HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Growing up in a family that ran two well-known supermarkets, Themis and Nicole Klarides closely watched their father and two uncles while the sisters worked part-time in the stores.
But it was their mother, now-84-year-old Theodora Klarides, who had as much influence on the young sisters as anyone.
“My mother and all the Klarides women were just strong, independent women,” Nicole Klarides-Ditria recalled. “My mother always said to us, as far back as I can remember, that ‘You can do whatever you want. You don’t need someone to hold you back and tell you you can’t do it. Whatever it is you want to do, we will always support you. We will be there by your side, and you can do it.'”
Today, the sisters, according to the Connecticut State Library, are the first two sisters to serve simultaneously in the legislature in Connecticut history.
It was Themis who first entered public service when she ran for the legislature in 1998. As the House Republican leader, she is currently the highest-ranking woman in the legislature and one of the top politicians in the state.
Through the years, Themis often encouraged her younger sister to enter public life, but the moves were not immediate. The sisters are so close that they talk almost every day— and often multiple times a day by telephone or text. Last year, Themis received a message from Nicole that she had trouble understanding.
“One night, I got a text, and all it said was, ‘I think I’m going to run,'” Themis recalled. “I said, ‘For what?’ So I immediately texted her first selectman, and said, ‘She said she’s running. For what? Do you want to ask her or should I ask her?'”
Themis, 51, eventually asked her sister, who blurted out that she was finally running for the legislature— the culmination of a yearslong process of entering politics at the local level and then seeking higher office.
Various families have had fathers and sons in politics at different times, but researchers said they cannot find two sisters overlapping in Hartford. Then-House Speaker Thomas Ritter of Hartford served for one term with his brother, John, in 1997 and 1998, but that was the last time siblings worked together in the General Assembly.
In their hometown of Seymour and nearby Derby, the family is known for the two supermarkets that bore their name.
All six cousins in the close-knit family worked in the supermarkets until they were sold 20 years ago. The family still owns a shopping center in Seymour, which Nicole helps manage, and the former supermarket has become an Ocean State Job Lot.
In their younger days, the sisters were competitive athletes in high school, where Themis was shy and Nicole was known for being outgoing. They were stars in tennis, playing together as a doubles team and making it to the third round of the state tournament.
Themis was a swimmer at Trinity College and graduated from Quinnipiac University‘s law school. A former model and body builder, she has become a devotee of yoga over the past 10 years for relaxation.
Nicole earned a tennis scholarship to Quinnipiac, where she received a bachelor’s in marketing. She worked for the next six years in the supermarkets before attending graduate school and becoming an athletic trainer.
For years, Nicole— now 48 —avoided public service before eventually running for the Seymour finance board and then the board of selectmen.
“It wasn’t her thing,” Themis said. “But I talked her into it because I thought she would be good at it. She was the highest vote-getter when she ran. I’ve seen her grow in that position.”
Today, Nicole serves as the Seymour deputy first selectman, and she intends to remain in the position that has one more year left in her term. She ran for the legislature last year when she learned that Democratic Rep. Theresa Conroy of Seymour voted in favor of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s budget.
“It was out of frustration that I decided to run for state rep,” Nicole said.
In a classic swing district, Conroy won the seat three times— in 2008, 2012 and 2014. But she also lost in 2010 in a hard-fought battle before losing again in 2016. Besides Seymour, the district includes Beacon Falls and Derby.
While adding the legislature to her schedule, Nicole intends to keep her other jobs as the head athletic trainer at the all-girls Lauralton Hall high school in Milford and the football trainer at Seymour High School. She is married to a Seymour police detective, and their son, Cade, is an accomplished high school football player and javelin thrower who hopes to win an athletic scholarship to college.
As Republicans, the two sisters are fiscal conservatives who agree that the state needs to solve its long-running budget problems by tightening spending and kick-starting the economy.
Nicole says her timing was right in 2016 as a wave of support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump swept through the Naugatuck Valley and helped upend Conroy, the incumbent Democrat. In a district where previous races have been close, Klarides won 57 percent to 43 percent.
“The valley was very pro-Trump, and that helped me in the sense that the valley people were sick and tired of the way the state was running and the country was running,” Nicole said. “Malloy was a factor because of the way he was running the state of Connecticut. In the state races, they go right to the governor because he is our leader. In my race, they said, ‘Yes, we are sick of Malloy. We want him out, but we understand we’re stuck with him for two more years. So we want the Democrats out. We need more Republicans in the House and Senate.’ The Democrats had their shot. They’ve been in the majority for 38 out of the last 40 years.”
While Republicans said they tied their opponents to the unpopular governor, Malloy said after the election that local races are largely decided on local issues.
The new House speaker, Democrat Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin, has disagreed with Themis on various issues but maintains a generally cordial relationship overall.
“I think it’s great to make a little bit of history,” Aresimowicz said of the two sisters.
“I just hope I don’t have to negotiate with both of them.”
Themis said she will treat her sister the same as all of the other Republican freshmen.
“I would hope nobody thinks there’s any favoritism,” Themis said. “I will not treat her any better and will not treat her any worse.”
Information from: Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.