With November around the corner and all eyes on the general election, one topic that is already gaining more attention is the issue of party leadership. Party leadership includes the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and majority and minority leaders in both chambers. After the election, the four caucuses will each convene privately to elect their leaders. Here we will explain how the caucuses have come to manage this, and what roles each leadership position plays in the General Assembly.
In the Connecticut House of Representatives, the majority and minority parties each have their own leadership structures, both with a lot of similarities. The majority party convenes its members to elect amongst themselves their Majority Leader and their nomination for Speaker of the House, who is later confirmed by the full body via a House resolution. The caucus vote to elect these leaders typically happens immediately following the November election. It has become standard practice for speakers to remain in the position for only two terms, although some speakers have occasionally strayed from that precedent. It has also become standard practice for members who want to be speaker or majority leader to campaign for the position, sometimes as far in advance as two years. Currently, there are two Democratic membersin the House who are vying for majority leader in 2020. Candidates for leadership positions typically lobby for their colleagues’ support by campaigning on their behalf. The minority party elects its Minority Leader in the same manner, and both parties have several ancillary leadership positions such as Deputy Speakers, Deputy and Assistant Leaders, Caucus Chairs, and Caucus Whips.
In the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor serves as the President but only casts a vote if required to break a tie. In all other cases the Senate is led by the President Pro Tempore, who is elected in similar fashion to the Speaker of the House. The President Pro Tempore is first elected in a caucus vote by the majority party and is then confirmed by the entire Senate with a Senate resolution. With the Senate membership being evenly divided since 2017, both parties have had equal leadership roles with a Republican and a Democratic President Pro Tempore. Conventionally, when the Senate has a clear majority, its leadership structure mirrors that of the House. There are Majority and Minority Leader positions, and several ancillary leadership positions as well. This year, one Democratic Senator is asking his colleagues to support him for Majority Leader over the current incumbent.
In both chambers, leadership holds a considerable amount of political power, particularly in the majority party. The Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore, House and Senate Majority Leaders together determine the committee chairs, policy priorities, and the daily business of the General Assembly. These players can alone decide what bills their respective chambers act on, when to table debate, to convene special sessions, and to adjourn a session. These leaders also represent their party in final budget negotiations, and even have a lot of power when it comes to committee action. The Minority Party’s leadership may not have as much real power, but their perceived power can be just as impactful. Minority leadership represents their party in final budget negotiations, appoints its members to ranking positions within committees, and defines their party’s core policy issues in any given session.
Any advocate needs to understand the power of party leadership, how they come into those positions, and what roles they play in the legislative process. When working any issue, these are the most influential members one can engage with. The nature of leadership positions means these members are often the most difficult to track down. Their schedules are incredibly busy, so any time one can get with them is precious and can be the most effective form of advocacy.
Fun Fact: In some instances, the election of the Speaker of the House has not gone as planned. In 1989 Irving J. Stolberg of New Haven sought a third term for speaker but was blocked by a coup on the opening day of session. Democrats enlisted GOP members to stop Stolberg and elect Richard J. Balducci instead.