Coming from the left and right, the paths of two petitioning candidates for governor intersected Wednesday outside a state Board of Education meeting, where a dozen people staged a protest of the Common Core curriculum standards.
“We’re here to make a statement,” said Joe Visconti, a conservative Republican petitioning for a place on the ballot as an independent. “This is probably issue number one in Connecticut.”
Jonathan Pelto, a liberal Democrat also petitioning as an independent, said the concern over Common Core has blurred the standard left-right division in politics, bringing him and Visconti to the same place.
“There’s such frustration with government in Washington and Hartford, the establishment, that it’s redrawing the traditional lines,” Pelto said.
He and Visconti each need to gather the signatures of 7,500 voters by Aug. 6 to win a place on the November ballot with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a first-term Democrat, and the winner of the GOP primary, either Tom Foley or John P. McKinney.
McKinney made an appearance outside the meeting too, mingling in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
As reporters watched, Pelto and Visconti signed each other’s petitions.
“Let freedom ring,” Pelto said as Visconti signed his petition.
“Don’t let them call you a spoiler,” Visconti said.
Pelto, a former Democratic state representative from Mansfield, is attacking Malloy from the left, accusing him of being in league with corporate education interests and failing to embrace a more progressive tax system.
Visconti, a former councilman from West Hartford, was a candidate for GOP nomination until recently, running as a pro-Second Amendment and anti-tax candidate allied with the Tea Party.
Pelto has been shunned by labor unions who see him taking votes from Malloy, helping the Republican candidate. Visconti has drawn some similar fire on Facebook from gun-rights advocates intent on defeating Malloy, saying he could dilute the gun vote.
Both say they will shape the debate for governor.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the anti-Common Core people,” Pelto said. While nationally the movement has largely involved conservatives, Pelto said it’s increasingly also drawing support from teachers, parents and local education officials who don’t oppose having standards, but don’t think Connecticut needs to have the same standards as Louisiana.
Visconti said Pelto is more on the side of teachers, while he is for the parents. Visconti, a building contractor, said his strategy for winning the election as an independent candidate is to gain the support of gun-rights voters, people who oppose Common Core and tradesmen.
As Pelto spoke to a reporter, a woman walked up to him and asked to sign his petition.
“I don’t agree with you on everything, but on Common Core you are exactly spot on,” Jerri MacMillian of Essex said.
MacMillian said she believes people need to challenge the entrenched powers, particularly on the Democratic side. She said she likes the idea of someone who is willing to stand on principle rather than party interests.
The modest protest was staged outside a Board of Education meeting, where parents presented their objections to Common Core during a public comment session.
Cheryl Hill of New Milford said before the meeting that she began looking into Common Core after reading a resignation letter from a teacher that cited the effect of the standards on how students are tested and evaluated.
“Over the past year, I’ve seen my son lose his passion for learning,” she said. The boy had loved math, but more recently, he began to get stomach aches and say he hated math. He was anxious, depressed and stressed.
She became convinced testing that she says was inspired by the Common Core was the cause of her son’s problems. She ultimately pulled him out of the school system.