Women propel Conn.’s blue wave
Number of females in General Assembly to increase to 62; 10 more than today
In what many have called the “Year of the Woman,” some of the biggest upsets in General Assembly races are bringing more females into office in Connecticut.
In three of the five races in which Senate incumbents lost their seats, women running for office for the first time were victorious. In five of the 11 House races in which incumbents lost, female candidates triumphed.
“I felt like women played a huge role in this election,” said Democrat Julie Kushner, a former labor leader who defeated state Sen. Michael McLachlan in Danbury. “Women are going to take the lead and be at the forefront of the change we bring to Hartford.”
Women were not only behind upsets, they also won open seats in high numbers. Of 25 open seats for the House and Senate, 10 were claimed by females.
These wins mean when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, 62 state legislators will be women, 10 more than now.
“I didn’t realize until getting into the race that our Legislature is only 27 percent women,” said Lucy Dathan of New Canaan, who unseated Rep. Fred Wilms of Norwalk, becoming the first Democrat to ever win in the 142nd House District. “That was really shocking to me. When I saw that, I
said, ‘Hey actually we are 51 percent of the population.’ We need to be better represented. We need to stand up.”
Victories by women were also key to helping Democrats secure majorities in the House and Senate. Of the 17 new female candidates who won seats Tuesday, 15 were Democrats.
Democrat Alex Bergstein defeated Republican state Sen. L. Scott Frantz on Tuesday, claiming a Senate seat that covers Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan and has not been represented by a Democrat since 1930.
“To me this race was not about gender,” said Bergstein, who founded a gender equality nonprofit called Parity Partnership. “It is about a new style of leadership that is more inclusive and collaborative and productive. That’s the reason I did this. That’s
the reason I will continue to do this.”
Kathy Kennedy of Milford was one of two Republican women to win an open House seat.
“I hope (women) can be a voice of some reason and bring us together, that we can work in a bipartisan manner,” said Kennedy, who will represent the 119th District in January. “I’m not saying men can’t do it. It’s just something we’re not used to yet, but hopefully we are getting more and more comfortable with women being in highly elected positions.”
At the state level, Susan Bysiewicz, Democratic lieutenant governor-elect, and two-term Secretary of the State Denise Merrill won office Tuesday. Republicans also had two women on their statewide ticket.
The surge of women in Connecticut politics is part of a national trend. In the midterms, women broke records by winning 100 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, with votes
still being counted Thursday. That number includes Democrat Jahana Hayes who triumphed in Connecticut’s 5th District, who is the first black woman to represent the state in Congress.
Twelve women won U.S. Senate races and nine women won gubernatorial bids. Across the country, women were on the ballot in record numbers.
The women who won in Connecticut come from different backgrounds. Democrat Mary Abrams, who defeated Sen. Len Suzio in Meriden and Middletown, is a retired special education teacher. A social worker at the Bridgeportbased Jewish Senior Services, Democrat Anne Hughes of Easton won over state Rep. Adam Dunsby.
Democrat Maria Horn, a former federal prosecutor from Salisbury, squeezed a narrow victory over Republican state Rep. Brian Ohler. Democrat Patricia Wilson Pheanious was the commissioner of the Department of Social Services under Gov. John Rowland and defeated Republican State Rep. Samuel Belsito of Tolland on Tuesday.
They also hold different ideas on what priorities the state should pursue first, ranging from paid family leave and environmental initiatives to a state Medicare-for-all plan to cutting taxes and funding opioid interventions.
“I think we need to come up with a financial strategy, a plan for Connecticut, something that is not reactionary like a budget,” said Dathan, a 25-year financial executive.
Some of the female winners participated in the Women’s March in Washington after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Many were united by the fact that they were first time candidates.
“I’m not sure my feet have quite touched the ground yet,” Kennedy said.