 percent of the time on average. In southeastern Connecticut, this includes Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, and Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin.
France voted against his party 17 percent of the time, and he said a number of those votes were what he viewed as "big-government solutions to problems that really should be handled locally."
"I've seen it a number of times in my five years in the legislature where you have a problem that exists in one town, and the legislature deems it their responsibility to fix that, and effectively inflict that solution on the other 168 towns that don't have that," France said. He added that too many times, legislators "feel we have to do something" instead of getting to the root cause of the problem and the best way to fix it.
Dubitsky voted against his party 13 percent of the time, which he said is low for him. He thinks this is because the Republican Party has voted more "in the vein that I think is appropriate" this past year, and he is proud of the party for sticking to principles.
"I really don't pay much attention to what the other Republicans are doing, mostly," Dubitsky said. "I look at the bills and I decide whether or not they're good and whether or not they will help the people in my district."
But Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, said that as a freshman legislator, his "desire was to be part of a team and I chose to do my arguing within the family." He only voted against the Democrats twice, which the record put at 0 percent.
It lists 11 other senators and eight representatives who voted against their party 0 percent of the time, or up to two votes. Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, pointed out that not a single Republican voted with his or her party 100 percent of the time.
Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, voted against Republicans 2 percent of the time, and every other Republican voted against his or her party at least 3 percent of the time. Cheeseman takes this as a sign that there's more diversity in the Republican caucus, while Dubitsky questions if those who never vote against their party are making independent choices.
Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, is the only local legislator to have taken zero votes against her party this year. She feels the statistic "falsely assumes that voting with the majority is that all members of the party are voting one way," whereas her voting with the majority could be 51 percent of Democrats or 100 percent of Democrats.
Half of local legislators had perfect voting attendance this year
Conley, Dubitsky and Cheeseman were among the local legislators with a 100 percent voting record, along with Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme; Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford; Rep. Kate Rotella, D-Stonington; Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville and Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton. Statewide, the median voting attendance was the same for Republicans and Democrats.
According to House GOP news releases, this was the fifth year in a row of a 100 percent voting record for McCarty and third for Cheeseman. The statistical summary marks a record as 100 percent for voting 391 or 392 times in the House, or 443 or 444 times in the Senate.
Among other local legislators, the voting rates were 99 percent for France and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague; 97 percent for Formica and Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London; 94 percent for Needleman and Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich; and 89 percent for Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton.
France said he's never put a lot of stock in the attendance record, noting that if you miss one day of judicial appointments or executive nominations, you could be down 20 or 30 votes already. He feels it's case by case, but that if the voting record is down to 50 or 60 or 70 percent, that's when the public "should be concerned about what kind of representation they're getting."
Conley noted that if constituents have a question about why someone has missed votes, they should reach out to the legislator. Like others, she noted that there are many legitimate reasons to miss votes, such as illness, surgery or a family situation.
Needleman, for example, had to miss votes due to a family emergency. But another missed vote was simply because he recused himself on a bill to "avoid any appearance of impropriety" due to a potential conflict of interest.
De la Cruz said that he missed 11 percent of votes primarily because of his other job; he works as a manager at Hillery Co.
"As a small business, it's really, really tough to get away sometimes," De la Cruz said. He said he will make calls ahead of time to check which votes he'll miss, and if it would be close enough for him to tip the scale.
"I think it's really dangerous to rely on retirees and folks that have jobs with flexibility to run the state," he said, noting that the "amount of hours it takes mid-day to accomplish this job" eliminates most possible candidates, such as teachers or plumbers.
De la Cruz wishes the meetings could start at 2 or 3 p.m. rather than 9 a.m., and he said the best days he's had in Hartford have been on Saturdays and Sundays, when he's not thinking about his full-time job.
Cheeseman said that she thinks emphasis on voting attendance is "a bit more relaxed" now that Democrats have a wider majority, and noted that if it's a close vote, the majority will hold the vote open until they can get their people there.
"I will say that when there are 'important' votes to be taken, as opposed to changing the name of a park or some sort of technical fix that we have to do, people show up," she said.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include the 100 percent voting record of Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville.
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