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Republican fear of loathing in the City of Groton

If fear of “public ridicule” is enough to keep folks from ever running for office, maybe it’s time to ditch this whole experiment in democracy and representative form of government. Heck, might as well also give up on careers in journalism — or opinion writing for that matter — because plenty of public ridicule comes in this direction as well. (Unless you consider hearing that your publication is only good for lining the bird cage is a compliment.)

It comes with the territory. Some people are going to be jerks. It would be nice if everyone would be cordial and debate only policies, but invariably some folks will make it personal. And there is no doubt the public discourse has become coarser and nastier. But if the response is to sit out democracy, then those unpleasant folks win.

The City of Groton Republican Committee last week announced it would not put a forward a slate of candidates for the May 3 election. These elections are Connecticut oddities, held in political subdivisions located within municipalities — the Borough of Stonington in Stonington and the Borough of Jewett City in Griswold are other examples. In addition to the privilege of having two municipal elections to vote in annually — regular town and city elections will take place Nov. 2 — property owners in the City of Groton and the boroughs also get to pay two municipal property taxes.

The committee issued a statement that it had “identified a well-qualified slate of individuals who have shown a keen interest in running,” but recently decided “congruently” to drop out.

The reason, according to the statement, is “an increase in negativity toward Republicans…which has created a hostile and threatening environment for those wishing to run for election.”

It goes on about “nationally publicized threats, intimidation and bullying of Republicans by many liberal Democrats,” a situation that led these won’t-be candidates “to reconsider (running) out of concern for the safety and welfare of themselves and their family.”

And then there is the part about their “major apprehension that they would be subjected to unjustified public ridicule and embarrassment by Democrats supporting the liberal left.”

Oh, the horror!

Well, first off, it should be noted the City of Groton Republicans did not run any candidates in 2019, either. That year the party’s explanation was simpler — it couldn’t come up with candidates.

As for concerns for their safety and welfare, wouldn’t that justification be just as applicable — maybe more so — for Democrats? After all, it was supporters of President Trump, the leader of the Republican Party, who showed they were willing to resort to violence to disrupt the Democratic process, with two of those arrested down in Washington having Groton addresses.

Interestingly, the news release was not accompanied by any evidence of any actual threats. Based on the typical level of disinterest in these borough elections, candidates are far more likely to confront voter apathy than anger.

Granted, the harsh political divisions in the country, along with the personal attacks, lies and conspiracies that are vomited forth on social media, make it harder for local town committees to find candidates. Inquiries about someone being a potential candidate for local office often get the reaction, “Are you crazy?”

Which is unfortunate, because these local councils, boards and commissions provide a vital community service. Most of the people who run and serve do so for the noble purpose of helping their town and because they have ideas about making things better. We’re not naïve; some will look to exploit their office for personal gain, but it is much the exception.

And the reality is, the lower the level of government the less party affiliation tends to mean. Democrat or Republican, you have to make sure the roads get plowed, the schools are staffed, and potholes are filled.

These low-level elections should present voters with legitimate choices among candidates of various qualifications and differing ideas. Having an uncontested general election is not healthy and a troubling sign.

It may be that if you are going to stick your neck out you want to have a chance to win. City of Groton Republicans, outnumbered by Democrats in registration 1,816 to 893, with 2,047 unaffiliated voters, perhaps don’t see much chance.

But claiming fear for their safety sounds like an overwrought excuse.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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