In the wake of last week’s stunning budget dramatics, state political leaders from across the ideological spectrum have suggested that the vote could herald a shift in the order of Connecticut politics — though just what kind of shift is less clear.
As late as Friday afternoon, a budget negotiated between Gov. Dannel Malloy and top Democratic lawmakers seemed on course to pass along party lines in the Senate. But the chamber descended into chaos when three Democratic senators unexpectedly defected, shattering their party’s fragile consensus.
The Senate instead passed a Republican-backed budget by a 21–15 margin, with the three Democratic deserters voting in favor of the bill. Hours later, six Democrats in the House joined their colleagues across the aisle to pass the same budget, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans 79–72 in that chamber.
In a statement released after the Senate vote, Malloy pledged to veto the budget if it reached his desk — which it has, now that it has passed in the House.
“Today’s vote in the legislature was a surprise, and it may represent a shift in the dynamic of the General Assembly,” he said.
Like Malloy, State Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven, said the vote signals a “shift in direction.” Yaccarino welcomed that change, suggesting it could have implications not just for the legislature but also for the state more broadly.
In particular, he credited the three Democratic defectors — Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, and Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford — for driving that change.
“They have a lot of courage to go against the party, especially what they said,” he said. “It was heartfelt and logical.”
Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney said the shift is a direct and “foreseeable” consequence of state Republicans’ gains in the 2016 election, in which they drew level in the Senate for the first time since 1893 and narrowed Democrats’ advantage in the House.
Despite the last-minute implosion of the Democrats’ budget deal with the governor, Looney offered an optimistic perspective on the events of Friday and Saturday. Although it might seem to damage the party’s standing, he said, the passage of a Republican-backed budget would in fact give Democrats a political advantage.
“It is actually useful in the fact that the Republicans, after not voting for any budget for the last 10 years, finally have their fingerprints on a budget, which is irresponsible and inadequate,” he said. “And after ducking and dodging and not taking any responsibility for a decade, they’re now accountable for this budget … and we intend to hold them accountable.”
For Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano, the budget vote was not so much a watershed moment as a reminder of the progress state Republicans have made in their gradual ascent to power.
In recent years, Romano said, Democrats’ margins have shrunk and the legislature has seen more balanced, healthy debate. When Republicans take control, the state will be better off, he added.
Still, Romano downplayed the short-term effects of Friday’s vote on the power dynamics of the legislature.
“In terms of every piece of legislation right now, the Democrats still have majorities,” he said. “By no means does this mean Republicans are going to control that building.”
For that, he added, we will have to wait until 2018.
Jacob Stern | firstname.lastname@example.org | @