November 29, 2022
Speaker of the House Matt Ritter Comes to KO
Connecticut Speaker of the House of Representatives Matt Ritter ’00 spoke at a recent Lunch and Lead in the Margaret E. and Henry R. Roberts Center for Leadership about his experience and journey as a politician and answer questions. Ritter wears many hats as a politician, a lawyer, a husband, a father, and a proclaimed expert on UConn basketball and makes it look seamless.
Last Thursday, the new caucus, made up of 98 democrats, voted Ritter for a second term as Speaker of the House of Representatives for Connecticut, a position starting January 2023. Ritter has a busy next few years ahead of him but is excited about the state’s health. In particular, he is enthusiastic about the constitutional amendment that just passed to allow for early voting. Up until now, Connecticut was one of only four states in the country that didn’t allow for this.
With the excitement of the position comes the responsibility of managing the state’s annual $21-$22 million annual budget. With inflation ticking upward, one of the key issues this coming year will be managing what that budget looks like if the state doesn’t have the same revenue streams and how to do this while keeping both sides happy. Ritter describes himself as a moderate Democrat and doesn’t feel like raising taxes is the right way to offset a lack of revenue. “That said, I have a big caucus, with some members who would love to raise taxes and others who won’t vote for the budget if that does happen. My job is to get everyone to agree on what a budget looks like.”
Ritter’s passion for politics runs deep and through multiple generations. His father was speaker of the house in the 1990s, and his grandfather was a state representative, a deputy in Hartford, and a civil rights activist. Although Ritter admits in high school and college his short list included becoming a sportscaster, not a politician, he realized his path was destined to follow his father and grandfather. After graduating from Kingswood Oxford School in 2000, he matriculated to Colby College, then continued to law school in 2007. Active in politics from a young age, Ritter was elected to the Hartford City Council in 2007 at just 25 years old and then ran for the legislature in 2010.
Ritter was candid with the group when he shared his election to the legislature. “There is a lot of luck to politics. No one wants to hear that. After the current speaker and majority leader resigned very unexpectedly, the caucus was going through some tough times. They wanted a newer voice and a younger voice organically.” Ritter admitted, “I would never have thought in a million years I would have been the majority leader back in 2016.”
From early on, he and his team have embraced and emphasized bipartisanship, and he is committed to seeing this through in his duties as Speaker of the House. In the current tumultuous climate of politics, Ritter takes what could be considered an unconventional approach to running his caucus, with the noble underpinnings of inclusivity and due diligence. “You can’t elect people that only agree with your side of things. If you come to me with a bill that half of the caucus doesn’t support, I am not going to call it. If you come to me with a bill where one side was not consulted or not part of the screening process, I will not call it. If you haven’t talked to the governor’s office about it, I will not call it. I have high demands of the chairs that I appoint.”
Ritter knows his constituents well and is dedicated to representing the entire breadth of the state. “In Connecticut, we have rural towns, suburban towns, cities, women, men, old, young, people with high and low paying jobs, great diversity. Our caucus represents the full scope of Connecticut, and the only way you will do that is if you elect people who don’t always agree.”
“I often remind my caucus: our strength is our diversity, and you will have to compromise. That has become a dirty word,” Ritter said. The district of Hartford Ritter represents is a unique one, encompassing the Governor’s Mansion and some of the poorest zip codes in the state less than half of a mile away. He sees his district as a microcosm for the state at large and an array of towns and people you see in Connecticut, just on a smaller scale.
He encouraged the students to put themselves in a position to succeed but realize that there will be turns and speedbumps that you won’t don’t anticipate or see coming. “I never have a goal of where I will be in five years,” said Ritter. “I think about where I could go, but I just try to do a good job at the moment.” He advised them that the best thing you can do no matter what you are undertaking is to do it well, lay the foundation, and take advantage of opportunities, but don’t try to plan every single step.
Kingswood Oxford is known for its focus on public speaking and supporting students with programs and classes to hone this skill. The students asked Ritter how he has developed his public speaking skill over the years. “A lot of people who speak in politics give generalities, but I think people gravitate towards people who have the facts and the data, he said.” He said it is important to not be formal or stiff but be able to find the balance of weaving together the facts and the story in a way that people can relate to. “And, slow down,” Ritter said. He noted his public relations manager reminds him to pause and slow down.
Several KO teachers and coaches that knew Ritter as a student attended In the Lunch and Lead. Ritter was a strong athlete throughout high school, playing soccer, basketball, and baseball. When he shared with the group about his sports career at KO, faculty member and coach Peter Jones chimed in with a story about how one year, his JV baseball team only had nine players. Although Ritter didn’t play baseball, Jones asked him to step in and play so they could have a full team. Sure enough, Ritter rose to the occasion. “He saved the season,” said Jones.
Whether it be on the JV baseball field, as a lawyer, as Speaker of the House, or as UConn basketball biggest fan, rising to the occasion is just something Ritter does. And does really, really well.