November 6, 2020
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
Elections Update
This Day in CT History
Leadership and the CT Legislature 2020

This week we not only saw the most chaotic, historic and energized Election Day in history, but behind closed doors and through the wonders of ZOOM, the four caucuses of the legislature held their biannual election of caucus leaders. It made me think of John Maxwell—a well-known author and guru of modern theory in leadership development—and a quote of his that kind of lays out the journey ahead for the newly elected legislature and, more specifically, for their newly selected leaders.

"The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” -John Maxwell

To say we can’t predict the weather or even the wind in 2021 is an understatement. With the COVID-19 virus rearing its ugly path, Connecticut’s economy under siege, historical amounts of Connecticut residents unemployed or underemployed, small business fighting for their economic lives, the majority of Connecticut’s workforce still working from home and the commercial real estate industry under water, the challenges that lie ahead for this group of 187 legislators and their leaders is unprecedented. We’ve been through a real estate calamity in 1988, we’ve been through bad times in our economy in 2008, we’ve been through a transition of Connecticut’s old workforce into the new workforce and we’ve been through natural and health “disasters.” But all at once? Not in my lifetime.

How the leaders take on the challenge and adjust the sails of government will be their legacy. In the Senate we saw a newly selected Republican leadership team of Senators Kevin Kelly and Paul Formica. On the Democratic side, we see the return of the one-two punch of Senators Martin Looney and Bob Duff. The numbers have changed a bit (now at 24 Democratic senators and 12 Republican senators, with a couple recounts under way) but the process for adoption of legislation still remains as such—“If you have the votes, VOTE, and when you don’t, TALK.” The manner in which the new leaders manage the Senate will at times challenge their leadership. Doing the process right is different than doing the right thing.

So the Democrats, who have a supermajority, can ignore the other side of the circle, tee up a controversial issue, sit out the 10-hour debate and vote to approve the bill, knowing the Governor will sign it and then toss it down to the House for a real free-for-all. Or they could convene at least the key players in the Senate Republicans and Democrats with a clear understanding that they can force passage or look for collaboration, consensus and a better outcome to meet the needs of all residents. The ball is in their court. Let’s see how they play their hand.

In the House, without a supermajority, but with 99 votes, you’d think the newly minted Democratic leaders Reps. Matt Ritter and Jason Rojas would have the same choice, but nothing is simple in the House! In the freshman class you’ll see additional members of the fast-growing progressive side of the Democratic team, and with many moderate Democrats not seeking re-election, Speaker Ritter will have his work cut out for him. So before he and Rep. Rojas can count their votes, they will need to caucus their 99 members to test the water on where the simple majority of 76 is, on not just the controversial issues but even on the simplest issues, since we all know the floor of the House is the biggest “let’s make a deal” game in town! Newly selected Republican leaders—Reps. Vin Candelora and his deputy Tom O’Dea—might just have more bargaining power than you’d think, given the 99-53 spread of Ds to Rs.

There’s also the matter of style of leadership that will change in the House. Current Republican Leader Themis Klarides and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz enjoyed a long and close personal relationship over the years, and they could be counted on to do the right thing, not just “do the thing right.” Everyone believes that as the four new House leaders get a better feel for their new roles, they will have to find ways to forge a relationship in order to bring some sense of calm and direction to the House, especially given the HUGE issues facing them in 2021 and 2022. Incoming Speaker Ritter has already talked about his leadership style, and described how he would like to lead the House. (Little known fact—all 151 legislators actually elect the Speaker on Opening Day, not just the Democrats!) 

Rep. Ritter said he’s a problem-solver. When an issue of importance bubbles up to the House, or is perceived to be a statewide initiative, he will work to get the parties together early and often. Discussions should start well before the actual bill even gets raised, and the bill heard at a virtual hearing should reflect some of the elements that can be agreed upon. He wants folks to talk before it gets too toxic to find common ground. He wants committees to work together on those topics they know will be referred to them, and to know there’s a real need not to focus so much on winning and losing, but problem-solving so everyone can manage the outcome. He’s realistic to think that there’s still going to be the hand-to-hand combat we all experience on really contentious issues, but he believes that talking up front, early, often and frankly can help the House find a better resolution.

So as the winds of change start to blow, we’re all looking to see whether these new leaders adjust their sails, rise to the challenge and meet the test of leadership. Or do they fall prey to managing the process and getting out of Hartford on June 9th?
Is it more than just a "Phase"?

Governor Lamont and the state Department of Economic and Community Development announced this week that the state will be rolling back it's "opening the state" allowances amid rising infection rates of those testing positive for COVID-19.

Among those included in the rollback from Phase 3 to what's being called Phase 2.1 is decreasing indoor restaurant capacity from 75% to 50% and limiting private gatherings (both outdoor and indoor) to no more than ten people. One of the more unpopular and surprising moves announced this week was setting a curfew for restaurants to close by 9:30 (except for takeout). This move in part was sparked by DPH's contact tracing programs that found the majority of the spikes in rates were coming from late night private gatherings.

In addition to these restrictions, there is another classification system being identified for towns called the "red zone" where 68 towns work with the Department of Public Health as higher-alert levels, including their local health departments, to provide community resources and help make community-level decisions. These decisions range from having more advisories and restrictions released and even scaling down phases beyond what the state allows.

Wondering if your town is on this list or what the rest of the Phase 2.1 guidelines consist of this week? Check out this link for more info.
A Race for Mayor in Windham

We all know about the consternation of the presidential election still ongoing and the state elections that have been newsworthy but because this is the Municipal Roundup, we have to report on the one local Mayor’s race that you may not have heard of. In Windham, as a result of a resignation of the town's Mayor Victor Funderburk this year there was a vacancy in the town's top spot. Tom DeVivo, who was the town council’s Chairman stepped into the role as Acting Mayor and found himself on the ballot for this past Tuesday’s special Mayoral election.

Acting Mayor Devivo won the election against Republican Ernest Eldridge and Green Party candidate Enevia Baidoo with 3,143 votes. DeVivo has served in some capacity for Windham, mostly on the council, for over 20 years. “He didn’t make it personal, which seems to be the new trend today, making it personal,” DeVivo said. “He’s a good guy”, speaking about Mr. Eldridge. Political newcomer and Willimantic resident Baidoo Keene was first introduced into Windham politics during a 2019 run for the Windham Board of Education and the Windham Board of Assessment Appeals. She was ultimately seated on the assessment appeals board and is also the chairperson of the Windham Green Party Town Committee. She works in early childhood education. Baidoo Keene said she believed she had a strong campaign. “I had a good time representing Windham and Willimantic and I will continue to do so,” Baidoo Keene said.

Ok, now you can return to paying attention to the Presidential and state races again.
Final Results and Committee Assignments Coming Soon

Following this week’s election, as of Friday, many of the close state races have been decided but those being recounted are still outstanding. Election results will be finalized and certified by the Secretary of the State’s office in the coming days and we’ll share those in the next edition of “Election HQ”.

One race in particular that was especially closely watched was the race for the 132nd House seat in Fairfield and Southport. Jennifer Leeper (D) beat out incumbent Brian Farnen (R) in a rematch race. Farnen previously defeated Leeper during a January 2020 special election, when then Representative Brenda Kupchik vacated the seat to become the First Selectwoman of Fairfield. This seat has traditionally been held by Republicans, making Leeper’s victory of particular interest. You can read more about that race here

With the leaders of the caucuses selected, the next big announcement will be committee chairmanships. In the House where we saw more change, Speaker Ritter indicated this week that the chairs will be announced quickly but that the full committee assignments may take a while to release. Legislators are already beginning to engage in issues by participating in virtual events and getting up to speed on topics that they’ll face once the legislature convenes in January.

November 5, 1974 - Ella Grasso, America's First Female Governor Elected in her own Right

Born to Italian immigrants in 1919, Ella Rosa Giovanna Oliva Tambussi grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of first- and second-generation Americans in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Her parents, determined to invest in a better future for their daughter, saved up enough money to send Ella to the prestigious Chaffee School in Windsor. Afterward, she earned both an B.A. and M.A. from Mount Holyoke College, where the all-female, service-oriented college community inspired her to pursue a career of public and political service.

After marrying teacher Thomas Grasso in 1942, Ella Grasso wrote speeches for the Connecticut Democratic Party while raising her two children at home. Several years later, she successfully ran as a state representative from Windsor Locks and began her slow but steady ascendancy toward the state’s highest political office. After serving as Connecticut’s Secretary of the State and then in Congress as a U.S. Representative, Grasso defeated Robert Steele, Jr. in 1974 to become Connecticut’s first woman governor — and the first woman in the United States to win election to governor “in her own right” (i.e., the first woman governor who was not preceded in office by her husband).

Here is a link to the full article - Provided by CT Humanities Council
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