HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — One of the first votes in the new Connecticut House of Representatives is stirring up controversy about the new House Speaker. Does the Speaker have a ‘conflict of interest’ because he is employed by a major public sector union? Most all of the state labor union contracts are currently in negotiations with the Malloy Administration. In his “State of the State” address, the Governor said the budget deficit means more concessions are necessary.
The new Democratic Speaker of the House, 46-year-old State Representative Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin, is a high school football coach. And for nearly twenty years he has also been employed by a major state employee union: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, commonly called AFSCME. A position the State Republican Party Chairman has called a conflict
Just as he did when he became Majority Leader, Aresimowicz got an informal opinion from the State Ethics Commission concluding it was not a conflict. But one of the very first votes of the new House has brought the controversy immediately to the surface. He voted, along with the 75 other Democrats present, to kill a Republican plan to force the House to have up or down votes on all union contracts. All 72 Republicans voted for the plan.
“It’s our responsibility to take a look at those contracts,” said House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby).
“It was a political stunt and they got the vote that they wanted,” said Aresimowticz.
Aresimowicz also says the plan wasn’t needed because the State Senate had adopted rules that would allow either party to request a debate on union contracts. But one of the new Senate Republican leaders, Sen. Kevin Witkos of Canton says that’s not correct.
“The rules that we adopted in the Senate do not go as far as what they wanted in the House of Representatives,” said Witkos.
The Speaker also says barring him from voting on labor union issues would be like barring state reps that are lawyers from voting on judges, or a state rep that’s a doctor from voting on a public health issue.
“This legislature is built by all of us coming in with some inherent knowledge of the subjects we’ll deal with so it’s not a conflict of an interest,” said Aresimowticz.
“They’re afraid to vote for union contracts because they know that constituents are very, very irate about it. They’re afraid to vote against union contracts because their constituency is partially the unions,” said Klarides.
Republicans have been pushing for this for years but now, with their stronger numbers in both the House and Senate it’s probably not the end of this issue this session.