The one and only Lowell Palmer Weicker Jr. turned 90 last week. I’ve heard the former governor and senator being interviewed as recently as last year and he still sounds pretty sharp to me. I can’t help but wonder what his reaction would be to two related events that have happened within the last six months – one in Washington and the other in his home state.
By now, we are all intimately familiar with the first. On Jan. 6, a gang of hundreds of violent thugs egged on by a sitting president broke into the U.S. Capitol and, in an act of blatant insurrection, tried to stop the Senate from performing its constitutional duty to certify an election that Donald Trump had clearly lost. If nothing else – and notwithstanding his “maverick” reputation – Weicker is very much an institutionalist, so I’m sure he was as horrified as I was at the act of sedition.
Secondly, in the last week, we have learned that a handful of local Republican elected officials in Connecticut are so appalled by their own party on the national level that they have decided to leave it. To wit, Glastonbury Town Councilman Stewart “Chip” Beckett has left the GOP and has stepped down from his leadership position on that body.
The final straw, Beckett told Fox 61’s Jenn Bernstein, was that he was “completely disgusted” and “insulted” when the Republican attorney general of Texas sued other states that had changed their laws to make voting easier during the pandemic and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the electoral votes in those states – a move that would have effectively reversed the results of the presidential election. Beckett added that the fact that 147 members of Congress, Republicans all, voted to challenge the certified results in multiple states meant “there was no respect for the rule of law” in the party and that it was actually “all about power.”
Farther to the west and north, a group of West Hartford Republicans decided to leave the party for largely the same reasons. The dismissal of Liz Cheney from her leadership post in the House of Representatives for standing up to Trump was said to be the deciding factor, but their desertion of the GOP signaled a different approach to independence.
Rather than joining the Democratic Party or simply becoming unaffiliated, all four candidates will run under the banner of “A Connecticut Party,” an independent political party founded by Weicker in 1990 so that he could run successfully for governor without having to slug it out in a GOP primary against then-congressman and future governor John Rowland.
On the local level, ACP could work nicely. I have always been troubled by how two-party-centric Connecticut is. Each town has a Republican and Democratic town committee and Republican and Democratic registrars of voters. Those bodies typically hold caucuses, nominate a slate of candidates and place them on the ballot. From the governor’s race on down to your local zoning board, partisan elections are the order of the day in Connecticut. Not so in many other states.
In Massachusetts, where I have my day job, nearly all municipal elections are nonpartisan. Anyone who can circulate a petition and gather the required signatures can obtain a slot on the ballot. Even elections for Boston City Council are nonpartisan, though almost all of its members are registered Democrats.
In New York, most races for town offices are partisan, but school board elections are not. In Connecticut, having a viable third-party banner to run under statewide would disrupt the two-party duopoly and – who knows? – maybe even clear the way for new ideas in a state that’s seen too few of them lately.
Reviving ACP in West Hartford is surely a positive development. Not only does it signal to the state and national Republican Party that its behavior is self-destructive, but also it will send a message that not all electoral choices are binary. The more important question is whether this latest development in West Hartford starts a movement statewide for a viable third-party.
For that to happen, it will take a more sustained effort than Weicker put forth in the early 1990s. After the Big Dog declined to run for re-election, his hand-picked second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Eunice Groark, ran for the top spot in 1994 and came in third. ACP then died a slow death and was gone before the end of that decade.
Weicker had campaigned against the creation of a state income tax and argued that its time had passed. It was the early 1990s – a time of deep recession – so Weicker famously used a vivid metaphor: “But in the current situation, imposing an income tax would be like pouring gasoline on a fire.” Once safely elected, however, he promptly changed his mind.
Taxpayers were incensed at Weicker’s advocacy for the state’s first-ever income tax. Indeed, some 30,000 protesters came to Hartford. Some of them hanged Weicker in effigy and spat upon him. This could hurt the West Hartford office-seekers. West Hartdordites with long memories might look at the ACP line on the ballot and recall how much they – or their parents – hated Weicker for going back on his promise.
ACP might be viable for municipal elections but it’s problematic on the state level. Unless you’re a larger-than-life figure like Weicker or Joe Lieberman, it’s mighty tough to make a go of it as an independent candidate for statewide office. Just ask supporters of Oz Griebel, whom I supported for governor three years ago.
Americans in general – and Connecticut voters in particular – talk a good game about electing outsider independents statewide, but when push comes to shove, we mostly retreat to our little partisan corners. Let’s hope Connecticut voters on the local level are more open to change. I know Weicker and the late, great Oz will be with them.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com