GOP leadership tandem of Klarides and Fasano push for power shift
Updated 7:01 pm, Wednesday, September 27, 2017
One can rent you a cabana at his beach club. The other used to moonlight as a WWE “ring girl.”
They are the bane of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, but get along with their opposite numbers in the Legislature.
Now, the unlikely tandem of Len Fasano and Themis Klarides, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House, are pushing to make history in blue Connecticut in 2018.
Emboldened by their stunning budget victory earlier this month, when they convinced a handful a Democrats to cross party lines to send a $40.7 billion fiscal package to the governor’s desk for an imminent veto, the GOP caucus leaders are a few seats away from seizing power at the Capitol.
That momentum stands in stark contrast to a decade of Republican futility in statewide and congressional elections.
“So against the tide, the entire way, we’ve consistency won seats,” said Klarides, 52, a part-time lawyer and former model from Derby who is the first woman to lead the House Republicans. “I think there’s a very real possibility both chambers will turn next year.”
Since 2010, when Malloy was elected to his first four-year term, Republicans have picked up 35 seats in the House, where Democrats hold a 79 to 72 majority. In the Senate, the GOP has gained six seats over the same period, creating an 18-18 tie for the first time in more than a century. Democrats hold the tie-breaker by virtue of Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman serving as Senate president.
Republicans have used their heightened clout in the Legislature to shoe-horn a two-year budget through the partisan gridlock at the Capitol. The impasse over how to close a two-year, $3.6 billion deficit is approaching four months, leaving Connecticut as the only state without a budget. That’s not likely to end soon, as Malloy has vowed to veto the GOP budget package. The governor has until next Tuesday to use his veto pen.
Fasano, 59, a lawyer from North Haven who owns the Silver Sands Beach & Tennis Club in East Haven, said parity in the Legislature is a positive thing.
“Obviously the numbers being closer, it makes everyone think harder of their vote,” Fasano said. “I think there’s a feeling of we have to change the direction of the state. We can’t keep going down the same path.”
Republicans say their budget holds the line on spending, avoids a Democratic tax on cell phones and spares cities and towns from shouldering $280 million in teacher pension costs currently borne by the state. It further saves taxpayers from $270 million in state employee pension costs over the next two years, GOP lawmakers say.
Democrats contend the GOP plan would have disastrous consequences, saying it would slash $500 million from public higher education institutions, including $300 million from the University of Connecticut. They say it would force the capital city of Hartford to declare bankruptcy and eliminate funding for the state’s clean-elections program, which was created in the wake of Gov. John Rowland’s resignation and imprisonment for corruption.
“I think the budget the Republicans put forward is destructive to middle class families,” said Dan Drew, the Democratic mayor of Middletown and candidate for governor. “It lets the wealthy off scot free.”
The budget stalemate has preempted the start of the governor’s race, which national handicappers have designated as a wide-open contest to replace the outgoing incumbent Malloy. Both GOP caucus leaders put out feelers for the state’s top office, with Klarides said by Republican insiders to be torn over a run for governor or trying to make history as the first woman from her party to rise to House speaker.
“All eyes are on what she’s going to decide to do,” said J.R. Romano, the state GOP chairman. “She’s so close to becoming the speaker of the House. It’s got to be, obviously, a factor in making this decision.”
No run for governor
Fasano has ruled out a run for governor, citing family considerations and the time commitment.
“This has been a very grueling session with an inordinate amount of time doing the budget stuff,” said Fasano, who said he will “probably” seek re-election to the Senate in 2018. “It makes you think a little bit. If you’re going to run for governor, you’ve got to commit 100 percent of your time and your family. That’s a huge commitment.”
Democrats have suggested that Fasano’s decision to forgo a bid for governor was perhaps influenced by a 2005 federal racketeering trial involving him and a group of lawyers, who were ordered to pay $500,000 for what the plaintiffs alleged was their role in helping a debtor shield his assets from a collection company.
“Senator Fasano is always the first to peddle hysteria when other people’s backgrounds come into question, and he should hold himself to his own standards,” said Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democrats. “Fasano’s previous actions, as well as the backgrounds of people he has surrounded himself with, deserve to be scrutinized if he wants to be a leader of the state. Senator Fasano frequently feigns moral outrage with others; he should know that leaders are accountable for their actions.”
Fasano rejected the theory that the case was a factor and said he doesn’t care what Democrats say about him.
“That case has no bearing,” Fasano said. “The case was dismissed in federal court.”
The Yale-educated Fasano has served in the Senate since 2003 and succeeded John McKinney as GOP leader in 2014. Last December, he reached a power-sharing agreement with Senate President Pro Tempore, D-New Haven, which gave Republicans committee co-chairmanships in the Legislature. Fasano and Looney are longtime friends.
Klarides, who graduated from Trinity College, the alma mater of Romano and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Herbst, has served in the House for 19 years. Before that, she strutted inside the ropes of professional wrestling bouts as a “ring girl” for the WWE, the entertainment giant of Vince and Linda McMahon. Klarides’ younger sister, Nicole Klarides-Ditria, is a freshman lawmaker from Seymour.
While they say they have a mutual respect for each other, Klarides and Fasano spurned that they are in lockstep.
“Certainly, we’re both very strong-willed people,” Klarides said. “We certainly don’t agree on everything.”
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