By Wayne Jebian
Pushing a baby carriage amidst the hustle and bustle that is Opening Day of the General Assembly was Stephanie Gibbs of Meriden, a niece of freshman state Rep. Hilda Santiago (D-Meriden). She gave voice to the message that was on the minds of so many, including the governor. Asked what she hoped her aunt would accomplish, she said, “Pass gun laws and get everything straightened out with that.”
The overall mood of the day was somber, with the Sandy Hook massacre still on everyone’s mind. Speaking in the Senate Chamber, President Pro Tempore Donald Williams (D-Thompson) said, “Our goal must not be to do what little we can, but rather to do all we can to remove the weapons of war from those who would assault our children and our communities.” Williams was quick to note that in Connecticut’s urban areas, the problem predated Sandy Hook.
Governor Dannel P. Malloy was visibly shaken, having to stop his State of the State address a couple of times, when he recalled the efforts of teachers and counselors who lost their lives trying to protect their students in Newtown. His reaction to the event in terms of policy was clear. “More guns are not the answer,” he declared, saying the correct focus would be upon curbing interstate firearms traffic.
After the governor’s speech, Rep. Victor Cuevas (D. Waterbury) remarked, “The theme was, we came together in bad times, over tragedy. Now, dealing with our budgetary problems, we need to work at that with the same empathy that we did with the tragedy at Newtown.”
“The governor sent a straight message about the work that is expected of us,” said Rep. Juan Candelaria (D. New Haven). “There’s a whole lot of work to be done in the tough economy that this state is facing. How do we as a body come and fulfill our agenda while at the same time protecting those safety nets that are so important in our communities.”
Opening Day at the Connecticut General Assembly is a largely ceremonial affair, so much so that House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero (R-Norwalk) joked, “I was on the wrong page of the script” at one point to the assembled House of Representatives. In that same spirit, state Rep. J. Brendan Sharkey declared, “This is awesome!” upon being sworn in as Speaker of the House.
However, even this upbeat note was topped by one freshman state representative from Bridgeport whom many observers didn’t think would be seated in the chamber at all. “Ecstatic,” was how state Rep. Christina Ayala (D-129th) described her mood, continuing, “I am ready to work as hard as I can for my constituency. Thank you for giving me the chance!”
Ayala, since winning her party’s nomination in August, has been arrested twice: once for a hit-and-run accident and another time for a domestic dispute. She was due in court originally on the day she was to be sworn in but got an extension. Ayala is also being investigated by the State Elections and Ethics Commission for questions about her residency when she voted in the general election in November.
Williams, the Senate president pro tem, welcomed freshman Latino state Sens. Andres Ayala (D-Bridgeport) and Art Linares (R-Middletown), praising the latter for the youth and energy he was bringing to the Senate at the age of 24. Much of the session was devoted to a reading, in which Bessy Reyna, a noted Latina poet and CTLatinoNews.com columnist, and another poet took turns excerpting “Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies.” This story – one of a state heroine whose own school was subjected to violence because she believed in bringing education to all – held a haunting significance this year.
Senator Ayala talks about his priorities for the upcoming session:
Video courtesy of Senate Democrats.
Photos by Wayne Jebian