Danbury area Democrats defy history, down incumbents
DANBURY — Voters across the Danbury area delivered sharp rebukes to incumbent Republican legislators this week by sending a a half-dozen Democrats to upset victories in some districts the party has not won in decades.
First-time candidates Julie Kushner and Will Haskell both defeated incumbent Republicans for state Senate districts that Democrats have not won in Danbury since the early 1990s and in Wilton since the early 1970s.
Fellow Democrats Ken Gucker and Raghib Allie-Brennan, who have run before, finally broke through to win seats Republicans have held for most, if not all, of the past 20 years.
Those flipped seats have helped propel Democrats to control of both chambers of the state legislature — breaking the 18-18 tie in the Senate — and have turned the traditionally red legislative delegation markedly blue.
Although local Republicans dismiss the wins as the spoils from a record turnout in opposition to President Donald Trump, Democrats hope the results add even more momentum to what has been a spate of victories in local Republican strongholds over the past two years.
“In the end, we were inspired, we were tireless and we were unstoppable,” said Danbury Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Andrea Gartner.
Democrats defied decades of voting history on Tuesday night when they upset a half-dozen incumbents across the legislative delegation.
Haskell, a 22-year-old recent Georgetown University graduate, stunned Republicans with his defeat of state Sen. Toni Boucher, who has served in the state legislature as long as Haskell has been alive.
Kushner, a retired union organizer in Hartford, defeated Sen. Mike McLachlan, a longtime Danbury GOP leader and former chief of staff to Mayor Mark Boughton.
Both Boucher and McLachlan had held their 24th and 26th District seats for a decade and Republicans had preceded them decades before that.
“The voters have spoken but I’m still scratching my head,” McLachlan said.
Allie-Brennan defeated Republican state Rep. Will Duff in a rematch of their 2016 race for the 2nd District seat in Bethel that has been held by a GOP member for 11 of the past 15 years.
Gucker, a Danbury community activist, defeated Republican state Rep. Michael Ferguson for the 138th District.
That’s the Republican stronghold seat Boughton won 20 years ago, before he became mayor in 2001, followed by now-Danbury Town Clerk Janice Giegler, who held it for 14 years before being elected to City Hall.
Democrat Anne Hughes topped Republican state Rep. Adam Dunsby for the 135th District in Redding, Easton and Weston — another seat held almost exclusively by Republicans going back to at least the 1970s.
Maria Horn also narrowly defeated incumbent Republican state Rep. Brian Ohler for the 64th District seat in Kent, returning a Democrat to the traditionally blue seat.
They join re-elected Democratic state Reps. David Arconti and Bob Godfrey, the deputy speaker pro tempore who is himself an institution after 30 years in the legislature.
“People want a different vision and I feel like that, here in our part of Connecticut, made a huge difference,” Kushner said.”
Even some of the area Republicans who retained their posts, like Reps. Steve Harding and John Frey, faced stiff competition.
Frey held off Democrat Aimee Berger-Girvalo by fewer than 500 votes. Although Harding won easily, Democrat Daniel Pearson received more than 40 percent of the vote just two years after Harding won re-election unopposed.
Republicans across the state have bristled at the idea that the Democratic wave that swept state government on Tuesday was a turning point for Connecticut Republicans.
Instead, they have argued that the record turnout nationwide and in parts of the state was driven mostly by opposition to the president instead of opposition to local Republicans’ policies.
“I think this was really an anti-Trump vote for a lot of people,” Boughton said Wednesday morning. “It was also a confluence of very well-funded and well-managed campaigns …”
Legislators on both sides of the aisle often praised the legislative delegation for its bipartisanship, and new members said this week they hope to continue the streak.
“I haven’t had a chance to really discuss the issues in depth with a lot of my new Democratic colleagues, but it seems like we’re on the same page regarding what we want for the people of this district — and that’s what’s best,” Harding said.
It will be up to that entire delegation, especially the new Democrats, to accomplish more for western Connecticut or else that momentum really will stall, Kushner added.
“We have to do things, we have to get things done that are going to make a difference in people’s lives.” she said. “We have to take on the tough issues and move forward.”
News-Times staff members Katrina Koerting, Julia Perkins and Anna Quinn contributed to this report.