Opening Day at the state Capitol is a time of great optimism and enthusiasm – kind of like opening day at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.
While all the returning players have seen it before, it is a very big day for the rookie legislators and their families. Plenty of them were walking around near the state House of Representatives chamber on the second floor and the Senate on the third floor.
With husbands, wives, children, and relatives in the building, the Capitol seems more crowded today than at any time since the last regular session ended in May.
Opening day is also among the biggest days of the year for photographers – plenty of them are moving around the chambers and the hallways today.
In the Senate, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called the chamber to order shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Downstairs in the House, outgoing Speaker Christopher Donovan – who lost a Democratic primary for Congress to Elizabeth Esty – called the chamber to order. On his final day in office after four years as Speaker, Donovan introduced the other former Speakers – Jim Amann, Moira Lyons, Tom Ritter, and Richard Balducci – who joined the chamber in a tradition of returning speakers.
“Just like 20 years ago, the air in this chamber is crackling with excitement,” Donovan said in his farewell address, referring to his first day in January 1993. “Together, we’ve made significant improvements.”
Donovan received an extended standing ovation in his final time leading the chamber.
Soon after, Democrat J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden was elected as Speaker by all members of the chamber.
“I want to thank the love of my life, who is sitting behind me, with her lovely daughter Emily – Diane Reynolds,” Sharkey said. “Diane’s courage, her support, has been an inspiration to me, and I look forward to spending the rest of our lives together.”
As a member of a large, Irish Catholic family, Sharkey thanked his brothers, sisters, and extended family, including a relative who played rugby decades ago at Boston College with another student named Dannel P. Malloy.
Sharkey asked his colleagues to give their families and friends a round of applause “for making all this possible today.”
“Thank you and God bless the awesome state of Connecticut,” Sharkey said in the closing line of his remarks.
The prayer was led by Garland Higgins, the assistant House chaplain who is well known at the Capitol.
“Almighty God, if ever we need your wisdom, it is now,” Garland said in the House chamber.
The two deans of their respective legislative caucuses – Rep. Mary Mushinsky of Wallingford and Rep. Arthur O’Neill of Southbury – led their fellow members in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The House then went through the traditional reading of the names of all House members as each legislator stood up in preparation for a mass swearing-in of all 151 members.
Gary Coleman, the former clerk in the state House for 23 years, will resume his position as the Senate clerk, based on a nomination by Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams.
At that point, Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney nominated Williams to serve for another two years in his role as the highest-ranking senator. Looney and Senators Toni Harp, Tony Guglielmo, Williams and others started their tenures in the Senate together in 1993 – 20 years ago. Looney says that Williams has “a superbly nuanced grasp” of public policy, honed during the past 8 1/2 years as the Senate’s top leader.
“We know the next two years will be a time of challenge and opportunity,” Looney said on the Senate floor.
Senate Republican leader John McKinney seconded the motion on Williams but did not add any additional remarks.
Williams introduced the new senators who won their elections in November, replacing some veteran members of the chamber like Edith Prague, Eileen Daily, Andrew Roraback, and Edwin Gomes.
Downstairs in the House, the new majority leader, Democrat Joe Aresimowicz, known as A to Z, thanked his fellow caucus members for giving him the chance to serve as their leader. In his remarks, Aresimowicz talked about his late mother.
“My mother was my life compass. I proudly admit to everybody that I’m a momma’s boy,” he said. “I’m also a football player. … For the next two years, it’s going to be all about you.”
House Republican leader Larry Cafero, known for his speeches on the House floor, said, “Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and it’s a privilege to call you that.”
Referring to Cafero’s stentorian stemwinders, Sharkey said, “That’s what Larry does best.”
“I am so looking forward to working with you over the next two years,” Sharkey said to Cafero.
Cafero turned to his fellow House members and said, “Look around. Drink it in. … Look around. Think of the history, the decisions that went on in this room. Think about that. Look around you. … You will see some of the finest people you’ve ever met in your life.”
Cafero added, “Look around to your family. They got you here. … Don’t forget them. … You need to make them part of this process. Take care of your health – your mental and physical health. Please take care of yourself. It’s a stressful job. … Remember your roots. … We have some enormous challenges ahead.”
Cafero asked his fellow legislators to remember ”the spirit of Sandy Hook” in order to work together in a way “that could be our greatest tribute to those heroes and angels” from the shooting on December 14, 2012.
In introducing his wife, Barbara, Cafero said, “This blessed woman said yes”’ about 30 years ago when he asked her to marry him.
Cafero, 55, introduced his 92-year-old father, Larry Cafero, Sr., saying that he had worked for 78 years. He also introduced his mother, without revealing her age, as “one of the most wonderful people in the world, Helen Cafero.”
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman told members of the House and Senate in a joint session that they will be working hard, but they will have the chance to have “more fun than you’ve ever had in your life.”