Meriden Republican candidate switches from state House race to Senate

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An outspoken Meriden Republican with a weekly podcast has exited the race for the 83rd House district, to run for the 13th Senate seat.

Joseph Vollano filed paperwork this week to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Mary Daugherty Abrams — allowing the Republican party to avoid a potential primary in the 83rd House district.

Republican Gwen Samuel, a parent activist from Meriden who had formed an exploratory committee to run in the 13th Senate district, recently withdrew from consideration, according to Meriden Republican Town Chairwoman Elain Cariati.

After Samuel’s withdrawal, Cariati said she approached former state Sen. Leonard Suzio to run for his old seat and he suggested Vollano, who was already a GOP candidate for the 83rd House seat against fellow Republican Lou Arata in an expected primary. Vollano agreed and filed his paperwork for the 13th Senate on Monday.

“I think I got him thinking about the impact he can have as a senator,” Suzio said Wednesday. “Philosophically, we’re alike. We’re both conservatives and he’s also a hard-charging guy. I’m happy to see he’s going to do it.”

“It helps the Republicans out because now there is no primary,” Cariati said. “It’s for the betterment of the party and he’ll do great.”  

The 13th Senate district covers all of Meriden and Middlefield and parts of Cheshire and Middletown. Once solidly Democratic, the 13th has become a swing district after Suzio took it twice against Democrats in the past 15 years. He lost by a thin margin in 2018 to Abrams who is not seeking reelection due to an unspecified illness. 

Vollano, 44, has a podcast “Straight Talk with Joe Vollano,” where he discusses state, local and national issues, including concerns with certain members of local Republican leadership and Democratic governance. He owns a fuel supply company and is a member of the city’s Board of Assessment Appeals, which has heard two weeks of taxpayer complaints over the city’s recent revaluation or property.

Vollano welcomed the opportunity to take on Democratic candidate Jan Hochadel of Meriden, a former technical high school science teacher and current president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut union. Hochadel taught science at both Wright Tech High School in Stamford, where she was the 2006-2007 teacher of the year, and Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury. 

She announced her candidacy this month with backing from local party leaders. 

Contacted Wednesday, Hochadel said she was not familiar with Vollano but also welcomed a debate about the issues.

“It’s a democratic process and I look forward to expressing my views,” said Hochadel, 58.

Vollano criticized some of Hochadel’s positions and said he looked forward to a debate around school curriculum, police accountability, gender in sports and more. 

“Having a union president in the House or Senate is problematic,” Vollano said. “She has a lot of things she has to answer for.” 

Meriden Democratic Town Chairwoman Millie Torres-Ferguson responded to Vollano’s statement.

“I don’t understand why Joe Vollano thinks being a union president is problematic?” she said. “To be an AFT president you have to be a teacher. She came through the vo-tech system. She knows the value of an education on students and in businesses. She knows the system and the legislature.”

Torres-Ferguson added that Hochadel also has campaign experience and has a record of advocating for teachers and students and families. 

“Teachers and nurses trusted her to represent them by voting her in as the AFT president,” Torres-Ferguson said. “She brings a much stronger skill set than Joe Vollano does. What has Joe done?”

Vollano said he is reimbursing donors who contributed to his 83rd campaign. Many of them are resubmitting checks for the 13th Senate run, he said.

“It’s better for me because as one of 36, it gives me better opportunity to help the people, and be able to get some things done,” Vollano said of running for the Senate. 

Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at


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