Tim Herbst: Election thumping shows Connecticut GOP must change

The weekend before the 2018 election, as I campaigned door to door with State Senate candidate Adam Greenberg in Guilford, Madison and Branford, I knew that Connecticut Republicans were in big trouble. On several occasions, voters greeted me at their doors to tell me that the Democrats had been to their homes three times, sent them a personal handwritten note and called them on their cell phone. This superior field program led to a thumping for Connecticut Republicans, across the board.

In 2010, when Tom Foley lost to Dan Malloy by a little over 6,000 votes, the Connecticut GOP had made 500,000 voter identification calls by April. By August, they set up several field offices across the state that were fully staffed. In 2014, Republicans again had this program in place well before the primary.

In 2018, no voter identification program was implemented before the primary. Field offices were opened as late as October, some sitting empty. There was no coordinated effort between the party and candidates for voter identification and canvassing.

Local Republican Town Committees did not receive training in uniform standards for voter canvassing. Watching this, I was reminded of the words of my father, a football coach: “proper preparation prevents poor performance.” Connecticut Democrats do a far superior job of preparing in advance and working together because they understand that elections, like football games, aren’t won in the fall, they are won in the spring and summer practices when you condition for the big game.

State Republicans must take strong, immediate action to reverse this devastating trend.

• There are many good people on the Republican State Central Committee who work hard for our party. But Party Chairman J.R. Romano bears a heavy burden of responsibility in the aftermath of this election and I believe it is the responsibility of membership to hold leadership accountable. Like any other organization, some members have been there far too long, doing nothing to proactively lead at the grassroots level to build our ranks and elect Republicans. If we believe in term limits, it is time to self-reflect and look within. It is time for a new generation of leadership to join the ranks of the Republican State Central Committee.

• The state Republican Party needs to identify a plan for raising the necessary funds to develop and execute a superior field program for future elections. This plan must be developed collaboratively with Senate and House Republicans, with a laser focus.

• It is not fair to the nominee of any major party to send them into a general election campaign with less than one-third of the total primary vote. The date of the primary should be in the spring to allow runoff elections to prevent what happened this past August when petitioning candidate Bob Stefanowski won the GOP primary with only 29 percent of the vote.

• Since August, rank and file Republicans expressed to me their anger over how the convention process didn’t matter. Many said, “Why did I spend all of this time and money to go to a convention when the nominee didn’t even participate?” As I saw firsthand, the deal making and backroom jockeying at conventions is not about the best candidate, but is instead more about, “What can you do for me?” If candidates can bypass the convention, then the convention should be eliminated in favor of a direct primary.

• Change Connecticut law to require candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run together, not separately. A candidate for governor should feel comfortable with their running mate because if elected they will have to govern together.

• The Citizens' Election Program has failed to level the playing field with wealthy self -funders and failed to keep dark money out of elections. Mark Boughton and I had $1.3 million each to run our campaigns. The $10.5 million spent between Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman dwarfed our numbers. When other candidates were up on television in January, Mayor Boughton and I were traveling the state talking to 1,100 delegates. The system doesn’t work, so the legislature should either make changes to the program or eliminate it.

These changes will begin the process of restoring a viable two-party system, which is better for all of the citizens of Connecticut.

Tim Herbst is an attorney and the former first selectman of Trumbull. He was a candidate for Connecticut governor in 2018, losing in the Republican primary.

 

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