You’re excused if you have no idea what’s going on in the busy Republican race for lieutenant governor. You’re also excused if you’re wondering why there’s so much action in an essentially meaningless race.
Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Stafford, handily won the endorsement of partied-out GOP convention delegates, despite a weird flap in which Bacchiochi accused an opponent, former U.S. Comptroller David Walker, of making racial insults about her husband. Bacchiochi apologized, and won. Former Groton mayor Heather Somers, the running mate of Mark Boughton, bailed out of the Danbury mayor’s sinking campaign to strike out on her own — taking her cash with her. She was quickly replaced by Shelton mayor Mark Lauretti, who had left the governor’s race after not picking up a lot of delegates at the convention. As for Walker, he got enough votes to primary, and likely will.
Now Boughton and Lauretti are paying workers $2 per signature collected to get Lauretti onto the primary ballot. In the primary, governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately, which means the winners get paired up. If the results of the convention are any guide, we’ll see Foley/Bacchiochi signs dotting lawns in October. Boughton and Lauretti can combine their respective fundraising pots to qualify for $1.4 million in public financing, but Lauretti has to actually be on the ballot first.
Basically, there are an awful lot of little camps gearing up for an expensive and agonizing August primary.
This is a symptom of the bigger problem Republicans have had for a long time, now — they just can’t get it together. To be fair, neither can Democrats, but for Republicans this is a much more dire problem. There are so many factions and personalities competing for an increasingly small share of the electorate that the party seems utterly incoherent. What do Connecticut Republicans stand for? Business interests? Guns? Rich white guys? Mild economic conservatism? Libertarianism? Tax cuts? Anti-unionism? It’s a smorgasbord of all these and more, depending on who you are.
The smaller the party becomes, the worse this splintering is going to get.
That seems counterintuitive, but it happens to small, isolated groups a lot. I was, I have to admit, a member of the Connecticut Green Party for a few years after the 2000 election. Our district meetings were usually three people in a basement of a library somewhere, and our campaigns went equally badly. The state central committee meetings, though, were epic slugfests. I remember being at one where the issue was whether we ought to record speakers or not. That debate lasted hours, and was dominated by some of the party’s “big” personalities. In the end everyone went home to their dark and distant districts feeling bitter, resentful, and angry.
My sense of the Republican Party in Connecticut is like this now; as they become more insular and homogeneous they’re also becoming more fractious. As the thought of winning and governing becomes more remote, everyone focuses instead on minor shades of ideological difference, personality, power bases, and infighting. This is why the teeny Republican rump in the General Assembly would release a different budget from Republican governor M. Jodi Rell’s, for instance, and why Lisa Wilson-Foley was willing to illegally pay John Rowland to take a whack at Andrew Roraback. This is also why Republicans seem unwilling to nominate any of their actual office-holders for high-profile races; they’re too hated by certain groups within the party.
This sort of fragmentation doesn’t bode well for what ought to be a Republican romp to victory. Democrats, who are fractious and incoherent in other ways, are all but shoving the Republicans to victory at this point. Gov. Malloy is incredibly vulnerable, especially with Jonathan Pelto threatening to lead a faction of liberals out of the Democratic Party, and he should be beatable. All Republicans need to do is nominate the right candidate and campaign hard — together — until November.
Instead, Republicans will spend the next few months lining up behind an increasingly confusing collection of candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, eventually and grudgingly settle on bumbling rich guy Tom Foley as their standard-bearer. Until then, Malloy will have the whole summer to take whacks at Foley, and re-define him as a weird, thoughtless plutocrat for a public who largely doesn’t remember who he is.
Political parties, which are more about vaguely expressed ethnic, regional, and ideological loyalty these days than they are about issues, are prone to fragmentation and infighting. For a dwindling party in a small state, too much of that can, and will, prove fatal.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.