So what do you do when the only decent choice for governor, a man who is qualified, knowledgeable, and pragmatic, has absolutely no chance of winning?
Our political system stinks. The nominees for the two major parties are chosen by a small minority of voters who are registered Democrats or Republicans, and anyone else who tries to run is elbowed aside.
It’s very hard for minor parties to get any kind of traction; trust me, I was a member of the Green Party for a while in the early 2000s. I campaigned for a candidate for state representative whose signature issue was campaign finance reform back in 2002, and despite people caring a lot about the issue we ended up with 7 percent of the vote.
It didn’t help that people still blamed us for Bush. That’s the misery of the third party, to either be ignored or, in a close race, be demonized as the “spoiler.”
And, well, there’s something to that, I admit. I don’t have a ton of sympathy for Jill Stein voters, because the threat of a Trump presidency was so painfully clear. In the lazy late summertime that was 2000, though, nobody had any idea of the stakes. In retrospect, that’s hardly an excuse.
And yet, it’s hard to blame someone for voting their hearts.
That brings me to Oz Griebel. He shared a stage with major party candidates for governor on Wednesday for the first time, after being left out of the two previous debates. Bob Stefanowski and Ned Lamont did very little but tread over the same old worn ground they’d been stomping on before. Did you know Ned will raise your taxes and is just like Dan Malloy? Hey, guess what, Bob has no way to pay for his tax cut and likes Trump!
Griebel, by contrast, had a lot of interesting and likely deeply unpopular things to say about tolls and taxes. Of all of the candidates he’s the only one who seems to understand transportation, and he called for congestion pricing and tolls for everyone — not just tractor trailers like Lamont has suggested. He also said that the income tax was the “workhorse” of the budget, and the state can’t live without it. Also true. He had smart things to say on the second chance society, UConn athletics, and the relationship between public and private sectors.
He’s not right about everything — putting off payments into the pension fund is how we got in this mess in the first place, and he’s absurdly optimistic about an unaffiliated candidate being able to unite the parties. They might unite in their dislike for him, but that’s about it. Ask Lowell Weicker about that.
Still, the idea of someone who has those kind of deep policy chops in the governor’s office warms my tiny, cold, technocratic heart. Lamont is somewhat knowledgeable, while Stefanowski seems stubbornly ignorant of just about anything that isn’t cutting taxes.
The trouble is that Griebel is polling in the single digits. Political nerds and policy geeks don’t make up a very large segment of voters, it seems, and Griebel’s chances of expanding his support seem remote. The debate was his best chance to outshine the competition — except that hardly anybody watches the debates. He’ll have some ads going up, but they’ll be lost in the constant Lamont-Stefanowski noise. When Election Day comes, the vast majority of voters will likely have no idea who he is.
Connecticut has voted for independent candidates before, though, so why wouldn’t we do it again? Lowell Weicker and Joe Lieberman won as independents, didn’t they? Sure, but they’d both won statewide races as a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, and were both well known and fairly popular outside their former parties. Griebel has none of that going for him.
Is voting for a doomed candidate throwing one’s vote away? What if there’s a razor-thin margin and those Oz votes would have made the difference between Governor Bob and Governor Ned?
This is why our system needs reform. I actually like systems like Georgia’s and California’s, where the top two candidates in a general first round of voting face off in the final round. It would also be smart to watch Maine’s experiment with ranked-choice voting to see how it changes things there.
But our system is what it is for now. The smart thing to do would be to vote for whoever my second choice is instead of a minor party candidate. That way, my vote would matter more. That way, I’d have a real say. Also, most importantly, nobody would blame me when it all goes horribly wrong.
After all, isn’t holding our noses and settling for the least bad option what our democracy is all about?
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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