Day editorial correct, Connecticut Republicans need a new path
I agree whole-heartedly with The Day’s recent editorial column “State Republican Party has a chance to rebrand.”
Speaking from my experience as the former executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party and having served as an advisor to statewide candidates that Republican primary voters passed on for more “conservative” choices, the Connecticut GOP once again finds itself at a difficult crossroads. The question is: Do we continue to make the same mistakes, or do we embrace candidates who can draw vibrant cross-party support and can win congressional and statewide elections?
For the past four years our party − once the party of the principled progressivism of Lincoln, and the compassionate conservatism of Reagan and Bush — has been driven down the path of irrationality, fear, and allowing the ends to justify the means. Since 2010, Connecticut Republicans have had three chances to win the governor’s mansion. All three times we nominated wealthy, unproven and politically unskilled candidates — men who had never won an election — to serve as our party’s standard bearers. Look where it has gotten us. Absolutely nowhere. We are a year away from the next gubernatorial contest and we’re in danger of making the same mistake for a fourth time.
It’s time we look to the next generation of Republican leaders to move us forward here in Connecticut. One prime example of a Republican who, for eight years, has redefined what it means to be a Connecticut Republican is Mayor Erin Stewart of New Britain. Stewart was elected in 2013 at the age of 26 and has been re-elected three consecutive times by wide margins in a city where Democrats have an overwhelming advantage in voter registration.
Yes, she’s a fiscal hawk. In her first term she worked hard to close a budget deficit of more than $30 million and grew the rainy-day fund to over $15 million. She is laser-focused on economic growth and maintaining financial stability and predictability. Very traditional Republican values. But she has also been a leader on issues that aren’t traditional for the GOP, like ending chronic homelessness, expanding recovery opportunities for those suffering from addiction and abuse, and embracing green and renewable technology in a way that is good for both the taxpayers and the environment. Consequently, she has won her elections by huge bipartisan margins and has led New Britain on a path to prosperity by embracing a common-sense inclusive message.
The Day notes that “Connecticut Republicans have had a past tradition of not being anti-government, but pro smart and effective government. Republican themes of fiscal constraint, of protecting the autonomy of town governance, and of defending business from over-regulation and high taxation remain popular with large segments of the population.” These exact points align with my argument why Mayor Stewart, as well as local leaders like state Sen. Paul Formica and state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, both of East Lyme — leaders with proven track records at the local and state levels — should lead our party forward.
The Day also calls for opening primaries to unaffiliated voters, with which I could not agree more. That’s why, in 2015, I pushed for such reforms as executive director of the Connecticut GOP. It would offer our party better candidates with greater appeal who could actually win in a general election. Having unaffiliated voters participate early in campaigns would provide an early and essential test of viability, allowing Republican candidates to better compete despite the party’s voter registration gap.
We must pick a better path forward for the Connecticut Republican Party and avoid what happened in 2018, 2014, and 2010. It’s time for a new path for the Republican Party and it starts by promoting and advocating for candidates who have a history of success in elections — candidates who can appeal to a large electorate of Connecticut voters. In 2022, let’s nominate a candidate who can articulate a message of which the Connecticut Republican Party can be proud.
John Kleinhans is the former executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party and has served on the East Lyme Board of Education since 2015.