Freshman legislators sworn in, hunker down for busy session
Published 1:05 pm, Thursday, January 6, 2011
HARTFORD -- After months of campaigning, followed by weeks of anticipation after their November victories, Brenda Kupchick and Jonathan Steinberg needed to utter only two words to officially become state representatives: "I do."
Affirming the oath of office administered by outgoing Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, the newly minted legislators, who will serve for two years, were sworn in with 149 fellow lawmakers Wednesday at the state Capitol as the General Assembly's 2011-12 session got under way.
Also unfolding Wednesday was the inauguration of Dannel Malloy, the state's first Democratic governor in 20 years. Cars clogged Hartford's major thoroughfares, while police officers and television crews blanketed the grounds of the Capitol. After their own session concluded, many legislators proceeded to the State Armory, where Malloy's swearing-in took place, accompanied by a 19-gun salute.
"This is exciting," said Kupchick, a Republican who represents Fairfield's 132nd District. "I feel honored to see my name on the wall and to have my own seat in the chamber."
Steinberg, a Democrat representing Westport's 136th District, shared Kupchick's enthusiasm. "Today, with the pomp and circumstance, this makes it real," he said. "We can finally roll up our sleeves and do some work."
Within minutes, the House of Representatives began its work, voting on new clerks as well as several procedural rule changes. "Aye!" the two representatives bellowed with their colleagues as they approved the non-controversial items.
"The ayes have it," proclaimed Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, with a bang of the gavel on the podium.
Future votes in the session are unlikely to result in such unanimity. But Kupchick, a former Fairfield Board of Education and Representative Town Meeting member, said she is prepared for the more arduous aspects of the job. "There are going to be long nights, lots of committee hearings, and just fighting for bills that you believe in," she said.
Serving on the Education, Banks and Housing committees, Kupchick will attend her first committee meeting on Monday. In the meantime, she plans to submit a bill that would eliminate the business entity tax -- a $250 annual fee that is levied on many small businesses in Connecticut. Kupchick and her husband, Peter, own their own small business, the Fairfield-based Kupchick Heating & Cooling Inc.
As for Steinberg, he will serve on the Energy and Technology, Transportation and Aging committees. He is also technically still a Westport RTM member. Although state law allows him to hold both a state and municipal position, he said he will resign soon from the RTM to work solely as a state representative. "It's all going to start cascading down on us soon," he said of the looming committee work in Hartford.
To cope with this "cascade," Kupchick and Steinberg have each been assigned an aide to assist them with their legislative work. They will also work with staff lawyers to draft bills.
Both legislators have their own offices in the Legislative Office Building, adjacent to the Capitol. Their work in the General Assembly will generally require several trips to Hartford each week during this year's session, which runs until early June. Kupchick and Steinberg, however, will still reside in Fairfield and Westport, respectively.
Although on different sides of the aisle, Hwang and Steinberg conferred before the session's opening like longtime legislative colleagues, discussing future events, and even taking pictures for each other.
"I'm excited about this session," Hwang said after the House adjourned for lunch. "We've got a new governor and a new perspective. I'm confident that some of the good ideas we've been working on for the last couple of years will now be implemented as policies."
That spirit of bipartisan goodwill prevailed throughout the House chamber Wednesday. "Look around, drink it in, this is a very special day. Guess what folks, we may be dysfunctional, but we are family," said Republican House Minority Leader Larry Cafero to a round of laughter.
Despite the months of meetings, deliberations and votes ahead, a festive mood pervaded the chamber. Basking in the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows, legislators' family and friends filled the House floor for photo ops and smiles.
Kupchick and Steinberg were both joined by their families for the opening day ceremonies.
"I'm very proud of her. She fights for her beliefs," said Geri Benton, Kupchick's mother. Serving as the "caretaker" of the family, Kupchick's leadership skills have been honed as she is the oldest of three children, said her mother.
And while Steinberg's wife, Nancy, said she looks forward to familiarizing herself with the state Capitol, their three daughters -- Rachel, Margot and Charlotte -- took a more nonchalant view of their father's ascension to power.
Rachel, who attends the College of William and Mary in Virginia, said, "I was away at school when my dad was running, and then it was like I came back home, and he had won."