Groups within the state Republican Party are seeking to oust party Chairman Jerry Labriola following an election cycle in which Democrats maintained control of the governors office, all the constitutional offices, and both chambers of the legislature.
Labriola, 56, was first elected to the post in 2011 and was re-elected to another two-year term last June. Although his term extends into next year, some within the party want a mid-term leadership change given the Democratic victories in the 2014 elections.
A spokesman for Labriola declined to comment for this story.
The effort to replace Labriola, first reported by blogger Kevin Rennie on his website Daily Ructions, began with a petition by state central committee members who are seeking to hold a meeting on Dec. 2 to vote on new leadership. The petition would need to be signed by at least 20 members of the state central committee in order to convene the meeting.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, a member of the Republican State Central Committee, said Tuesday that she had yet to see the petition but planned to do so.
“Jerry Labriola is a great guy and has done a good job, but it’s time for him to go. It’s time for him move on. We’ve been unsuccessful under his leadership,” she said. “. . . It’s time to change our look. The rest of the nation went red and Connecticut went more blue.”
Stewart, 27, said the party has an opportunity to reshape its image with a changing of the guard that reflects that Connecticut Republicans are not only a group of old, white men. She said the party should be more successful at attracting young people, especially those saddled with college loans and having difficulty paying high taxes.
“But they’re mostly all Democrats. The question is — why? What are we doing wrong that we’re not resonating with this genre of people? I’ve seen no effort from the state party to try to help,” Stewart said.
JR Romano, a Republican originally from Derby, said he would like to be considered for Labriola’s post. Romano recently worked as political director for Tim Herbst, a Republican who got close but was ultimately unsuccessful at unseating state Treasurer Denise Nappier. He previously served as director for the Connecticut chapter of Americans For Prosperity.
Asked what he saw as the shortcomings of the current administration, Romano, 36, declined to answer, saying he was not trying to “take swipes at Jerry” and did not “believe in a pitchfork mentality.” But he said there is some unrest among state Republicans.
“There’s concern among state central members that we aren’t communicating effectively why the Republican Party is the party with the solutions to the state’s problems,” he said.
If the party is looking for new leadership, Romano said he would bring a different perspective to the post.
“My strength lies in being able to communicate to a different demographic,” he said. “With the Tim Herbst campaign, we communicated with state employees and teachers . . . we were talking about how we would solve the problems and I think that’s missing.”
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said in a phone interview that he would be honored to serve as party chairman but was not pushing for the committee to oust Labriola.
“If Jerry is leaving, yes I think I would be open to being considered for the post. I think it’s important we get the party strengthened and I believe I’ve got skills that would be useful in accomplishing that,” he said.
Markley said the loss at the top of this year’s ticket was a big disappointment for state Republicans. He compared Labriola to the coach of a team that has a losing record for the season.
“At a certain point you say ‘This isn’t working.’ It doesn’t mean the coach isn’t able but if you’re not getting the results desired, that is where you look for change,” he said. “I like Jerry. I think he’s put his heart into it.”
Markley said he does not see the state party chairmanship as the “in the spotlight” face of the party, but rather someone who helps to highlight the talent and diversity of the party. He said the chairman should also be a thoughtful critic of the opposing party.
“What falls to the chairman is some of the more difficult aspects of the state party, like pointing to mistakes on other side. I can do [that] in a way that doesn’t come across as mean spirited,” he said.
Whatever happens, Markley said he hopes Republicans have “a proper conversation as a party and I hope we don’t rush into anything ill-considered.”
In 2011, when Labriola replaced retiring Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy, he was considered the underdog. That is until Rennie exposed the shortcomings and liabilities of former state Sen. William Aniskovich. Labriola emerged with support from 43 of the 72 state committee members, beating out Catherine Marx, who also was vying for the chairmanship. Marx was vice chairwoman of the party under Healy.
She was also Herbst’s campaign manager and worked closely with Romano on the recent campaign. Marx did not immediately return a call for comment.