Former state legislator splits with GOP over Trump's 'lunacy'

Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, pictured here in the House chambers in 2015, has switched parties from Republican to Democrat over comments made by President Donald Trump. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, pictured here in the House chambers in 2015, has switched parties from Republican to Democrat over comments made by President Donald Trump. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Groton — Former Republican state Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, who was sworn in three years ago as the youngest member of the Connecticut General Assembly, has split from the party over comments by President Donald Trump and become the campaign treasurer for the Democratic opponent who defeated him in 2016.

Bumgardner, who is Puerto Rican, Panamanian and African-American, switched parties in August, saying he was disillusioned by what he described as “bombastic rhetoric” that crossed the line. He accepted a position as campaign treasurer for state Rep. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, last month.

Trump’s comments in which he said “there is blame on both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., were the last straw, Bumgardner said.

“He compared Black Lives Matter to neo-Nazis,” said Bumgardner, 23. “It just showed how out of touch he is with people of color and the next generation of young people, who understand that there is nothing similar between neo-Nazis and Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is advocating for social equality in the United States, not racial supremacy.”

Bumgardner said he has watched Republicans remain largely silent in the face of racially charged comments to avoid upsetting their base of supporters.

“Silence is absolute complicity, and unfortunately, the Republican party at the national, state and local level did not speak out against (the comments) to the extent that most Americans were hoping,” he said. Trump has doubled down since, Bumgardner said.

“He’s labeled countries that my ancestors came from as ‘shithole countries,'” he said of the term Trump used to describe African nations. “My mother is from Puerto Rico and I have family in Puerto Rico who still don’t have power, and here he is throwing paper towels like he’s at a UConn Huskies game.” Bumgardner was referring to an October visit to San Juan in which Trump tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd at a hurricane relief center.

Bumgardner named state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, as one who has pushed back on Trump.

GOP state Chairman J.R. Romano said state Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, a black Republican elected in 2016, has no issue with being a Republican. "This is a personal decision for Aundré," Romano said. "What I wish Aundré would look at is the failure of the Democratic Party in Connecticut." Due to policy decisions by Democrats, communities like Hamden are furloughing teachers because of budget deficits, he said.

As a Democrat, Bumgardner would be supporting a party that supports higher taxation, Romano said.

Bumgardner and de la Cruz became friends while campaigning against each other for the state's 41st House District seat. The two avoided the animosity that characterized other races and confined their public discussion to the issues.

Then, weeks after the election, de la Cruz’s son, Joey Gingerella, was shot and killed as he tried to stop an assault against a woman outside a Groton pub.

“The day after Joey died, (Bumgardner) was the first at the door," de la Cruz recalled. "And he said 'if you need anything, you make sure you call.'"

De la Cruz took him up on the offer a week later. De la Cruz was going to Hartford for the first time as a future legislator and didn’t feel like driving. So Bumgardner went with him, showed him around and spent four hours with him.

"I’m the future (state representative) and he’s the current (one). How can't you love him?" de la Cruz said.

Inside de la Cruz’s office hangs a collage of photos that Bumgardner gave him after de la Cruz’s son died. It includes a photo of Bumgardner joking with his friend outside the polls.

“I wrote a personal note to him, as well. Because I really do love him, I think he’s gone through a lot, and I don’t think people realize to what extent he’s had to juggle so many different hats,” Bumgardner said. When de la Cruz asked him to become campaign treasurer, he didn’t hesitate to accept.

Bumgardner could have easily declined to avoid criticism by Republicans, given how polarized politics have become, de la Cruz said. “It’s all or nothing,” he said. “That’s not how government is supposed to work. There’s always going to be compromise, and people have to see that.”

Bumgardner said he wouldn’t rule anything out regarding his political future. He’s taking courses at Three Rivers Community College and working toward a degree in international relations at a four-year school. He’s also serving as a member of the Groton City Planning and Zoning Commission to gain more local experience, he said.

“I continue to work well with so many Republicans in the area, I’m just disappointed at my former party apparatus for supporting this lunacy coming from the White House,” he said. “I think it will take some time to reverse, and (Trump) still has three more years to go. But I’m hopeful, and I’m going to continue being hopeful and avoid the pessimistic attitude about our future.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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