Senate Minority Leader Talks the Art of Compromise

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (CT Examiner)


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A self-proclaimed fiscal conservative who is moderate on social issues, State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, believes in the art of compromise, collaboration and conversation.

But it’s not always easy.

Two-thirds of the State Senate is controlled by the Democrats. And while Kelly, an elder care attorney, says most issues are agreed upon by way of consensus, he admits many issues divide the group and are often contentious.

“We are able to foster consensus with most issues; most of our work is done in that fashion,” said the 63-year-old, who represents Stratford. “Those are issues we are able to have with conversation and collaboration, but there are issues where the majority chooses to shut that down and just move in their own lane.”

In an interview with CT Examiner this week, Kelly discussed the issues that matter most to him and the frustration he often feels working with leaders on the opposite side of the political aisle.

Kelly, a state senator since 2010 and Senate Minority Leader since 2020, pointed to the matter of early voting that, he said, left him shaking his head.

“A perfect example of that is that the people in the last election voted for a new constitutional amendment regarding early voting,” he said. “They did not define early voting and were going to leave that to the legislature. The majority decided to endeavor on an early voting system in a very partisan manner and, as a result, it was voted on through party lines.”

Kelly said the process bewildered him because his party put forward “common sense amendments that I thought would resonate with Democrats,” including a proposal that the wait in lines to vote could not be more than 30 minutes long. 

“There is a lot of research that shows wait time and long lines result in disenfranchisement and voter suppression,” he said. “It’s also been researched. It’s not our idea. These ideas are coming from think tanks and people who have looked at the issue of what would be best for Connecticut. It was rejected by the majority.” 

“It’s disappointing,” Kelly continued. “Because when I go back to my community, that’s not what the people want. They don’t want one party dictating to another party, particularly on political issues. They want us, after Election Day, to work for the betterment of the community.”

But Kelly said he believes that – because of how the State Senate is set up – there is more room for compromise among the two parties than in the State House.

“You have ranking members and corresponding staff, and there is just more conversation [than in the House]. I’m always open to a conversation; let’s see if we can’t work together and, from that perspective, you start at a better place and can end up with better results,” he said. 

Kelly, who was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and moved to Connecticut at a young age, said he understood the art of compromise – politically speaking – from watching his parents: His mother, who is now 99 years old, is a Democrat while his father was a Republican.

“Sometimes my mom had good ideas and sometimes my dad had good ideas, but most of the time, it was the conversation around the kitchen table,” he said. “When it comes to Republicans and Democrats, they are different, neither right nor wrong. Whether it’s education, the environment or transportation or the economy, we want to better for Connecticut. But the question is often how do we get there? … When you have that conversation, that’s where the likelihood of success can come from.”

Kelly said there are numerous issues of importance to him and his party that he’d like to revisit in the 2024 short session beginning in February.

A top priority next year, Kelly said, is affordability.

“I think that in 2024 we are going to be focusing on affordability, to lower the tax burden on the working- and middle-class families,” Kelly said. “We also want to lower health care premiums, which would help businesses provide this benefit to their employees. We need to do this.”

On other issues, Kelly said he voted against the Police Accountability Act because he believed the bill went too far in tying the hands of police, who he said get a bad rap.

“Like in every profession in every walk of life, there’s a few bad apples that ruin everything for the rest of us,” he said, “People today look at police officers with a different perspective. But what do they do: They put on a bulletproof vest every day in the service of others. Hats off to the police officers.”

On criminal justice reform, Kelly said it’s important to help young people early in life, to prevent them from heading down a road of crime.

Kelly said that’s done by offering trade jobs, mentorships and an opportunity for young people to better themselves. 

Republican Senate leadership supports requiring high schools to discuss the benefits of attending a trade school alongside discussions of enrolling at a traditional two- or four-year college.

Kelly said young people can become “a carpenter or an electrician. Or you could just work in trades and get a job at Electric Boat, or Pratt & Whitney or Sikorsky, and many of those jobs pay six figures. We need to start with the youth today, so that people don’t resort to crime.”

Housing is also part of the equation when it comes to the wealth gap, he added.

“Another aspect is to make sure housing is appropriate,” he said. “Because, if you live in a house that’s secure and warm, you will have one world vision versus someone else who has broken windows and a roof that leaks. If the house isn’t maintained and you are in squalor, you are going to have a different view of your community.”

Martin Looney, the State Senate’s top Democrat and president pro tempore, told CT Examiner that he finds Kelly “reasonable” to work with.

“I have sympathy for him,” said Looney. “I also feel sorry for him in the sense that he has the challenge of being a state leader of a party that nationally has gone off the rails and has denied some of the fundamental tenets of democracy.” 

Connecticut Republicans, Looney said, “are not quite as bad as that [national Republican Party].”

Kelly told CT Examiner that he has not decided who he will support for president.

“I have not made my mind up yet,” he said. “I believe we need a Republican candidate who can serve eight years, so I’m looking for a new candidate and one that can beat Joe Biden.”

Kelly said the Republican he admires most from a national perspective is former President Ronald Reagan. His political hero from Connecticut is the late Lawrence DeNardis, who served in Congress from 1981 to 1983 and the State Senate from 1971 to 1979.

“I had the opportunity to work on his campaign,” Kelly said. “He was practical and he knew how to win.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950