Lonnie Reed, who has served as Branford’s State Representative for the 102nd District for the last decade, will not seek a sixth term in office in the November election.
During her tenure, she has been instrumental in bringing biotech businesses to Connecticut and Branford, in preserving Long Island Sound and in making energy cleaner for the environment. She has long promoted renewable energy and led the way for a new law to protect consumers from electric supplier gimmicks that spike prices. Most recently she helped obtain state funds for the costs of a renovated and expanded Walsh Intermediate School and for the Blackstone Memorial Library.
In an exclusive interview, Reed confirmed that she will retire from legislative life at the end of her current term on Dec. 31.
But don’t expect her to slow down.
“It’s been just a remarkable experience and I love it. Serving is an incredible honor. But I also realize that there are other things in my life. I am not a career politician and it was never a desire of mine to be here forever. I want to return to other aspects of my life,” she said.
Reed is the second Branford legislator this year to decide not to seek in re-election, In February, Democratic state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., announced he would not seek a third term. He said his top priority was to fight to preserve the civil rights of the nation’s disabled. Kennedy had been seen as a potential gubernatorial candidate but he withdrew his name from that pool as well. Kennedy represents six towns, including Branford and Guilford.
State Rep. Sean Scanlon, who represents Guilford along with Stony Creek and Pine Orchard in Branford, is seeking re-election to his current seat.
Reed’s Next Documentary
Prior to entering elective politics, Reed worked as an award-winning newspaper journalist in Seattle and as a television journalist in Florida, Connecticut, and New York. She has been a White House correspondent; hosted “Off the Set,” a political talk show in New York; and been honored for her investigative reports. Reed has written, produced and/or directed projects for television networks such as NBC, TNT, ABC, PBS, and the History Channel.
As a documentary film maker, her work has won four prime-time Emmys, including one for ” Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story.”
She said her future might include some documentary film projects, adding that she has been talking to film companies on both coasts. She has her own documentary film company. “It is not something you can do part-time. I thought I could continue to work in that arena while in the legislature but the legislature requires full focus. People don’t really understand it is not a part-time job. When you are not physically in Hartford, you are working in your district, helping solve problems for constituents and keeping on top of a whole slew of critical issues.”
But first, she said, she needs to take a break. “I have two brand new granddaughters I have not even met. One is in Alaska and one is in London. I had to cancel those trips for special sessions in the legislature. I have many future possibilities and I want to figure out what my next chapter will be.”
If she goes back to her documentary film career, does she have any film topics in mind, we asked.
She started to think out loud. “What’s it like to be in ‘The Room’ comes to mind. I covered campaigns, conventions, had a political talk show with presidential candidates and regular guests like Mayor Ed Koch and Governor Mario Cuomo. It makes you think you know the political process. But you really don’t. When you are elected to a position, you begin to realize how much happens when you are literally in the room and negotiating and watching people’s body language and figuring out the horse trading that’s already gone on and the quid quo pros; who is being backed by what group and how that all plays out. It is quite an education. Being able to handle ‘The Room’ is essential. Sometimes it’s why things get done; and sometimes why they don’t.”
Committed to Multi-State Energy Issues
At the same time she said she plans to remain committed to the multi-state energy issues faced by the region. She has served for many years as the co-chair of the Energy & Technology Committee and the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus and the bipartisan Life Sciences Caucus.
She says she will continue to be an advocate for education funding, senior citizen services, veterans’ needs, business concerns, affordable healthcare, environmental sanity, clean energy, science and research along with “a new era of economic growth built on a responsible state budget.
“The more you get involved in policy, the more you do. I am now working on energy issues for the region. I am in Massachusetts quite a bit and Rhode Island, too. I am helping pull together a conference in Princeton, New Jersey right after the legislature gavels out. We will be meeting with folks from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and parts of New England to begin strategizing on more of a regional approach to some of these huge issues. There are things that I am not going to give up just because I am not in elective office.”
“I recall I wasn’t in the legislature when I helped organize the first bi-state anti-Broadwater rally in Connecticut in 2007.” She was then a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She and her Sunset Beach neighbors put on the huge rally at her Pawson Park home. People came from Long Island. The Broadwater project was designed to be a floating liquefied natural gas terminal situated 10 miles off Branford. At the time then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, termed the proposed Broadwater facility “an unacceptable security risk” and a terrorist attraction. Connecticut activists helped lead the fight against it and they won.Click here to read the story.
Reed made headlines last September when she turned rogue, voting for the Republican budget at 5 a.m. after the state had been without a budget since July, imperiling millions of dollars in state aid, especially for towns. In addition without warning the Malloy budget intended to dump part of the teachers’ retirement and benefit costs onto towns. “Branford was going to get hit hard,” she said back then.
One major part of her fiscal plan was to bring top financial experts into the conversation. Reed sits on the powerful House Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. “I wanted to import fresh thinking from an outside expert - a big financial brain with a track record of helping to solve these problems.” She succeeded in attracting some experienced, innovative professionals who love Connecticut and want to help.
This year Reed would have faced an August primary against Adrian H. Bonenberger, a former infantry officer deployed twice to Afghanistan, whose backers are strong believers in the liberal Working Families Party (WFP). Bonenberger has never held public office. He has said his platform will be “on the left side of the political spectrum.
Bonenberger, 40, spent the last two years in Ukraine where his wife currently lives. He now lives with his parents in Branford. He has lived abroad for the past decade. He is a writer and author whose book, “Afghan Post,” was published in 2014. He now works in the communications office at the Yale Medical School.
So far Bonenberger is the only Democratic candidate to announce his candidacy. But that could change given Reed’s announcement today
Pat Widlitz, the former Democratic co-chair of the finance committee, represented the 98th Assembly District (Guilford and two sections of Branford), until she retired in 2014 after serving 20 years as a state legislator. Scanlon now holds her seat. She and Reed became close colleagues after Reed was first elected to the legislature in 2008. Widlitz is currently the co-chair of the state’s Commission of Fiscal Sustainability and Economic Growth,
“Lonnie and I became the best of friends as we shared the responsibility of representing the people of Branford. So many adventures- fighting pipelines through shellfish beds, joining New York legislators to defeat the Broadwater Long Island Sound proposal, working with a Branford family to require testing of infants for a devastating genetic disease, promoting stem cell research and bioscience, and so much more.
“Lonnie is an extraordinarily talented person. She is a person of great intelligence and integrity with a fabulous sense of humor. As chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee she has earned the respect of her colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. Her instincts developed through her extensive experience as an investigative reporter have served her well in evaluating and formulating energy policy that will have a lasting impact on her constituents as well as Connecticut and the greater region. She will leave ‘big shoes’ to fill as she leaves the General Assembly!”