Republicans secure spot on state House ballot for future candidate

New London — He’s filed as a candidate to challenge incumbent Democratic state Rep. Chris Soto in the 39th Assembly District in New London.

But Republican K. Robert Lewis has no plans to be a presence on the campaign trail or expend any campaign funds. He’s agreed instead to become a placeholder for New London Republicans while they actively seek a full-fledged candidate.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Rob Pero said Lewis stepped forward to become a candidate to beat a May 31 deadline for candidate endorsements. Lewis agreed to fill the slot while the committee continues its search for someone who could commit.

“They needed a little extra time. The filing deadline didn’t give us that time,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who is chairman of the Ethics Board, works as a service officer for the American Legion, providing free help to veterans and their families.

“There are just not enough hours in the day to do both of those jobs, even if I never slept,” Lewis said. “My first commitment is to the veterans and the families that I help.”

The fact that Lewis officially has filed with the state allows Republicans to replace him later if someone else comes forward. Under state statute, a candidate can withdraw their name up to 24 days prior to the November election and be replaced with a new endorsed candidate. There are even provisions in state statute that allow a sticker to be placed over a candidate’s name in the event ballots already are printed.

Pero said he’d run himself if he lived in the 39th District. A small slice of New London is covered by the 41st District, where Republicans have endorsed Ken Richards in a challenge against incumbent Democrat Joe de la Cruz.

“We’re concerned about the direction of New London and want an opposing voice within the electoral process. Ultimately, we’re looking to give voters an option,” Pero said.

Among other issues that need to be addressed, Pero said, is that the city seems to be picking up expenses that could be addressed at the state level, such as the city’s recent approval of a stormwater authority. Residents can expect a new stormwater fee as the city looks to offset costs of complying with federal regulations but Pero said this should be a statewide issue and he knows of no other municipalities taking it on themselves.

Pero said the search for a candidate will continue. Soto, in the 2016 election season, challenged and beat Democratic incumbent Ernest Hewett in a primary and went on to defeat Green Party candidate Ronna Stuller and Republican Andrew R. Lockwood Sr.

Lockwood is now a candidate in the 46th District.

“Obviously, it’s a difficult district to get elected as a representative and asking someone to take that time is an uphill battle,” Pero said.

But the alternative of not having a challenger, Pero said, “I think is a disservice to the residents.”

Soto said that on one hand, not having a challenger allows him to step away from “campaign mode” and allows him more time to “focus on the people of the district.”

“On the negative side, it’s definitely a critical campaign year and we want to turn out as many people as possible for the up tickets,” Soto said.

g.smith@theday.com

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