GOP fields them young

The selection by the North Stonington Republican Town Committee of a 22-year-old dairy farmer as its candidate for first selectman might have raised some eyebrows not long ago.

I'm not sure where to find the statistics, but I am pretty certain the region hasn't seen a first selectman that young in a long while. If elected, he surely would break some records.

And yet young candidates, especially Republicans, are, in some ways, beginning to seem almost like a trend around here.

Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook became the youngest Connecticut senator at the age of 24, in 2013. Then Aundre Bumgardner of Groton topped that, being sworn in as a state representative at the ripe old age of 20.

Bumgardner and Linares are both Republicans.

It's encouraging to see the interest in politics by these young men, and it makes you wonder a bit why we haven't seen the same phenomenon from Democrats, or young Republican women, for that matter.

Indeed, we seem to be at a juncture where it is getting harder to find candidates of any age or gender to serve their communities on local boards.

First Selectman Bob Congdon, 69, agreed to put off retirement and was endorsed by both parties for his next run, made necessary, essentially, because candidates didn't come forward.

Stonington Borough has been holding a series of forums to look at its future, one of the challenges being how to find volunteers to run for office and fill all the community boards.

I know that many GOP readers have an easy answer to why their party is fielding younger candidates.

These are young people, they would surely suggest, who see the death spiral that the state, now run by Democrats, seems to be in. They want to step in and protect their future.

Maybe.

Certainly 22-year-old Asa Palmer, in talking about his desire to be first selectman in North Stonington, talks a lot about fiscal restraint. Palmer, it seems to me, can keep up with the crustiest old Republicans in talking about regulations that discourage businesses, taxes that are too high and the need for policies that will encourage economic development.

I couldn't reach him last week, but I wanted to ask about some of the social issues, like abortion and women's rights, that generally help Democrats appeal more to young people.

I also will have to see, as the election season develops, whether Palmer supports President Donald Trump, as the developing schism in the GOP seems poised to inevitably color local elections again.

Candidates here in the last election cycle expressing Trump support did not seem to pay a price at the polls here in blue Connecticut, as it morphs into purple.

Linares of Westbrook beat back a serious challenge for his Senate seat despite his enthusiastic support of candidate Trump. This support of a Paris Agreement-breaking Trump, by a young man who has made a successful business out of government breaks for solar energy, seems especially hypocritical to me.

Bumgardner, on the other hand, lost his bid for another term after making a principled rejection of candidate Trump, saying he was going to vote instead for Gary Johnson. Hard to know how much impact that lack of endorsement had on his own candidacy, but it's too bad if Groton lost its representation by this hardworking and earnest young man because of it.

There were other local GOP casualties for candidates who did not support the head of their ticket, although some of the brave, like state Sen. Paul Formica, who rejected Trump after the Access Hollywood grab-them-by-their-privates tape, were still winners.

So I will be curious to hear what Asa Palmer, whose family has been farming the same land in North Stonington for generations, thinks of the Republican president in the White House.

And it will be interesting to see how the growing Trump fracture in the party plays out in other local races for candidates young and old.

If you run into Palmer on the campaign trail anytime soon, be sure and ask him if he supports the president.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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