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November 13, 2023 Corner Office

CBIA’s new top lobbyist Davis brings decade of legislative experience to post

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Former state lawmaker Christopher Davis is the new vice president of public policy at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.
Christopher Davis
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When former Republican state Rep. Christopher Davis was elected to the General Assembly more than a decade ago at age 24, he said his goal was to make Connecticut a better place to live.

Now 37, Davis has a new opportunity to influence the state’s economy and business environment as the recently appointed vice president of public policy at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), the state’s largest business membership and lobbying group.

Davis, who began his new role Oct. 30, manages CBIA’s in-house team of lobbyists and outside firms the group contracts with to assist on certain issues.

With just a few months to go before the 2024 legislative session begins in February, Davis and his team are drafting policy objectives intended to grow the state’s economy, he said.

“We don’t take just a session-by-session approach to policy advocacy — we’re looking at opportunities to really set a strategic plan for the state of Connecticut for the next number of years,” Davis said.

Legislating and bipartisanship

Davis represented the General Assembly’s 57th House District, which encompasses Ellington and parts of East Windsor, for a decade, from 2011 to 2021.

He served as a ranking member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, one of the most powerful committees in the legislature that dictates spending and borrowing policies.

He entered office during a challenging time in Connecticut, which was still reeling from the aftershocks of the Great Recession — a downturn that led to significant job losses and state budget issues.

“Looking at the state of Connecticut and the fiscal state that we were in, especially around 2010, the economy was at one of its lowest points in Connecticut’s history, or at least recent history,” Davis said.

Davis was one of the key legislators who worked on the fiscal reforms adopted in 2017, which aimed to bring budget stability to the state, following massive budget deficits that led to two large tax increases in 2011 and 2015, under former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Those bipartisan fiscal reforms created a spending cap that ties government spending growth to changes in personal income or inflation, and a bonding cap that limits borrowing.

Those reforms have been credited with helping drive the budget surpluses Connecticut has experienced in recent years, which have allowed the state to build a $3 billion-plus rainy day fund and pay off billions of dollars in long-term debt.

GOP House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, who worked with Davis at the legislature, said his former colleague was an integral part of those 2017 budget negotiations.

“He’s just somebody that’s a consensus-builder,” Candelora said. “He’s worked on both sides of the aisle, and I’ve always found him to be thoughtful.”

After leaving office, Davis joined the quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corp., where he was most recently manager of public affairs. He said his time at the lottery gave him a good transition out of politics and into nonpartisan lobbying work.

“That’s always been my approach, whether legislating, or at my previous position at the lottery — taking that bipartisan approach and really being solution-driven and trying to find opportunities for us to all come together in order to achieve policy goals that kind of move our state forward,” Davis said.

Davis said he’s developed a reputation as someone who is willing to work in a bipartisan manner, so he doesn’t think his status as a former Republican legislator will negatively impact relationships at the Capitol.

‘Critical position’

Davis succeeds CBIA’s outgoing vice president of public policy Eric Gjede, who recently took a lobbying role with Statehouse Associates LLC. Gjede, who worked at the CBIA for more than a decade, will remain with the organization through the end of the year to assist with the leadership transition.

CBIA CEO Chris DiPentima said Davis takes over a “critical position” within the organization, which represents thousands of businesses across the state. CBIA has five in-house lobbyists, not including Davis and DiPentima, who are also registered lobbyists.

So far this year, the CBIA has spent $364,931.47 on lobbying, according to Connecticut Office of State Ethics records, making it the sixth-highest spending interest group.

DiPentima said CBIA typically hires lobbyists who are familiar with law, like research analysts out of the Capitol or lawyers. Davis isn’t the first former state lawmaker to serve as the CBIA’s top lobbyist — the organization is 208 years old and has a history of former policymakers who have been on staff. 

But still, DiPentima said most of Davis’ predecessors weren’t former legislators.

“CBIA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and sometimes with legislators coming into a position — especially if they're coming directly from having been in office — there’s just a perception, which may not be reality that they're aligned with this party or that party, when CBIA isn't aligned with any party,” DiPentima said. “Years ago, CBIA wasn’t necessarily seen as a nonpartisan organization because of the way they endorsed candidates or certain voting records, but that's not the case at all. CBIA has always been nonpartisan.”

Davis said his experience at the legislature is one of the key assets he brings to the table. Many of his former colleagues are still in office, he said.

“I have that intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the legislature, from how bills are drafted and created to how committees operate, to who the players are and who to talk to,” Davis said.

2024 objectives

CBIA is in the process of identifying its policy agenda for the 2024 legislative session. Davis said one of his focuses will be exploring ways to make Connecticut more affordable to businesses and residents.

Fully restoring the state’s pass-through entity tax credit would be one step toward this goal, Davis said, and CBIA will be advocating for that policy change again in 2024. 

“That's an infusion of cash directly into the hands of small business owners that are those pass-through entities to be able to invest in either research and development or employment growth here in the state of Connecticut,” Davis said.

CBIA will also once again push for the elimination of the 10% corporate tax surcharge as well as policies that aim to reduce health insurance costs for small employers, Davis said. Last year, CBIA joined various stakeholders in pushing for the legalization of association health plans that would allow small companies to pool together and negotiate directly with insurers for health benefits. 

CBIA will also lobby for policies to help address the workforce housing shortage in Connecticut, Davis said.

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