Time to end Connecticut’s convention system
A major reason for Connecticut’s political dysfunction is that it remains a convention state. In most states, prospective candidates are only required to gather a reasonable number of signatures to have their name placed on the ballot. Not in Connecticut.
Every town has a Democratic and Republican Town Committee. These committees chose delegates to attend conventions that pick candidates. To win the party nomination, a candidate must receive over 50 percent of the delegates’ votes. To earn the right to primary, a candidate must receive 15 percent of the vote. Thus, prospective candidates spend their evenings addressing town committees, weekends going to dried-out ziti fundraisers and every other waking hour meeting delegates individually in order to secure their support. This is a tedious and time-consuming process and also a colossal waste of time; as it does little to increase the candidate’s profile with the vast majority of prospective voters.
Political outsiders who attempt to run are only welcome if they can self-finance and pay party insiders high consulting fees to help garner delegates. But this changed once Connecticut passed the Citizens’ Election Program, which enables candidates to raise small amounts of money from many citizens to qualify for large amounts of public financing.
Now, those seeking the gubernatorial nomination must raise $250,000 from contributions that do not exceed $100. This too is a tedious and time-consuming process, but at the time of this writing, seven Republican candidates have done so. All of these candidates are now in a position to each receive over $1.3 million dollars to run a primary and the winner will receive $6 million dollars for the general election.
The problem is that none of these candidates are political outsiders. Mark Boughton is a former state representative and has been mayor of Danbury for seven terms. Tim Herbst is the former First Selectman of Trumbull. David Walker is a former U.S. Comptroller. Mark Lauretti has been mayor of Shelton for over 20 years. Prasad Srinivasen is a state representative from Glastonbury. Steve Obsitnik is a member of the Westport Town Committee and a former Fourth District Congressional candidate. Peter Lumaj has run for both U.S. Senate and Secretary of the State.
Unless there are multiple Convention votes, it will be difficult for all these candidates to receive 15 percent of the delegates, meaning after working 14-hour days for the past year, not only will their political views never be heard; they will not even be on the ballot. And the ones who do not qualify will be quite upset.
They will have the option of petitioning their way on the ballot, but this is not easy. To do so requires collecting 9,500 signatures (2 percent of registered Republicans) in about a month – a daunting task. But two self-financing Republicans, Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman are both bypassing the convention and doing so.
Thus, the party insiders who control the delegates will try to do what they have so miserably failed at in the past – pick the strongest candidate while not alienating the various factions of the Republican Party.
But how are they going to do this? If they manipulate the convention to keep the pro-Trump social conservative Peter Lumaj off the ballot, will they anger the Republican base? Remember, Trump won the Connecticut primary in 2016 by a whopping 58 percent. The party insider’s favorite, John Kasich came in a dismal second with 27 percent. Yet Lumaj could easily win a multi-ballot primary but lose the general election if upper middle-class women – the swing vote in Connecticut – refuse to vote for him.
How about if the party insiders keep the eminently-electable Erin Stewart off the ballot because she is too young and entered the race late? How will Dave Walker, who has dedicated his life to public service, feel when delegates pledged to him switch or abandon him on the second ballot. Will Prasad Srinivasen, who has resorted to banging or delegates’ doors since they will not answer their phones or e-mails, believe he has been treated fairly?
My bet is that the Republican Convention will nominate Tim Herbst and Mark Boughton will qualify to primary him. But keep in mind that I also predicted that my alma mater, St. Francis University would beat the UConn women. We lost by 88 points (a ref job of course).
Unfortunately, we are stuck with this archaic system. Whatever the outcome of this election, both Democrats and Republicans should go to direct primaries. Prospective candidates should be required to garner 1 percent of their party’s membership by January of the election year and the primary should be held in May. This will give the winning candidate enough time to consolidate his or her base, and face their opponent. It is simply unfair to have candidates work so hard to get permission to get on the ballot, especially since these party insiders are basically useless the second the convention is over.
Joe Bentivegna is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.
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