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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    New national political party looks to Stonington borough candidate for a boost

    Stonington — In a typical election year, not many people outside of the borough are watching the race for warden.

    But this is not a typical election year, as one candidate for warden, who governs the borough along with four burgesses, Shaun Mastroianni, is representing the new Forward Party, which is looking to attain minor party status in Connecticut and across the country.

    “I’ve learned that sometimes the parties get in the way, and that’s why I really like this new party, Forward. They have a slogan: ‘Not right, not left, Forward.’ It’s kind of unique,” said Mastroianni, a former Republican, last month.

    Formed late last year, Connecticut’s Forward party is promising a different type of politics while navigating the long, complicated process of securing ballot access across the state with the hope of creating a viable third-party option for voters.

    Party leaders hope to reengage the 71% of Americans who ― according to Pew Research data ― are disillusioned with the two-party system, and created a party that is solution-based, rather than ideology- and platform-based.

    After a failed 2021 run for mayor of New York City, then-Democrat Andrew Yang, who also ran for president in 2020, was disillusioned with the two-party system. He left the Democratic party and founded the Forward Party in July of 2022.

    “The number one problem America faces is our broken political system. The incentives push the two parties towards extremism, and they'd rather fund raise off of a problem than fix it,” said Yang in a statement via email late in March.

    “The Forward Party was founded to give American voters a new home that's focused on putting solutions over partisanship,” Yang continued. “That starts with fixing the incentives in our political system through reforms such as ranked-choice voting and non-partisan primaries. Our tens of thousands of volunteers across the country and from across the political spectrum are out there every day building a new major party from the ground up.”

    The new party appealed to Mastroianni, a former Republican.

    “They’re really about listening and working together, so I think it was more of a good fit. It’s not like they’re creating a party to duplicate another party,” he said. “They are creating a party that doesn’t have any history. They want people to come with ideas; they want people to be innovative; they want people to have common sense solutions.”

    On the borough’s election day, May 1, Mastroianni will be the first Forward party-endorsed candidate in the state to face voters at the polls.

    He is also the only endorsed candidate — for now.

    The process of becoming recognized as a minor party in the state is complicated. In order to gain that recognition, there are a significant number of hoops the party must jump through.

    Before Forward could endorse Mastroianni as a Forward candidate for warden, he had to file a nominating petition with the Secretary of the State containing the signatures of 1% of the voters who cast a ballot for warden in the previous election in 2021.

    As long as Mastroianni receives 1% of the votes cast in the May 1 election, the party will secure ballot access for the office of warden, meaning, in the next election cycle, Forward’s candidate will not have to get nominating signatures again. If the party cannot ― or chooses not ― to run a warden candidate in the next election, it will lose ballot access for that office and must begin the process again.

    The process must be repeated for every elected office at the state and municipal level on an office-by-office basis.

    For some offices, that may be a two-year process between elections. For others, like governor, it could be far longer.

    A minor party cannot permanently secure ballot access without gaining major party status ― another high bar to achieve ― which can only be achieved by getting 20% of voters to register as party members, or run a candidate for governor who receives 20% of the vote.

    Connecticut election laws do not allow the national Forward party to get involved at the state level until they have national party status, leaving the volunteer state party leads, who organize, recruit and build the party in the state, to navigate the process independently.

    “This is how the two parties have dug a very deep moat around their castles. And this is exactly how they retain power, and this is not good for the citizens of Connecticut,” said Toby Proctor, one of the three Forward party leaders in the state.

    “At this point we’re just looking to get as many local candidates as we can, and that we’re comfortable with,” Proctor said.

    Problem-solving rather than platform

    The party itself does not have a platform. Instead, it has priorities, and the state leads vet all the potential candidates thoroughly to ensure each shares the party’s priorities.

    “We need to be sure they personify some of the characteristics of the Forward Party— free people, thriving communities, vibrant democracy. We want to make sure they are as transparent with their constituencies as possible,” Proctor said.

    “We’re not placing ideology at the center of what we’re doing; we’re placing problem solving at the center of what we’re doing,” said Mike Ongstad, director of media relations at the Forward Party headquarters in Virginia.

    Though the party purposely has no platform, it does advocate policies, like election reform, including open primaries and ranked choice voting, which would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

    Ongstad said the party is “agnostic” about the specific method of election reform and is emphasizing a process that allows greater choice for voters and reduces hyperpartisanship.

    He gave the example of uncontested races, pointing to data by Cook Political Reports, a non-partisan online publications that provides data and analysis of American political trends and elections, that shows 85% of House of Representatives races next year are not competitive, meaning the only race a candidate has to worry about is a partisan primary. He said moving toward party extremes is a benefit in those non-competitive races.

    Ongstad explained that partisan primaries feature candidates who only have to fight for votes from within their own party, and, as a result, the candidates tend to take positions that mirror the more extreme ends of a party ideology. He suggested that open primaries would go a long way to solve that issue, by forcing candidates to appeal to voters from across the political spectrum.

    Beyond that, the Forward party rejects extreme positions in favor of finding solutions. What that translates to in practice is a variety of platforms that are dictated by local communities and constituents.

    At the local level, Proctor explained, needs and desires vary.

    “Each town and each borough will have a completely different list of what’s important to them,” he explained.

    Ongstad echoed the idea.

    “We like to say that Boston and Birmingham are going to have completely different Forward parties, but we know that the people working in those parties are committed to solving problems ― whether that’s by compromising on solutions or innovating completely new policy solutions, they can do that,” he said.

    The national party currently operates as a hybrid political action committee while it works on achieving national party status under federal and state election laws.

    “As a result of the legal limitations placed on new parties, we are required to organize as a PAC until we hit certain federal requirements. Those requirements are dependent on jumping state hurdles which, of course, are harder to hit if you aren't a federal party. It's a genuine Catch-22,” said Ongstad.

    Federal election law says a party must run presidential and congressional nominees on the ballot in an unspecified number of states to attain national party status. Whether or not a party has demonstrated enough national party involvement is decided by the Federal Election Commission.

    However, before the national party can run viable presidential and congressional candidates, it has to have ballot access in most of the 50 states, each of which has a different process.

    “They’re mostly designed to prevent people from doing what we are doing, but some states it’s really easy; some states it’s really, really hard, so it’s a work in progress,” Ongstad said.

    Ongstad said that since forming eight months ago, the party has attained some level of party recognition in Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, and Texas.

    “We’re still growing and feeling the world out. We have a very clear sense of mission, but we’re not under the illusion that we’ve figured everything out, because there is a lot that has to be figured out, and I think that’s one of the most exciting things for people,” he said.

    He added that “people getting involved now can really shape and steer where this is going.”

    The party hopes to be in up to 24 states by the end of 2023, and to have some level of presence in all fifty states by the end of 2024.

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