State Republicans Retreat To New Britain

The Republican State Central Committee, hit hard by losses in state House races last year, left Hartford for New Britain’s A.H. Harris Building in December in office space that is “twice as big as our current digs and provides us with some exciting new opportunities,” according to a GOP blog. The opportunities, say the Republicans, involve a facility big enough for in-house training classes “so that our candidates can improve their communication skills, learn about web-based tools…and engage in discussions on key policy questions with the smartest people we can find.”

In Scott Whipple’s recent Herald story on the Republicans’ move, State Chair Chris Healy explained:

“New Britain is really the heart of the state..Not just geographically. It’s emblematic of the kind of hard-working, family-oriented, community-involved city where we want to be…..The city has its own notable Republicans: Mayor [Tim] Stewart, Nancy Johnson and Tom Meskill. We didn’t need to be in the capital city, yet we wanted to stay in metro Hartford.”

Nonetheless New Britain seems an unlikely place for the state GOP to locate an office. There are 18,072 Democrats here (12/31/2008) compared to about 3,699 Republicans — part of the surge that favored Democrats everywhere in 2008. When unaffiliateds (11,749) are counted, Republicans account for little more than 11 percent of the electorate. Republicans would counter that they hold the Mayor’s office with incumbent Tim Stewart, who rode into office when residents were hit with 40% revaluation hikes a few years ago. Stewart certainly didn’t get elected because he is a Republican; the electorate in a divided government mood voted the incumbent out for ignoring assessment hikes in a property tax system that state Republicans, by and large, want to maintain. Two years ago, however, Stewart’s expected coattails didn’t materialize as the GOP lost ground on the Common Council. His state party’s presence is also a double-edged sword for the Mayor. The only party affiliation you’ll find on his lawn signs is “Democrat” (as in “Democrats for Stewart”). The same could be said for former Congresswoman and New Britain resident Nancy Johnson who finally lost in 2006 when her Republican antics and actions in Washington finally outpaced her moderate, bi-partisan tone back home, complete with the “Democrats for Johnson” lawn signs all over town in her recent elections.

The often acerbic and confrontational Healy appears to be borrowing a page from the national strategy of former Democratic National Chair Howard Dean whose 50-state strategy is credited with turning red states to blue in the Presidential and congressional races last year. He says his party’s candidates need to get support from all parts of the state, not just Fairfield County where even the last of the GOP members of Congress in New England, Chris Shays, lost last year.

Healy’s challenges, however, run much deeper than finding and training candidates to run for office. In the Herald story, he unwittingly lets us in on the problem with the Republican brand:

“I’m not worried. We have plenty of talented people who want to run. We’ve got Republican mayors in Danbury, Middletown and New Britain with ability and passion. Democrats will always have people who want to make a career out of politics. A lot of Republicans come from the real world; they’re not interested in government.”

They’re not interested in government. That statement provides as good an explanation as any of the mounting foreign and domestic troubles of the country with Republicans in charge of the White House and Congress over these last eight years. You might say Bush and the Republicans “weren’t interested in government working effectively,” leading to the train wrecks left to the Obama administration to solve now.

And in New Britain, Healy couldn’t be thinking of his Mayor, Tim Stewart, with his lifelong career in government in the Fire Department. Nor his local party chair, Paul Carver, who left the private sector years ago to take a Rowland patronage appointment to the DPUC. Actions speak louder than words, and phony arguments that always tear down the public sector can’t help our current difficulties when public and private solutions are needed for the recovery. Whatever happened to that well-known Republican Abraham Lincoln who famously said the role of government is “to do for the people what they can’t do for themselves.”

Healy’s mantra and that of many of his Republican brethren remains that the individual is more important than the community; that private interest and gain should always trump the public interest even in these dire economic times. Witness the incredible display of selfishness by Republican House members last week in Washington: not one GOPer voted for a federal stimulus and reinvestment package that would reach down and provide some measure of relief to local governments, schools and the unemployed. Better to fork over more tax breaks to the wealthy and continue Wall Street welfare; promise that all of the government largesse will eventually trickle down to the rest of us living in Hooverville.

The acerbic Healy knows that that message will never sell in New Britain. He must know that a conservative Republicanism serving the interests of corporate giants over Main Street and small business is morally and politically bankrupt. The only thing left to do is to keep tearing down Democrats without offering much in the way of solutions or programs in return. In his new New Britain digs, Healy joins kindred spirits with the likes of Mayor Stewart, Ald. Lou Salvio and Chairman Paul Carver who could write a book on petty politics. Instead of reaching out to govern on a bipartisan basis between elections, their tactics frequently involve personal attacks, using official complaint processes for partisan ends and losing one Freedom of Information case after another to keep public information from Democrats and everyone else.

Let the battle for the hearts and votes of New Britain voters begin in 2009. Meanwhile, New Britain Democrats welcome the state Republican office to New Britain.

And kudos to State Party Chair Chris Healy for demonstrating that New Britain is not a bad place to re-locate a business or a group seeking to rebound from a disaster.

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