State Rep. Themis Klarides talks to reporters about the last budget session.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent
Even 16 years after first running as a freshman Republican to the Connecticut Legislature, Themis Klarides still goes door to door when she is campaigning. “People want access to you,” she said in a phone conversation after a long day of meetings, “personal contact is really important”. Constituents call her with issues ranging from personal problems to state issues — and she will try to accommodate them, no matter where they are calling from.
In the 114th District she represents, 40% of voters live in Woodbridge, 40% in Orange and 20% in Derby, she said, but she will try to help them whether they call from “her” side of Derby or the other side of town. And that is what she loves about the job. “It makes you feel like you are making a difference,” she said. That is why she is running for her ninth term. “It is such an honor to do what we do,” she said. “Still, after all these years sometimes it’s like I don’t believe that people entrust me with that job.”
Since she first joined the Legislature, Klarides has climbed the party ranks. She now is deputy leader, which makes her second in command. She has to tend to the caucus and run the floor for House Republicans.
It takes skill, knowledge and a good deal of diplomacy to stand up for what you believe in, and to move people’s position towards compromise where feasible. Part of her job as deputy is to negotiate with the majority leader to get legislation passed. She also serves on the legislature’s Appropriations, Judiciary, Legislative Management, Screening and Public Health committees and was formerly the Ranking Member of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.
A Wrenching Decision
Two years ago, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot indiscriminately at anything that moved – killing 20 children and six adults. The resulting discussion about gun control put her – and many of her colleagues into a very difficult position. “It probably was the worst experience I ever had in the 16 years. It was very emotional, a tragedy,” she said, to the degree that legislators felt they needed to do something, even though Connecticut already had the third or fourth strictest gun laws on the books.
Klarides said she supported the bill, which closed the loophole of “straw purchases” — second-hand gun sales, which could by-pass background checks. Obviously Sandy Hook would have occurred irrespective of the new laws, she said. “It was a difficult vote for me, the most intense experience. “I believe there were a lot of good things in the bill,” but also parts she was not in favor of. “You have to weigh the good and the bad,” she said, and she voted for it.
Together with her Republican colleagues, Klarides decried the Democrats for adopting the Common Core standards without a public hearing. “The Democratic leadership refused to hold a public hearing,” she said. Republicans in return petitioned the leadership for a hearing. Her firm stance got her the endorsement from the Connecticut Education Association.
Looking forward, she sees another budget battle looming. “The budget is such a big deal,” she said, adding that much depends on the governor’s initiative. The problem is the economy, she said, deploring that Connecticut is consistently ranked at the bottom in the nation for being not very business-friendly.
The political leadership has to keep in mind that the majority of all businesses are small businesses, and owners don’t pay corporate taxes, she said. “Any tax increase we pass affects those small businesses,” she said. “And I don’t expect much to change until there is a different party in power.”