Waterford Green Party cites areas of growth

Waterford - The fledgling Waterford Green Party has met some major milestones despite its growing pains.

Last week, party member Bill Collins won the state party nomination for the 38th District representative seat, making him the town party's first candidate for office. His 19-year-old son Baird Welch-Collins, who studies politics at Connecticut College, was recently nominated to represent the Connecticut Green Party in the Green Party National Committee.

"I'd say the party has definitely grown faster than I expected it to," said Welch-Collins, head of public relations for the town party.

The group, established by college students, began meeting in fall 2013 and became an official branch of the state party in January. Party members are finalizing their constitution and campaigning to ban plastic bags at town businesses. The group is working to put together a concert during Waterford Week to benefit the United Nations World Food Program.

Welch-Collins said the party has gained about half the signatures needed to put Collins on the ballot in November. The group hopes to present to town officials with a proposal to ban the bags by the beginning of fall.

Party members are also eying the 2015 town elections. Welch-Collins said that the party is most interested in putting forward candidates for spots on the Board of Education and Representative Town Meeting. Welch-Collins said he was interested in running for RTM and Party Chairman Josh Kelly said the party is tentatively considering putting forward a candidate for Town Clerk in 2015.

"A lot of what the Green Party is about is about trying to get coverage," said Kelly. He said that raising issues is significant, even if getting elected is the goal.

Further down the line, the Waterford Greens are looking at expanding into neighboring towns that don't have their own state party affiliates. He said that they hope to combine with Montville and East Lyme party members to create a "Green Party of the Niantic River Valley."

For the most part, the group follows national Green Party lines in its stances: pro-union, pro-alternative energy, opposed to the Common Core Standards.

The group's stance on nuclear energy takes on a local flavor. Considering the importance of Millstone Nuclear Power Plant as Waterford's top tax payer, Kelly and Welch-Collins said the group condones safe nuclear power. The national party outright opposes nuclear power, they said.

Recent successes are not without their challenges.

Youthfulness is a defining characteristic for the Waterford greens, whose leadership is dominated by college students. Waterford has 32 registered members of the Green Party, of which 13 are age 20 or younger, according to Kelly, who studies politics at Ithaca College.

Connecticut Green Party Co-chairman Mike DeRosa said that he sees the age distribution of the Waterford party as indicative of a general trend in the state party. He noted that the state party's new recruits in 2012 were overwhelmingly concentrated in the under-35 group.

"The fact is, I think that these issues are issues that young people should be excited about because it's their future," he said, referring specifically to environmental issues such as global warming.

Kelly said having more young members means a more secure future for the Waterford party.

But youth can also be a hurdle. With college-age party members scattered throughout New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, much of the party leadership would be unable to hold office for the time being.

Collins referred to himself a few weeks ago as a "place holder" for the younger generation, someone to get the ball rolling while his son and son's peers ready themselves to vie for office.

Then there are the barriers any third party faces. The party doesn't even plan to seek public funding through the state's Citizens' Election Program. Kelly noted that Republicans and Democrats have an easier time raising the funding necessary to qualify for the public funds.

"It's hard to get people involved in a third party. People are very doubtful," said Kelly. Still, he said in an email that numbers indicate growth. He wrote that there were only 20 registered Green Party members in Waterford last August, 12 fewer than last month.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Bill Sheehan said lack of recognition could make winning office difficult for Green Party members in Waterford. He commented that at the state and national level, Green Party candidates sometimes operate as "spoilers," taking votes away from Democratic candidates.

He said he hoped Collins' candidacy would not play a spoiler role in the 38th District election, in which Collins will run against Republican Kathleen McCarty, chairwoman of the Board of Education, and Democratic Marc Balestracci, a sergeant on the Waterford police force and a member of the Representative Town Meeting.

The 38th District is comprised of Waterford and Montville.

t.townsend@theday.com

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