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After GOP shake-up, new CT Senate minority leader says he’s following predecessor's lead

Stephen Harding
Joe Lemieux, Jr.
Ct. Senate Republicans
Stephen Harding

Last month, Connecticut Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly stepped down as Republican speaker in the middle of his term. Winning the right to replace Kelly was Sen. Stephen Harding of Brookfield.

One thing Harding said he’s not trying to do is erase Kelly’s legacy.

“I look forward to him, again, being a big part of this caucus and being a big advisor to me in this particular role and advisor to the entire caucus,” Harding said. “I'm looking to simply just advance on what he's already been focusing on and already started to begin.”

Those agenda items include fighting to maintain the “fiscal guardrails” the GOP and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont both believe have led to the state’s budget surplus. He also wants to make health care more affordable and stand against what republicans see as a Democratic-supported “electronic vehicle” mandate for all new car sales in Connecticut by 2035.

“[It] would have been bad policy for the state of Connecticut and it would have been illogical policy basically, with the fact that we don't even have the infrastructure to take this on,” Harding said.

If Harding has been resistant to changes in Kelley’s policies, he’s shown no such resistance to making changes in his new office’s staff. Within a week of Hardy taking over, John Healey was back as Senate GOP chief of staff after having been fired earlier this year by Kelley. In that time, Harding also appointed Republican Sen. Henri Martin from Bristol as his second-in-command, while relieving interim chief of staff Gary DeFilippo and senior staffer Jack Shannon of their duties.

Harding remained tight-lipped about why he made those moves.

“I'm not going to discuss,” Harding said. “Mr. Healy is now our Chief of Staff, he was brought back and we welcome him back.”

Harding said job one for him in leading the 11 other GOP members of the Senate is to foster unity.

“We have 12 of us. And so, reaching out … on a continuous basis, hearing their concerns, making sure that their constituents’ issues are advanced, and promoted. And I think that that's how [we’re] ultimately going to unify as a team,” Harding said.

One area where Harding said he is unified with many of his state GOP colleagues is in bypassing the more confrontational tone taken by Republican legislators in other states.

“A lot of what you hear on cable news and then what you see in Washington, D.C., I don't think is necessarily seen as much in Hartford,” Harding said. “The country is not successful, from a governmental perspective, when we were divided. And so, anything that we can do to work together, to be respectful of each other's ideas, is a positive thing.”

While the 39-year-old Harding is decades younger than the 64-year-old Kelly, the new minority leader says he does not lack experience – having served four terms in the House prior to his election to the state Senate in 2022.

“I'm trying to utilize my youth and energy,” Harding said. “I think it's important for our caucus to be energetic, because I ultimately believe we're promoting really positive things for the people of our districts and the people of this state.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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