Legalize marijuana, keep abortion legal, preserve arbitration with unions, and offer voters alternatives to white males in power, said ...
... a Republican candidate for state office.
And don’t forget cities. And nonwhite votes.
Sometimes you may even have to raise taxes.
The Republican delivering that message is Erin Stewart, who’s challenging the party-endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor in an Aug. 14 primary.
In the process, she’s challenging the idea of what it should mean to be a Republican.
Connecticut’s Grand Old Party, Stewart argued in an interview of WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven,” needs to start reaching moderates, urban voters, and millennials like herself.
“It’s time for a change,” argued Stewart, who at 31 is in her fifth year serving as mayor of New Britain, where she attracts support from Democrats, Latino voters, and independents in addition to her Republican base.
As of June 6, Connecticut had 446,315 registered Republicans — compared to 759,124 Democrats and 856,775 unaffiliated voters. Republicans need to win voters in the big middle to win statewide, Stewart argued.
“Where we live in Connecticut is a very different place than the rest of the country,” where Republican candidates have been moving fast to the right.
She portrayed herself as what you might call a reality-based Republican, wrestling with illegal gun sales and balancing a strained urban budget. “I represent a world,” Stewart remarked, “that oftentimes Republicans don’t see.”
The state Republican Party, meanwhile, endorsed Joe Markley, a conservative Republican state senator, for the lieutenant governor position at a May convention. All five Republicans running in a gubernatorial primary are, like Markley, white men.
Stewart’s run mirrors that of another 31-year-old woman challenging an establishment-backed candidate in an Aug. 14 primary: Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, who’s running the Democratic lieutenant governor’s nomination. Both Zimmerman and Stewart argue that their party tickets need age and gender diversity. Both their parties will end up with baby boomer males running for governor. (Both millennials also appear to have more active social-media followings, at least based on how quickly their appearances on WNHH reached 1,000 views and drew comments compared to older candidates’ appearances.)
So far Stewart’s endorsements have come from moderate Republicans like former Gov. Jodi Rell and former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, in whose Congressional office Stewart got her start in politics.
Stewart has struggled to convince the party’s base. Her run was hobbled from the start by a late entrance. She initially mounted a run for governor. She failed to win significant enough delegates for a viable run, so she switched — again, late in the game— to a lieutenant governor run, on the day of the Republican state nominating convention.
She qualified for a primary, but Markley had already sewn up majority support to win the convention’s endorsement. Now Stewart is struggling, with limited success, to raise enough money to qualify for public financing. She has raised a mere $44,355 as of June 30; Markley has already received his $406,000 state public-financing grant. The campaign of a third Republican primary candidate, Darien First Selectwoman Jayme Stevenson, says it has raised the $75,000. (Click here to read Christine Stuart’s story about that.)
But, win or lose, Stewart is pressing an important debate in both Democratic and Republican primaries across the nation this primary season: Over what the parties stand for. And what kind of backgrounds best qualify people to serve in elected office.
Mars & Venus
You can’t find two better representatives of the two sides of the Republican Party debate.
“If we want to change the perception the Republican Party is going to put forward to the state of Connecticut, we can’t have two older men on the ticket,” Stewart argued. She stood by previous quotations where she referred to them both as “white men.”
In a subsequent interview with the Independent, Markley branded that comment as “identity politics.”
“The notion that only women can talk to women and only Hispanics can talk to Hispanics is incorrect,” said Markley (who writes periodic arts articles for the Independent). “And I think it’s also wrong-headed. In the party of Abraham Lincoln, of all places, we should be learning and preaching the need to look at each other as human beings and judging each other, as another great man said, by the content of our character. This kind of identity politics is an endless path once you start to go down it.
“If Erin Stewart says I shouldn’t be on the ticket because I’m a white man, someone else would be entitled to tell her, ‘You shouldn’t be on the ticket because you’re a white woman.’”
Rather than move toward the center, the Republican Party should move toward clarity about its core principles, Markley argued. He noted that he won his seat in the State Senate district formerly occupied by liberal Democrat Chris Murphy (who’s now a U.S. senator). He said he did that “making a good case for the philosophy I represent” and connecting with voters.
Stewart and Markley both oppose sanctuary city policies. They disagree on other issues.
Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, for instance. She’s for it. Our neighbors have done it already, and it’s time, she argued. Markley said he, for now, opposes it and wants to see first how legalization plays out elsewhere.
Abortion: She’s pro-choice. He’s pro-life.
And binding arbitration for state worker contracts: Markley echoes many Republicans’ calls for abolishing it because it has helped produce unaffordable contracts. Stewart, whose great-uncle Dominic Badolato ran AFSCME Council 4, said she’d preserve binding arbitration because it puts pressure on both sides to work hard to negotiate fair deals. She did say she’d alter how arbitrators are chosen by changing the roster more often.
“When you pick the same people year after year you know how they are going to rule. You can predict it,” she said. She said she has been able to turn around a deficit and produce a surplus in New Britain in part by negotiating changes in health plans with municipal unions. (She also raised taxes, which in itself placed a target on her back for many conservative party members.)
While she prefers not to emphasize social issues, Stewart said, she feels comfortable expressing her pro-choice position as a Republican: “I don’t believe in big government. The government should not be telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my body. I’m sorry. I believe in smaller government. I don’t’ want the government hovering over me. Let me live my life.”
“I sometimes find myself questioning whether I align with everything. But I never doubt my Republican values. Small government. Keeping government spending under control. Giving people a hand up, not a handout,” Stewart said in the interview.
CEOs vs. Elected Officials
Stewart challenged another popular Republican idea in this year’s elections: That “outsider” business leaders know better than “professional politicians” how to run government. In fact, it’s no longer just a Republican idea: In the gubernatorial race, the leading Democratic candidate, Ned Lamont; the leading third-party candidate, Oz Griebel; and three of the five Republican candidates are all business people who have never held meaningful elected office and are brandishing their business chops as credentials for the job.
Running the government is different from running a business, Stewart argued.
“When you’re a businessman, you tell people what to do all day long. When you are a mayor or a chief executive, you have to build coalitions to convince people that your idea and the way you’re going about things is the best. You have to get them to buy into that. It’s a very different dynamic, a different way of leading.”
That said, Stewart claimed she’d be happy to run on a ticket with whichever Republican wins the gubernatorial primary — and, if needed, add that government experience perspective to the ticket.
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for the full interview with lieutenant governor candidate Erin Stewart on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.
Click on the above audio file of the Facebook Live video below to hear an interview with Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Eva Bermudez Zimmerman. Click here to read a story about that interview.
Click on or download the above audio file or Facebook Live video below to hear a previous “Dateline New Haven” interview with Susan Bysiewicz on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here for a story about that interview. (Note: Bysiewicz was still running for governor then; she has since switched to run for lieutenant governor.