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JONATHAN L. WHARTON

Despite what some Connecticut columnists have been writing in the past week about the state Republican Party, I would counter that now is the time for change since the elections and party leadership shifts are already happening. 

While Donald Trump’s re-election effort continues, the state party and Connecticut General Assembly leaders are on the cusp of new leadership. Next year will be ripe for change, just ahead of 2022’s gubernatorial race. In fact, this would be the opportune moment for party officials and newly chosen state House and Senate Republican leaders to work together.

Although Kevin Rennie offers that, “[T]he Republican future in Connecticut looks bleak,” I would counter that the party has made a good start by naming state Rep. Vincent Candelora of North Branford, and state Sen. Kevin Kelly of Stratford, to lead their caucuses in the House and Senate. And even though Colin McEnroe claims that people should “Be super-nice to Republicans. Bomb them with love.” There’s no need for his sarcasm or his overdue love.

The state party is experiencing a transformative shift. At the same time, Republicans lost a number of seats in the General Assembly, and they now hold a third of the Senate and nearly that many in the House. This smaller fractional number is a reminder for the state party to begin anew as it also considers candidates for state party chairman.

J.R. Romano served for three terms and he announced before Election Day that he would not seek another term. The Republican State Central Committee will vote for candidates in June, as local party committees decide state committee seats in May. But party chair candidates likely will announce their candidacies as early as January.

Timing matters in politics and this is the time for party officials to be on the same page. For too long, they’ve failed to work well together. As someone who served on the Republican State Central Committee and also as a state party convention delegate, I expected to see factions within the party’s ranks. But often those divisions among lawmakers and party officials stunted the party’s overall growth and unity.

Most importantly, gubernatorial candidates will announce their interest in running by summertime for 2022’s race. If the stars can align for party leaders to recognize the potential in working together and supporting candidates early, hopefully fewer gubernatorial candidates will enter the ring.

My biggest fear beyond party leaders failing to work together will be too many candidates running for statewide office again. With nearly two dozen gubernatorial candidates and a half-dozen candidates for lieutenant governor in 2018, the state party faced a logistical nightmare of splitting voters, supporters, volunteers, and resources. It would be ideal if some unifying took place within GOP ranks for state party chair and then for statewide candidates next year.

Now would be the time to test the real possibility of state party officials working together ahead of selecting people for key leadership positions within the party. It would also serve as a reminder to columnists like Rennie and McEnroe that the state Republican Party is not facing doom and gloom so much as a new opportunity for unity. 

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is associate professor of political science and urban affairs and the School of Graduate and Professional Studies Interim Associate Dean at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. Wharton was former chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee and Connecticut Republican State Central Committee member.

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