For more than 20 years, the 51st District House of Representatives seat has been a Democratic stronghold.
That could change with the November elections, when retiring Putnam Police Chief Rick Hayes appears on the ballot. Longtime politician Danny Rovero, D-Killingly, announced he will not seek re-election in the fall, breaking the race wide open for newcomers.
The longtime chief law enforcement officer and Thompson fire marshal made a successful bid for a selectman’s seat in Putnam in 2016. His plans after that were to retire, serve the local community, and spend some time riding a lawnmower around a golf course. But after being recruited by state Rep. Ann Dauphinais, R-Killingly, and other members of the GOP, Hayes’ plans changed.
″(My wife) Kathy and I spoke about it and discussed it, and we thought it’d be a good thing to do and now I’m 100 percent in,” said Hayes.
At present, Hayes is slated to go up against another stalwart of the local community, former Thompson first selectman and board of finance chairman Larry Groh. Both men are well-liked and respected in the region for their service to their towns and local charitable organizations.
The two men met up recently at a local ribbon-cutting ceremony, where Hayes said each agreed to the only type or race either could imagine running — a clean one.
“It will be. I have no doubt it will be on Larry’s side, and I absolutely can guarantee that it will be on my side,” said Hayes.
The statement is meant to make an impact in the current climate of “anything goes” politics, nationally and on the state level. 2016 saw what has been called the “Trump wave” push the often blue towns of Thompson, Putnam and Killingly over to red, with all three going for President Donald Trump. On the down ballot, Hayes received the second largest number of votes in that race, second only to fellow Republican newcomer Jeff Rawson.
Thompson narrowly voted for Romney in 2012 and voted Republican again in 2016, while the GOP tipped the scales in Putnam from Democrat to Republican in 2016 after both towns voted for Barack Obama in the previous election.
It’s an indication of how the political climate has changed in the wake of the Great Recession, according to Christine Rosati-Randall. The Killingly Democrat, who was unseated by Republican newcomer Dauphinais in the last election, knows how important “top of the ballot” politics can be to people running for state and local office.
“I don’t get to choose who I work with up at the Capitol. So you may not like (fellow Democrat and lame duck Gov. Dannel) Malloy — I didn’t elect him. The citizens of Connecticut elected him, and he is our governor. And unfortunately, if I want to get a bill passed, that’s who has to sign it,” said Rosati-Randall, who will go up against Dauphinais again this fall.
“Just like you don’t get to choose your co-workers, I don’t get to choose my colleagues. So sometimes people will choose not to support you based on that affiliation, like the affiliation with Malloy, but — look at (disgraced former Republican Gov. John) Rowland. He was corrupt. Does that mean all the Republicans are corrupt? No. When we start voting for the person and not the party, we’ll have better parties,” said Rosati-Randall.
Hayes thinks that the GOP is poised to make big gains in the 2018 election, possibly taking over one if not both of the chambers, along with the governor’s office. He believes some Democrats were returned to Hartford in 2016 out of a sense of tradition in the state, but thinks those days and that type of politics may be over.
“This November election is not about Donald Trump. It’s not about the federal government. People are sick and tired of the way the state is being run and they’ve had enough and they are going to show it,” said Hayes.
He believes that “politics as usual”…