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January 22, 2024 Focus: Legislative Preview

As legislative session begins, CT lobbying corps sees new players, fresh starts

HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Eric Gjede (left) and Andrew Markowski (right) are partners at Connecticut-based lobbying firm Statehouse Partners.

When the 2024 legislative session kicks off in just a few weeks, there will be a noticeable shake-up in the lobbying corps at the state Capitol.

There have been several high-profile hires by local lobbying firms in recent months, and even new players entering the market.

Connecticut-based Statehouse Partners, formerly named Statehouse Associates, late last year added Eric Gjede, the former top lobbyist at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

The CBIA, in turn, tapped former GOP lawmaker Chris Davis to lead its government affairs team.

Donna Hamzy Carroccia

Hartford lobbying firm Kozak & Salina recently hired Donna Hamzy Carroccia, the former chief strategy officer of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, an association that represents cities and towns.

Meantime, national law firm McCarter & English has established a government affairs practice in Connecticut, led by former longtime chief of staff to the Connecticut Senate Democrats, Vincent Mauro Jr.

Vincent Mauro Jr.

And a startup lobbying firm — Zimmerman Fields and Associates LLC — announced its launch in September. The firm is led by Robert Fields, a campaign manager and political consultant with ties to Connecticut, and Duval Zimmerman. In addition to Hartford, the firm will also operate out of Washington, D.C., Fields said.

The significant number of changes isn’t typical in the state’s small but steady lobbying industry, which has generated nearly $52 million in total compensation during the 2023-24 reporting period, according to the Office of State Ethics, which oversees the sector.

Firms adding talent or entering the market say they see growth opportunities as the need for representation at the Capitol grows. And they’ll be competing to represent clients in diverse industries, ranging from manufacturing and health care to hospitality and insurance.

“Not every client is always concerned about passing a law or defeating a law, and very often they just want to know what’s going on,” at the state Capitol, said Andy Markowski, founding principal of Statehouse Partners. “They want to have a trusted advisor, someone who can provide them with analysis and intelligence about what’s happening, so that they can be in compliance, and so that they can forecast what they may need to do in their business or industry. What happens at the state government level impacts most people’s and most businesses’ daily lives far more than what happens at the federal level.”

Growing the business

Markowski founded Statehouse Partners in 2012 after working for several years in Massachusetts and Connecticut politics. Since then, he’s represented groups such as the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, Utility Contractors Association, CT Heating and Cooling Contractors and Auto Body Association, among others.

He’s likely best known as the Connecticut state director of the NFIB, a national trade group that represents small businesses.

“I’ve maintained and built the client lists … as a solo practitioner throughout all those years,” said Markowski, whose firm has reported $272,447.30 in total compensation during the 2023-24 reporting period, ethics data shows. “I always thought about growing, but you have to find the right person, the right opportunity, and that’s where Eric comes into play.”

Robert Fields (right) and Duval Zimmerman are the co-founders of Zimmerman Fields and Associates LLC, a new lobbying firm.

Before working at CBIA, Gjede was cutting his teeth in Connecticut government at the Legislative Commissioners’ Office, where he provided nonpartisan legal counsel to members of the Connecticut General Assembly.

He was recruited in 2012 to join CBIA, where he worked on labor and finance-related issues on behalf of the trade association’s thousands of business members.

He was eventually promoted to vice president of public policy, leading CBIA’s lobbying team.

“That gave me a lot of opportunity to work with folks like Andy and a lot of other trade associations or lobbyists throughout the years on all sorts of issues, whether tax issues, labor issues, economic development, transportation, you name it,” Gjede said.

After more than a decade at CBIA, Gjede said he caught the entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to start something new. His familiarity with Markowski, and the fact they were allies on many issues over the years, made the pairing a fit, he said.

They’re a two-person operation.

Gjede said he had a few prospective clients in mind when he made the transition, and has since brought on groups such as the Connecticut Food Association and Wine Institute.

David Kozak
Adam Salina

David Kozak and Adam Salina, principals of Kozak & Salina, joined forces in 2009. They met when working for U.S. Congressman John Larson (D-CT), and they worked together both in Congress and the private sector before launching their firm.

Since starting as a two-person shop with no clients about 14 years ago, Kozak & Salina has grown to four lobbyists representing about 40 clients across a slew of industries such as manufacturing and health care. The firm has reported just over $1 million in total compensation in the 2023-24 reporting period, ethics data shows.

Elizabeth M. Gemski, who worked for 10 years as a government affairs consultant at law firm Murtha Cullina, joined Kozak & Salina in 2020, and Hamzy Carroccia joined at the start of this year.

The additions have been strategic, the co-founders said. Gemski brought business consulting expertise, while Hamzy Carroccia brings a strong knowledge base of issues impacting cities and towns.

“The Connecticut political landscape continues to change, and I think it’s important for us as a lobbying firm to also have a diverse portfolio with a variety of connections and experiences,” Kozak said.

Kozak & Salina’s clients range from food and beverage companies like Thomas Hooker Brewing Co., to auto giant General Motors. They focus on local, state and federal issues.

Market expansion

Law firm McCarter & English has a government affairs presence in its New Jersey, Miami and Washington, D.C. offices.

The firm hired Mauro to expand the practice in Hartford, where it already has an office with about 28 lawyers.

Guillermo C. Artiles chairs McCarter’s government affairs practice. He’s the former corporate counsel to Middletown-based solar company Greenskies Renewable Energy.

Mauro said he saw the move to McCarter & English as a “new challenge” after spending several decades at the Capitol.

He began his tenure with Connecticut’s Senate Democrats in 1996 as a legislative aide to now Sen. President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven), before taking a three-year hiatus to earn a law degree at Quinnipiac University School of Law, graduating in 2002.

The lifelong New Haven resident worked as a special counsel to Looney from 2003 to 2014, before being named chief of staff in 2015.

The ability to start a practice, under the McCarter & English flag, was a unique opportunity to take a different approach to government affairs, Mauro said.

He will recruit new clients and also work with McCarter’s existing client base, he said. Adding government affairs will strengthen the firm’s overall offerings, Mauro added.

“What we’re focusing on right now is developing a reputation of stability and showing people what McCarter is,” Mauro said. “I think there’ll be a growth process, but we’re in the beginning stages of that growth process here in Connecticut.”

2024 outlook

So, what’s on tap for the 2024 legislative session, which runs from Feb. 7 to May 8?

Mauro said one of the best ways to predict the General Assembly’s focus is to look back at what was proposed, but not passed, a year earlier. Education, mental health and affordable housing are a few hot topics he expects to be brought up in 2024.

Gjede said it’s also important to monitor new laws that have gone into effect to determine their impact and if changes need to be made. One example is the recent increase in the bottle deposit, which went from 5 cents to 10 cents on Jan. 1, giving customers an added incentive to return their bottles.

Lawmakers made the change in an attempt to boost the state’s overall recycling rate. But it could impact bottle-return centers like grocery stores, which will need to manage a potential significant increase in returns.

“That’s got huge repercussions in terms of our state’s ability to handle those (bottle returns) because what you’ve seen in other states is when you go from 5 cents to 10 cents — at 5 cents you get about a 50% return rate, and at 10 cents that jumps up to about 80% to 90%,” Gjede said.

Salina said affordable housing, utility energy rates and efforts to encourage electric vehicle adoption are topics he expects will be discussed by legislators this session.

Efforts to improve workforce development will also likely be debated.

“We also understand that it’s a short session, time is condensed, so you’re not going to have major pieces of legislation,” Salina said. “We’re keeping our ear to the ground on what we hear, what we see and what we pick up at various events that we’ve been attending.”

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