Montville's improbable pugnacious primary
Montville has a history of hardball and strange local politics. The Republican contest for registrar of voters in next Tuesday’s primary joins that legacy.
Registrar of voters is normally among the most apolitical of elective offices. Local town committees for the two major parties each nominate loyal party members, who then run uncontested in the general election. Both the Republican and Democrat get elected.
Their job is to then impartially carry out state election laws, registering voters, answering questions, keeping voter lists updated.
The only time you have a contest for registrar is in a primary, which is what is happening. In an unusual move, the Republican Town Committee nominated challenger Jeff Rogers over incumbent registrar Dana McFee, who is trying to retain his seat in the primary.
Town committee chairman Tom McNally, who when last heard from was running unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019, said McFee has done a poor job informing the town committee about the status of Republican registration in town. McFee calls that nonsense. McNally wants a partisan in a job that is supposed to be nonpartisan, McFee claims.
You can bet personalities and past slights play a role, as they often do in local politics. Both McFee and Rogers have records of public service, both have served on the Town Council, though not together. Yet it has gotten ugly.
McFee has brought up Rogers’ arrest in 2011, during his service as a state trooper (he is retired), on assault and risk of injury charges for striking a 15-year-old who had been illegally riding a motor bike on a roadway. Rogers was placed in the accelerated rehabilitation program, the charges dismissed. Rogers has reminded voters that in 2014 McFee was charged with sixth-degree larceny for stealing a political yard sign.
Montville has been a frustrating town for Republicans. Despite a history of fiscal conservatism, it tends Democrat. First selectman and Mayor Howard R. “Russ” Beetham Jr. ruled the town for years in a notoriously tight-fisted fashion, most of the time running as a Democrat.
When it appeared Republicans might make inroads, the Independence for Montville Party formed with an austerity agenda, splitting the vote of fiscal conservatives in town and remaining a force for two decades, before disbanding in 2017.
And in 2017, Republicans finally captured the council, only to relinquish it two years later.
That’s a lot of frustration now on display in, of all things, a registrars election.
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