OLR Research Report

The Connecticut General Assembly


September 14, 1995 95-R-1134


FROM: Mary M. Janicki, Senior Research Analyst

RE: Two-Term Precedent for Speakers of the House of Representatives of Connecticut

You asked for information on the history of the Connecticut House of Representatives where the speakers have traditionally served a limited number of terms. You are interested in the rationale for this precedent and in what has been reported about it.


No member of the House of Representatives of Connecticut has been elected three or more times to preside over that chamber during all regular legislative sessions held during any six consecutive years. In its history, the General Assembly has met semi-annually (1699—1818), annually (1819—1886 and 1971 to the present), and biennially (1887—1970); and the length of its regular sessions has varied considerably. Several speakers have been elected to serve three times or more, particularly in the period when Connecticut was a colony and a new state. But none of these served an uninterrupted tenure over a six-year period, even as the elected speaker when the legislature was not in session.

In the 85 years before the legislature's current session schedule, the House chamber's two-term precedent for speakers seems not to have been an issue since only two speakers were elected to serve more than one term (which consisted of one regular session held in the odd-numbered year of each biennium). But in the modern era (since the 1970 passage of the constitutional amendment establishing the current annual sessions with leaders chosen for the biennium), two speakers have sought to break with the tradition, but neither was successful. two-term precedent was cited as a tangential reason. Two others did not run for reelection to the House after serving their two terms as speaker. The current speaker is serving the second of his two terms in that position.

The speaker's election officially takes place at the opening of the session. But because the actual selection is usually made in the majority party caucus, there is no record of the debate or members' discussion. In 1979, when Representative Ernest N. Abate was chosen speaker, published reports of the battle for incumbent Speaker James J. Kennelly's position made little mention of the two-term precedent. When Speaker Irving J. Stolberg was replaced by Speaker Richard J. Balducci in 1989, reports that two two-year terms was “enough” surfaced along with calls to honor that tradition. Speaker Stolberg addressed it as well, citing the need for two consecutive terms to accomplish his goals (his two terms as speaker included a hiatus when he served as minority leader). Magazine and newspaper accounts of the ouster in each case focused more on the upheaval caused by a major power shift than on the two-term tradition, leaving the impression that the incumbent's defeat was the more striking event, not the potential break with the two-term tradition.

1699 TO 1817

In 1698, Connecticut's General Court was divided into two branches; one was the Governor and Council and the other was the House of Representatives. The representatives were to elect one of their own members as speaker. From 1699 until the adoption of the Constitution of 1818, the legislators, who were elected annually in May, met twice every year, in May and October. They elected a speaker each time they met. The business of the early sessions was conducted and completed in a matter of days. While these sessions got progressively longer, during this period the House usually adjourned after no more than several weeks.

The list of speakers of the House from 1699 to 1818 appears in Appendix A. Two of them were each elected to preside over 10 sessions, Roger Newton of Milford and Shubau Conant of Mansfield. Another two were elected nine times: Thomas Welles of what was then Glassenbury and William Williams of Lebanon. Several of the speakers were elected six, seven, or eight times, but none consecutively for as long as six years. You should note that we do not include special sessions called by the governor during this time. At special sessions, members elected a speaker who often was the one who had presided over the prior regular session, but not necessarily.

1818 TO 1886

With the adoption of the Constitution of 1818, the General Assembly met annually; between 1818 and 1875 sessions began in May (Article III, 2, Constitution of 1818) and from 1876 until 1886, sessions began in January (Article XVI, 3 of the Amendments). There was no constitutionally mandated adjournment date during the entire period. During this time, a speaker of the House was elected to preside over each session. LaFayette S. Foster of Norwich was elected to preside over four different sessions (1847, 1848, 1854, and 1870)—more than any other speaker during this period. Two others were elected three times to serve during three of the annual sessions: Samuel Ingham of Saybrook (1833, 1835, and 1851) and William W. Boardman of New Haven (1838, 1839, and 1845). No legislator served as speaker for six sessions. (Appendix B, from the 1995 State Register and Manual, lists the names of speakers since 1819 and the years of their terms.)

1887 TO 1970

Amendment XXVII to the Constitution of 1818 changed the schedule for convening the legislature. Rather than conducting annual sessions, the Assembly met biennially and continued to do so for a while under the Constitution of 1965. Those biennial sessions began in the January after members were elected. There was no mandatory adjournment date until Article XXXV of the Amendments to the Constitution of 1818, adopted in 1912, required adjournment by the beginning of June. Of the 13 regular sessions held between 1887 and 1911, one adjourned in May, six in June, two in July, two in August, and one in September. One session ended in a deadlock.

During this period, no speaker was elected more than twice. Those who served for two terms (presiding over a House that met in regular session only once in two years) were Frank E. Healy of Windsor Locks (1915 and 1917) and J. Tyler Patterson, Principal Analyst. of Old Lyme (1963 and 1965). William R. Ratchford of Danbury presided over sessions spanning the transition (1969 and 1971-2) and was the first to serve as speaker under the system we have today.


Article III of the amendments to the state constitution established the current arrangement under which the General Assembly meets from January until June in odd-numbered years and from February until May in the next year. Since 1971, the effective date of the amendment, the House membership has elected eight different speakers, five of whom were chosen to preside over four regular sessions each: James J. Kennelly of Hartford (1975, 1976, 1977, and 1978), Ernest N. Abate of Stamford (1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982); Irving J. Stolberg of New Haven (1983, 1984, 1987, and 1988); and Richard J. Balducci (1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992). All of them served for consecutive years, except for Stolberg who served two separate two-year terms. In 1996, the current House Speaker Thomas D. Ritter will complete the second year of his second term.


Of the cases mentioned above, Speakers Abate and Balducci did not run for reelection to their House district seats and therefore were not in a position to seek a third term as speaker. However, both Speakers Kennelly in 1979 and Stolberg in 1989 expected to be reelected as speaker.

After the 1978 election, incumbent Speaker Kennelly was challenged in his bid for a third term as speaker by Representatives Joseph S. Coatsworth and Ernest N. Abate. The prior legislative session had been a tumultuous one, ending abruptly in the House with a number of major bills left to consider. Kennelly's ouster the following year was described as “a political coup that caused a major shift of power in the Democratically-controlled House (“Coatsworth Expected to Resign From Assembly,” Hartford Courant, November 9, 1979). In the State Library's clipping file on the subject, we find only one reference to the fact that, had Speaker Kennelly been reelected to the speakership, he would have been “the first man in the history of the state to have been elected three times,” (“The Leaders of Tomorrow,” Hartford Advocate, November 22, 1978).

The election of speaker in 1989 was also considered a “coup,” but there was more discussion of the two-term House tradition. Speaker Stolberg was the first sitting speaker since 1943 to be removed by a vote of the full House (Kennelly's defeat had come by way of a caucus vote). On January 4, 1989, the first day of the session and the day on which the vote was taken, the Hartford Courant quoted Stolberg as acknowledging that “some were opposed to his receiving a third term as speaker . . . but reiterated his contention that his first and second terms were separated by two years in the minority and that he wanted two consecutive terms to achieve some legislative goals.”

In the reports of Speaker Balducci's selection, the Courant noted, “In a departure from past practice, Stolberg was aiming for a third term, a move which rankled traditionalists and provided grist to those seeking justification for his removal, (“Stolberg Reign Ends After Two Terms,” January 5, 1989). Stolberg was reported as concluding that “perhaps he had run headfirst into a law of the political jungle: that two terms as speaker may be all one can survive without making too many enemies. 'It may be that four years is a self-enforcing limitation,' he said,” (“Stolberg Calm, Philosophical on Post-Speaker Outlook,” January 5, 1989).

In an article in Governing magazine (“A Coup in Connecticut: The Unmaking of a Leader—And Its Consequences,” August 1990), Alan Ehrenhalt generally described the conditions and atmosphere surrounding the unseating of Speaker Stolberg. As he recounted the 1988 post-election Democratic caucus, “there was a little bit of controversy: Nobody had ever served more than two terms as speaker before. But the two-term limit was informal, and besides, it was commonly understood to mean two consecutive terms. Stolberg's tenure had been interrupted by the period of Republican control in 1985 and 1986” (p. 77). The removal, or more particularly how it had come about, was described as “shocking.” Ehrenhalt, the author of The Pursuit of Office, has studied the changing nature of legislatures generally, and theorizes here that if Stolberg had changed the way he dealt with members, “he might have remained as speaker as long as he wished,” (p. 78).

The new Speaker Balducci is reported to have “fervently believed that no one should serve more than two terms as speaker, a post which, he said, carries substantial power, 'offering the opportunity for good and presenting the risk for abuse',” (Michele Jacklin, “Conservative Democrats Are Victorious in Connecticut House,” State Legislatures, April 1989, p. 14).




Term of

Name Town Service

John Chester Wethersfield May 1699

Oct 1699

Oct 1700

Thomas Hart Farmington May 1700

Oct 1704

Oct 1705

May 1706

Oct 1709

Peter Burre Fairfield May 1701

Oct 1701

John Elliott Windsor May 1702

May 1703

Oct 1703

May 1704

May 1705

Oct 1708

May 1709

Samuel Eells Milford Oct 1706

Oct 1707

May 1708

Joseph Talcott Hartford Oct 1710

John Sherman Woodbury May 1711

Oct 1711

May 1712

Oct 1712

APPENDIX A (Continued)

Richard Bushnell Norwich May 1713

May 1715

May 1717

May 1719

May 1720

John Hooker Farmington Oct 1713

May 1714

Oct 1715

May 1718

Oct 1718

Oct 1720

William Whiting Hartford Oct 1714

Jonathan Law Milford May 1716

Oct 1716

James Wadsworth Durham Oct 1717

Roger Wolcott Windsor Oct 1719

Hez Brainerd West Haddam May 1721

Oct 1721

May 1722

Oct 1722

William Clark Lebanon May 1723

John Burr Fairfield Oct 1723

May 1724

James Rogers New London Oct 1724

May 1725

Oct 1725

May 1726

APPENDIX A (Continued)

Thomas Kimberly Glassenbury Oct 1726

May 1727

Oct 1727 Oct 1728

May 1729

Oct 1729

Roger Newton Milford May 1728

May 1730

Oct 1730

May 1731

Oct 1731

Oct 1733

May 1734

Oct 1734

May 1735

Oct 1735

William Pitkin Hartford May 1732

Oct 1732

May 1733

(Elected in May 1734, but took seat in Upper House)

Samuel Hill Guilford May 1736

May 1745

May 1746

Ebenezer Silliman Fairfield Oct 1736

May 1737

Oct 1737

May 1738

Oct 1738

Jonathan Trumbull Lebanon May 1739

Oct 1739

May 1752

May 1754

APPENDIX A (Continued)

Elisha Williams Wethersfield May 1740

Oct 1740

May 1741

May 1753

Andrew Burr Fairfield Oct 1741

May 1742

Oct 1742

May 1743

Oct 1743

May 1744

Oct 1744

Oct 1745

Thomas Welles Glassenbury Oct 1746

May 1747

Oct 1747

May 1748

Oct 1748

May 1749

Oct 1749

May 1750

Oct 1750

Christopher Avery Groton May 1751

John Russell Branford Oct 1751

Jonathan Huntington Windham Oct 1752

Shubau Conant Mansfield Oct 1753

Oct 1754

May 1755

Oct 1755

May 1757

Oct 1757

May 1758

Oct 1758

May 1759

Oct 1759

APPENDIX A (Continued)

Joseph Fowler Lebanon May 1756

Oct 1756

Jabez Huntington Norwich May 1760

Oct 1760

May 1761

Oct 1761

May 1762

Oct 1762

May 1763

Oct 1763

Abraham Davenport May 1764

Oct 1764

May 1765

Oct 1765

Zebulon West Tolland May 1766

Oct 1766

May 1767

Oct 1767

May 1768

Oct 1768

May 1769

Oct 1769

Jabez Hamlin Middletown May 1770

Oct 1770

May 1771

Oct 1771

May 1772

Oct 1772

Ebenezer Silliman Fairfield May 1773

Oct 1773

May 1774

APPENDIX A (Continued)

William Williams Lebanon Oct 1774

May 1775

Oct 1775

May 1781

Oct 1781

May 1782

Oct 1782

May 1783

Oct 1783

Erastus Wolcott East Windsor May 1776

Titus Hosmer Middletown Oct 1776

May 1777

Oct 1777

Benjamin Huntington Norwich May 1778

Oct 1778

Andrew Adams Litchfield May 1779

Oct 1779

May 1780

Oct 1780

Eliphalet Dyer Windham May 1784

James Wadsworth Durham Oct 1784

May 1785

John Chester Wethersfield Oct 1785

May 1786

Oct 1786

May 1787

Oct 1787

Jonathan Trumbull Lebanon May 1788

Oct 1788

APPENDIX A (Continued)

Pierpoint Edwards New Haven May 1789

Oct 1789

May 1790

(Elected in Oct 1790, but resigned)

Thomas Seymour Hartford Oct 1790

May 1791

May 1792

Oct 1792

Uriah Tracy Litchfield May 1793

Joshua Coit New London Oct 1793

David Daggett New Haven May 1794

Oct 1794

May 1795

Oct 1795

May 1796

Oct 1796

William Edmonds New Town May 1797

(Elected in Oct 1797, but resigned)

Zephaniah Swift Windham Oct 1797

May 1798

Elias Perkins New London Oct 1798

Oct 1799

May 1815

Elizur Goodrich New Haven May 1799

Oct 1802

John Cotton Smith Sharon May 1800

(Elected in Oct 1800, but resigned)

Oct 1807

May 1808

Oct 1808

APPENDIX A (Continued)

Calvin Goddard Plainfield Oct 1800

May 1801

May 1807

John Chester Wethersfield Oct 1801

May 1802

Timothy Pitkin Farmington May 1803

Oct 1803

May 1804

Oct 1804

May 1805

Oct 1805

Lyman Law New London May 1806

Oct 1806

May 1809

Oct 1809

May 1810

Oct 1810

Sylvanus Backus Pomfret May 1811

Oct 1811

May 1812

Oct 1812

May 1813

Oct 1813

May 1814

Oct 1814

Charles Denison New Haven Oct 1815

May 1816

Oct 1816

May 1817

William Bristol New Haven Oct 1817