A day that brought anticlimactic news about the premature end of the state legislative session was accompanied this week by a bombshell for sessions of the future. House Republican leader Themis Klarides, of Derby, announced she would not seek another term in office this year, though she did not rule out future runs for public office.
Klarides’ news would have been significant under any circumstances, but the matching news that Senate Republican leader Len Fasano was not running meant a new generation of leadership is in line to take over what has long been the state’s minority party. Word that House Speaker Joe Aresemowicz will also step down after his current term means that three of the four Assembly leaders will be moving on after the current term, with only Senate Democratic President Martin Looney remaining.
But it’s the Republican ranks that are in for the most turmoil. In addition to Klarides, incumbents including John Frey, of Ridgefield; Gail Lavielle, of Wilton; and Livvy Floren, of Greenwich, have also said they would not seek another term this year. After coming close to achieving legislative majorities following the 2016 election, Republicans suffered significant losses in 2018 and, without the help of incumbency in key races, could be in line for a similar fate this year.
There will be plenty of time for 2020 prognostications, as well as a look ahead to a potential gubernatorial run in 2022 for Klarides. For now, the hope is for the next generation of party leadership to look ahead in a spirit of bipartisan compromise on matters related to the current crisis and longer-term issues.
Challenges related to COVID-19 are expected to last beyond the next election, though at some point everyone hopes the current stringent social distancing guidelines can be eased. Gov. Ned Lamont has earned high marks for leading the state during the crisis, but it will take more the executive orders to plot our long-term recovery. The Legislature, whether it’s in regular session or not, will be key to not only rebuilding the economy but planning to avoid the next calamity. Leadership of both parties must be on board.
Outgoing Republican leaders take justifiable pride in pushing fiscal accountability measures as a part of a bipartisan budget deal following the 2016 tie in the state Senate, and there are other examples of the parties working together for the greater good. There have also been hardline stances that did little more than offer roadblocks, most notably on the tolls debate. That might have resulted in a political “win,” but it did nothing to help the state deal with its legitimate problems. Future leadership needs to do a better job.
And both parties need to understand that the need to work together is not going to go away. Regardless of electoral outcomes, there are hundreds of thousands of people who support losing candidates in every election, and their views must be taken into account, as well, even if they aren’t the driving force. To ensure a state government that works for all its residents, a bipartisan approach is the only winning play.