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Montville party leaders reflect on election

Montville — Coming off a consequential November election, Democrats and Republicans will endorse slates of candidates for their parties' town committees within the next week.

The Democratic caucus is to take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, in Town Hall. The Republican caucus is scheduled for the following day at 6:30 p.m., also at Town Hall.

Tim May, chairman of both the Democratic Town Committee and Town Council, said the process is a formality. Every two years, town committees have to elect members. Montville's DTC is allotted 45 members; the procedures usually end up with members electing themselves by caucus, though any registered Democrat in Montville is allowed to attend and participate.

May already has asked old members to notify him if they wish to stay on. He then sets about organizing a slate of candidates before the meeting for attendees to unilaterally approve. After that, May asks if anyone not included on the slate wants to be a member. If they do, Democrats in attendance can vote to deny or approve the candidacy.

"You have to have a quorum of two-fifths of your membership present to vote people in," May said. "Right now, I have 36 people as members and I have to have 14 present if we're going to have a legal vote."

As of Saturday evening, May had a confirmed list of 32 people vying to be members. If that number were to exceed 45, the caucus would carry higher stakes.

May sounded reluctant to retain his position as DTC chairman, but he said on the strength of pleas from others, and by virtue of Democratic momentum in town, he plans on continuing in the role.

Party town committees recruit would-be local leaders and can stand in as delegates for gubernatorial and presidential elections.

Republican Town Committee Chairwoman and Town Councilor Colleen Rix said Republicans have a limit of 35 committee members. She doesn't expect to fill all 35 spots.

"In big cities, you might have electors come out that want to join the committee and have to challenge someone to earn that spot because they're at their full point," Rix said.

She intends to continue on as chairwoman. She said she expects a vibrant RTC in upcoming years.

"We're looking to get some new blood in town; it seems like politics is becoming something that people are interested in again," Rix said. "We're hoping we'll get more people to join our committee."

Election retrospective

May reflected on how Democrats were able to retake the Town Council majority — from 5-2 in favor of Republicans in 2017 to 4-3 in favor of Democrats — and maintain the mayoral seat.

"We worked hard, we literally knocked on 3,000 doors, and out of those 3,000 doors, we talked to 900 people," May said. "We had never done that before. And we talked to people that hadn't voted in past elections. So we just energized as many people as we could."

Rix recognized Democratic door-knocking as an important factor in the previous election.

"I do know that the Democrats knocked on a lot of doors, and we decided to go a different route," Rix said. "We broke into groups, and some of us knocked doors, and other others did other campaigning. If we had all knocked doors together as a large group, would we have gotten more votes? It's possible."

According to town Registrar of Voters Robin Marquand, 1,306, or 43 percent, of 3,002 registered Democrats voted in 2019, versus 1,047, or 46 percent, of 2,257 registered Republicans. Of the town's 5,375 registered unaffiliated voters, 1,499, or 28 percent, turned out. Overall, 3,899, or 36 percent, of Montville's 10,694 registered voters cast a ballot on Election Day.

In 2017, May said, Democrats weren't aware that Republicans had signed up 300 new registered voters. That, coupled with low Democratic turnout, supposedly 5 percent less than normal, spelled the first major loss to the party's majority in town in decades.

May also credited a weak field of Republican candidates for recent Democratic success.

"At this level, there isn't a huge difference between the parties, but the people they had as leaders who were beaten badly were bad leaders," May said. "Jeff Rogers is the worst of the worst. Tom McNally is not a good person. The person that didn't get elected that I was really upset about was Wills Pike. He's a good guy, a good friend of mine. But voters chose that."

Rix wouldn't comment on whether any of the Republican candidates were weak. She noted that Republicans tried to run clean campaigns without "bashing" Democrats.

"Our Republican candidate that didn't get on, that got bumped off, was Wills Pike, he only lost to Tim May by 61 votes," Rix said. "The councilors now, we're going to focus on keeping the things that the previous council had done, not going backwards, focusing on keeping taxes lower and bringing in businesses."

McNally, the mayoral candidate who ran against incumbent Democrat Ron McDaniel, lost by about 500 votes, 2,182 to 1,669. Jeff Rogers received 1,599 votes, the fewest of any of the council candidates.

Rogers has accused May of misusing Water Pollution Control Authority funds in the past.

"I find it to be an extreme ethical issue that Tim May has been made to be the Town Council Liaison to the WPCA," Rogers recently wrote in an email to WPCA personnel and Mayor Ron McDaniel, among others. "In my opinion the current council has put the wolf back into the hen house."

No matter the animosity between Rogers and May, a new era of Montville politics is in effect. It remains to be seen whether Democrats can continue to control a town that Donald Trump won with approximately 52 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 42 percent in 2016.

s.spinella@theday.com

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