The political education of Heather Bond Somers

In late January, Groton town councilor and former mayor Heather Bond Somers stood next to Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Boughton and listened to him announce that she would be his running mate. In retrospect, Somers said she did not fully appreciate the implications of forming a ticket so early. Boughton, she suggests, did.

Somers came to learn that her ability to raise money would help Boughton qualify for a public financing grant - critical to the viability of his campaign - but in the process supplant her own ambitions to be the lieutenant governor nominee.

"All the money I raised would have gone to Mark Boughton, because he could not raise the money on his own. And I would have had no money to run in a primary," she said last week.

In other words, it was an arrangement that worked great for Boughton, not so great for Somers. In addition, suggested Somers in a meeting with The Day editorial board last Tuesday, Boughton knew it from the start.

"I had not been through this process before," she said. "Mark had been through this process before."

Somers emerged from the Republican State Convention last month with a lot of momentum in the race for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. She won the support of 32 percent of convention delegates, double the total she needed to force an Aug. 12 primary. Leaving the convention, Somers realized her early alliance with Boughton had been a mistake.

Under the state's campaign finance laws, a gubenatorial candidate must collect $250,000 in donations no larger than $100 each to gain public financing, starting with a $1.35 million grant for the primary. Candidates considering themselves a ticket can agree, in writing, to combine their donations to reach that $250,000 total. Boughton was counting on the cash Somers had raised.

Going it alone, however, Somers, facing her own primary, needed to only raise $75,000 in small donations to qualify for $406,275 in public campaign financing.

"It made sense for me to be independent," she said. So Somers last month announced she was abandoning the ticket with Boughton. Somers expects to file the paperwork soon to qualify for the state grant.

Boughton complained, of course, saying they had a deal, though not in writing. Boughton's primary motivation from the start, however, was to do what was best for his campaign. Somers only did the same thing in making her decision, wiser for the experience.

As Somers prepares to ramp up her candidacy with the state grant, Boughton is scrambling, having convinced Mark Lauretti to abandon his long-shot gubernatorial candidacy and run for lieutenant governor on Boughton's ticket and provide the help Boughton needs to reach the $250,000 qualifying figure. First, however, Lauretti had to collect 8.200 signatures to qualify for a spot on the lieutenant governor primary ballot. At week's end, with the deadline passed, town clerks across the state were still verifying and counting the signatures. It will be close.

In the Day interview, Somers, referencing the reaction to her decision to sever ties with Boughton, complained of a double standard.

"I absolutely think that if I was a man people would not be questioning this position because if it was a man making this decision it would be, 'the right leadership, the smart business thing and the correct decision.' But when a woman sometimes makes these difficult decisions they are painted as someone who is calculating."

That doesn't seem to be the case to this observer. Any candidate, man or woman, who dumps a running mate is going to be questioned and criticized. In any event, outside of the Boughton camp, criticism was muted.

Somers should own her decision and toss away the gender card. If she runs an effective campaign, Somers can be the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, likely running alongside Tom Foley, the heavy favorite in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

It's unlikely any of that could have happened had she stuck with Boughton.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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