Connecticut is a one-party state.
Unaffiliated residents form the largest group of voters, Democrats next and Republicans dead last. Every major office is held by the Democrats, who also control both houses of the General Assembly. How did this happen in what used to be a swing state … a state labeled The Land of Steady Habits?
The answer to that question lies in a history of events — decades in the making — during which, step by step, moderate and practical thought was exiled from the Republican Party. Very much as the national party has become home to the religious right and rural South, so Connecticut Republicans belong to the far right and the Republican National Committee, itself an irrelevancy.
The damaging shift within the Connecticut Republican Party was crystallized by the hundreds of people — a true cross-section of the state — who attended the funeral of Tom D'Amore at St. Joseph Church in Winsted last week. They came to honor a man whose life was committed to making politics and government work in the best sense of such activity. My thoughts are a way of saying "thank you" to Tom in ways he would understand, and of saying "get with it" to the Republicans of Connecticut in a way that challenges their relevancy and electability.
Republicans in Connecticut have not and will not address the demographics of our state. We are a state comprising large numbers of blacks, Latinos, gays, laborers, women and urban poor. And yet, the one word that best describes any initiative dedicated toward these groups by Republicans is, "No!"
Exclusivity and philosophical purity is what rallies Republicans. Most political parties strive to be inclusive.
Tom and I were booted from the GOP in 1988 when I lost my Senate election. One incident from that time illustrates my point. Realizing the growth of nonpartisanship in Connecticut, Tom, as chairman, and I as the titular head of the Republican Party, passed a rule allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in Republican primaries. The theory being that if they voted for Republicans in a primary, they would stick with them in the general election.
The Democrats quickly recognized the threat this posed to their candidates and so litigated us all the way to the Supreme Court, where the right to freedom of association was upheld by a 5-4 vote. Immediately after my defeat and Tom being canned, the Republicans, led by John Rowland, voted the new rule out. I ask, how would you like to have the independent numbers participating in Republican decisions now?
As an independent, I have no dog in the Democrat/Republican fight. But, I do know that one-party rule does not work in government any more than monopolies work in business. Inevitably, the public gets screwed.
Except as they have no opponents, the Democrats are not the problem. The Republican Party, however, needs a total makeover. Get the William F. Buckley/Tom Scott conservatives out. Get the tea party out. Get the Washington, D.C., National Committee crowd out. Start with a clean slate reaching out to more than just white, wealthy, suburban males. Just counting on recognizable heads won't hack it. It's what's in their heads that counts.
I remember chatting with Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, one day in the Senate cloakroom as he commented on a photograph in The Washington Post of my friend Sen. Bill Proxmire, D-Wisconsin, with his new hair transplant. In Barry's conservative words, "I don't mind what's on his head. I worry about what's in it!" Well, so do I when it comes to the Republican hierarchy in Connecticut.
Connecticut Republicans already have a plethora of potential candidates. Good names all. But their rhetoric sounds eerily similar to statements made in recent elections lost. Welcoming the aforementioned groups of minorities, gays, women, unions and urban poor to Republican deliberations, candidacies and leadership is the path to electoral success after years of exclusivity and defeat. Change won't occur overnight, but the possibilities of victory will be endless since the dialogue becomes limitless. Then, the real winner will be our state.
Lowell Weicker Jr. was governor of Connecticut from 1991 to 1995 and a U.S. senator from 1971 to 1988.