State lawmakers are ready to move forward.
Tuesday’s election left the Democratic Party in control of both houses of the state General Assembly with veto-proof margins, as well as all five congressional districts and both Senate seats on the federal level. After months of campaigning, both Democrats and their Republican counterparts agreed that the toughest issues in the state will require emphatic bipartisanship, though it is unclear whether the vigor behind post-election efforts can be sustained.
Members of the state Democratic establishment gathered in Hartford Wednesday morning to celebrate victory at the polls. State Senate majority leader Martin Looney of New Haven said the immediate focus of the legislature would be to deal with economic issues, which he said requires bipartisan understanding.
“We are committed to turning this economy around and to help families make ends meet — and we cannot do it alone,” he said in a statement. “The challenges we face are so great that it will take bipartisanship and cooperation in order to succeed.”
Gov. M. Jodi Rell — the only Republican holding statewide office — agreed. The campaign is over, she said, and state leaders need to join together to tackle the serious issues facing the state’s citizens, including balancing the state’s budget. The state’s finances are currently showing a $300 million deficit.
“Our economic issues transcend party politics,” she said in a statement. “When the new Legislature convenes in January, both Democrats and Republicans will have to do the arithmetic. The election is now over and it is time to put Connecticut first. It is time to govern – and that work starts today.”
Observers are uncertain just how long this honeymoon period will last. Kenneth Dautrich, associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, said that, in practice, Democrats do not have a veto-proof majority in the state Senate, where some Senators often take conservative stances on taxes and spending.
Because of this, state Democrats will slowly wade into dealing with economic issues, rather than tackling them head on, Dautrich said.
“They don’t want to take the lead on this politically,” he said. “They know it is radioactive.”
On the national scene, Connecticut leaders are rallying behind President-elect Barack Obama.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 — who controversially supported Sen. John McCain for the presidency — said in a statement that it is time for the nation to come together around Obama. He said he pledges to work with Obama and his administration, particularly on the economy and national security issues.
Governor Rell echoed this sentiment, saying the new President and Congress will be immediately challenged by the state of the nation’s economy, which will require them to reach across party lines.
“Each election brings a time of renewal, a time of hope and an opportunity to lead,” she said. “Right now, America needs the strong leadership that only a commitment to bipartisanship can provide.”
In his concession speech given after losing his reelection bid Tuesday night, Rep. Chris Shays encouraged his supporters to rally behind the new president.
“It is so important for us to be there for [the next president] that we be Americans first and Republicans and Democrats second,” he said.
His opponent, Jim Himes, said in an interview with the News on Tuesday that Americans are strongest when they join together regardless of race and economic background, saying these represent our “finest moments.”
But Dautrich cited U.S. political history to show how uncertain bipartisan cooperation can be after elections.
“There is no right answer,” he said. “FDR had a plan in place and stuck to it, Bill Clinton got distracted in his opening days in office and was forced into dealing with divisive issues such as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. For President-elect Obama, it will depend on how he prepares himself for his first days in office, and which issues he chooses to tackle first.”
Regardless of how long the cooperation lasts, however, these officials agree that its necessity cannot be overstated.