After more than five years leading the Republican Party in a persistently blue state, JR Romano announced this week he will not seek another term as the party’s chairman.
“It’s just time. I’m ready for a new challenge,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. Romano said he would finish out his term, which ends in June.
Back in August, Romano resisted calls from within his party that he resign after 2nd Congressional District candidate Thomas Gilmer was arrested on felony domestic assault charges.
On Wednesday, Romano defended his handling of that situation and said the controversy did not motivate his decision not to seek re-election.
“My job is not to pick and choose candidates. Given an allegation, I’m not a police officer, I don’t know how to investigate the allegations, whether they’re proper or not,” he said. “Encouraging someone to go to the proper authorities to vet that out was the proper recommendation.”
Romano, a political operative from Derby, was 36 years old when he took over the party chairmanship in 2015. He highlighted his party’s gains in 2016, which saw Republicans tie Democrats for control of the state Senate. Although Democrats regained control of the chamber two years later, he said Republican influence helped hold the line on tax increases during that time. He said the party has also made headway internally under his leadership.
“We hit highwater marks in the legislature in 2016,” he said. “From an infrastructure standpoint, and I always joke that the chairman’s job is to build the road and the candidates are the cars, we’ve grown our following on social media, we’ve grown our email list substantially, we’ve grown our donor base.”
In a state where some Republican candidates have maintained some distance from President Donald J. Trump, Romano has been a strong supporter. He said Trump’s presidency, and his prolific and sometimes controversial Twitter postings, have highlighted disparities in how the media covers the two parties.
“I get phone calls about every tweet the president does,” he said. Democrats, meanwhile, get a pass from the media when they make controversial statements, Romano said.
In a statement, Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo wished Romano well but said she wanted to remain focused on next week’s election. But her spokeswoman, Patty McQueen bristled at the Republican’s suggestion that the media goes easier on Democrats.
“I think you need to look at who’s at the top of these tickets,” she said. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has not been reluctant to denounce white supremacists or disparaging to women, she said. “We’ve got a guy who’s trying to fix things, not blow them up. If people are calling JR about what Donald Trump is doing and saying, that’s on them.”
Although his term ends in June, Romano said he wanted to announce his departure early to give his party time to vet candidates looking to run for the chairmanship. Asked about future plans, Romano did not rule out someday running for office in Connecticut. Just not for governor.
“I did get a couple text messages last night that I should run for governor. I’m not,” he said.
Running for public office takes thick skin, especially in the age of social media, he said.
“I can take it but it’s a hard thing,” he said. “Without any evidence or fact to substantiate their allegations, I get called a racist and a sexist and a bigot almost every day.”