The November 2016 Election has led to a historic tie in membership with gains made by the Connecticut GOP. After Republicans won enough seats to tie the number of seats held by the Democratic party, the Senate will face an 18-to-18 split for the start of the 2017 session. An equal chamber in the Connecticut Senate has not been witnessed since 1893.
It is unclear what this tie may mean for the Senate come January 4th. Tensions have already begun to simmer with regard to how the Senate will properly function next year. According to Democratic members of the Senate, who previously held the Senate Majority since 1996, the Democratic party will still maintain an edge over their Republican counterparts regardless of the now equal representation.
The balance of power hangs on the interpretation of Section 17 of the Fourth Article of the Connecticut Constitution, “The lieutenant-governor shall by virtue of his office, be president of the senate, and have, when in committee of the whole, a right to debate, and when the senate is equally divided, to give the casting vote”. Under this provision, the Democratic party maintains that the Lieutenant Governor has the right to break a tie. The current Lieutenant Governor, Nancy Wyman, is a democrat.
The opinion stemming from the Democratic party is that they remain the Majority party due to the provision that allows the vote of the Lieutenant Governor, a Democrat, to be cast. The Democrats have already unanimously re-elected Senator Martin Looney of New Haven as Senate President Pro Tempore and Senator Bob Duff as Senate Majority Leader. Looney has also stated that the Senate Democrats believe that the constitutional provision applies not only to the votes pertaining to bills but also on leadership appointments.
Contrary to the opinion of the Democrats, the GOP has chosen not to use the terms “Majority” and “Minority” because the two parties are now equal to one another. The Senate Republicans unanimously re-elected Senator Len Fasano of North Haven as the leader of the GOP Caucus and Senator Kevin Witkos of Canton was named Deputy Leader. Although noting that the constitutional provision provides an answer to the dilemma of a voting tie, Fasano disagrees that the Lieutenant Governor is granted the decision on Senate leadership positions.
To better understand how to proceed with this unique and challenging situation, members from both parties’ have begun research into the law as well as the examination of similar situations as they have appeared in other states. The division of leadership within committees will prove to be additionally challenging for the State of Connecticut. The committees of the General Assembly have joint Senate and House membership, eliminating the possibility of co-chairs as a solution. According to Looney, there is a possibility that each committee would include three chairmen- one Democratic House Chairman, one Democratic Senate Chairman and one Republican Senate Chairman.
The 18-to-18 split will not only present increasing pressure on Nancy Wyman as the tiebreaker, but the vote cast by each Senator may be more critical than before. The GOP will have an improved chance at influencing policy issues, particularly on the matter of the budget. By winning over just one Democratic Senator, the GOP can influence the decision of the Senate.
With this new power structure, it is unclear if this 18-to-18 split in the Connecticut Senate will lead to better cooperation between Democrats and Republicans or to a continuing power struggle. The functionality of this tie is largely still up to interpretation.