This Op-Ed ran in the Hartford Courant last weekend. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result..
More than 50 percent of voters in the Nov. 4 election supported the re-election of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy though his job approval rating has never exceeded 48 percent. Coming amid a national political climate that helped elect Republican governors in blue states like Illinois, Maryland, Maine and even Massachusetts, it is cause for alarm for Connecticut Republicans.
As a former high school history teacher, I know the American system of government depends on a robust competition of ideas and balanced political power. One-party domination of politics isn’t just bad for Connecticut’s Republicans; it is bad for Connecticut’s democracy, too. GOP victories across the country make it clear our party’s challenges aren’t in our values or policy ideas. The big lesson is candidates matter. It’s time for Connecticut Republicans to open their primary to unaffiliated voters and get the date of their primary moved to June.
The principle task of political parties is to nominate candidates for office. Republicans have done the job well at the local level for years. Members of the GOP hold the top elected office in more than 100 municipalities as well 15 seats in the state Senate and 64 seats in the House of Representatives. But Connecticut Republicans have not won a federal or statewide race in eight years — one of the longest droughts in the nation.
It is apparent the way Connecticut Republicans choose statewide and federal candidates is broken. Consider that the first Republican candidate for governor announced his bid in July 2013, a full 15 months before Election Day 2014. But the first 12 months of the campaign focused on earning the support of 1,200 delegates to the Republican convention in May or 79,000 voters in the August primary — less than 8 percent of the electorate — instead of the 1 million voters who participated on Election Day. A party that spends most of its time competing for a fraction of the electorate cannot possibly win a majority of voters.
The process must be changed to produce better, more viable Republican candidates.
The state party convention is an important opportunity for active party members to voice their opinions, but the process has produced only failure in recent years. Every candidate endorsed at the convention in 2010, 2012 and 2014 lost in November. The problem is delegates are not representative of the electorate. For example, Ellington (population 12,921) sent seven delegates to the Republican convention while Hartford (population 125,017) was allotted only three. The state GOP must find ways to open the convention to more of its members.
In a state with 400,000 registered Republicans and 800,000 Democrats, appealing to Connecticut’s 900,000 unaffiliated voters is the key to victory. Yet unaffiliated voters cannot participate in Republican primary elections. No political party can win an election by only appealing to small slivers of the electorate. If Republicans want to appeal to unaffiliated voters in November, unaffiliated voters must help nominate GOP candidates in August. I have not always held this view but after closely examining the data from the recent election, it is clear that the math simply does not work any other way.
I am also convinced the primary election should be held in June instead of August. The current calendar squeezes the entire general election into barely 75 days — too little time to thoroughly evaluate candidates. A June primary election held before the end of the school year will allow ample opportunity for thoughtful consideration.
Process reforms alone won’t solve the Connecticut Republican Party’s challenges. For example, late polling indicated that female voters favored the Democratic nominee by 15 percent, highlighting the party’s need to better communicate our values to women. But the national victories make it clear the Republican Party’s values and ideas are compelling when espoused by strong candidates.
Changing the way Republicans choose candidates is an important step toward winning again.