Congratulations, JR Romano, on becoming the new chairman of the state Republican Party! The good news for you is that for the first time in a decade, that fact may no longer be such an albatross around your neck.
There’s rarely been a better time to be a Connecticut Republican in the past decade and more. Republicans here hit a high-water mark in 2002 and spent a decade steadily sinking, losing Congressional seats, legislative clout, and eventually the governorship to Democrats. But in 2014 they picked up a bunch more seats in the legislature and changed out their leadership in both the House and Senate. What’s emerged looks and feels a lot more like an actual functioning opposition party than the sad rump of a long-faded historical powerhouse.
And I have to say that I’m thrilled to see the GOP choose a younger leader. I can only hope that my generation’s pragmatism and creativity will be qualities we embrace as we begin to take power.
Like a lot of people, I’ve long wished for a real alternative to the bloated, creaky Democratic Party edifice. So, Chairman Romano, in that spirit here are a few items that ought to be on your to-do list if you want to make that happen.
First, and this is something I keep saying, you still need to find a way to put some distance between you and the national party. Connecticut Republicans are very different from South Carolina or Utah Republicans, and you need to remind voters of that. Part of the reason why the last decade has been such a disaster for you is that the national GOP has been so bonkers. When you are fiscally conservative without being social dinosaurs, for instance, you do better.
This ought to be a little easier than it was during the more miserable years of Obama’s presidency. The Republican Party in general feels like it’s starting to move back toward the middle. I’d love to see Connecticut’s Republicans set up shop there for good.
One great thing you could do to start moving to the center would be to distance yourself from the anti-LGBT Family Institute, and stop pandering to the gun lobby so much. Connecticut’s moving away from you on these issues, and won’t ever be coming back.
Second on the list, and this will help with the first item as well, would be to reach out to minority groups. Yes, I know you already do this. It hasn’t worked yet, though I hope your experience helping Erin Stewart win in New Britain will help you change that.
Please keep trying. Start pushing back against the big government prison-industrial complex, for instance. Do more to keep the bad cops from infringing on the rights of minority citizens. Argue for property tax reform to let people in cities keep more of the money they spend on taxes. Be more welcoming to hard-working immigrants.
And for goodness sake, get rid of the racists in the party. When black staffers complain about white privilege, for instance, don’t fire them or get defensive about race. This sends absolutely the wrong message.
Third, encourage party leaders to tell us what you’d do if you were governing. Give people something to vote for and support over the next year and a half. It can’t be as simple as “cut taxes.” The Republican budget proposal was a very good start, but we need more.
Fourth, you’re going to win a bunch of town races this fall, probably more than you think. Capitalize! Shine a spotlight on Republicans doing productive things in their towns. May I suggest the Republican leaders in my own town of Enfield as an example?
Fifth, please try to nominate candidates who can actually win, then do whatever you can to rally the party around them. Ideological battles between Republicans are just going to make you look bad, as will a parade of self-funding millionaire candidates who have never actually held public office.
I know this seems like a lot. But this is what it’s going to take for the Republican Party in this state to actually win enough seats to break the Democrats’ hold on power. A deeply conservative GOP isn’t a threat to Dems, but a center-right, forward-looking one is. There are enough moderate voters out there to swing things your way.
Right now Connecticut voters are frustrated and angry, and they have little faith in their government. Give us an alternative we can actually vote for, and you may be amazed at what happens next.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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