An Unconventional Convention
HARTFORD, CT — The outcome was preordained. There were no delegate counts, only an open bar, appetizers, and music from the Sugar Free Trio.
There were nominating speeches, but there were no floor fights at the Richard Nelson ‘Oz’ Griebel and Monte Frank convention.
Griebel, who recently retired from the MetroHartford Alliance, and Frank, an attorney from Newtown, gathered a group of supporters together at Infinity Music Hall for a mock convention to garner some buzz for their gubernatorial campaign.
Griebel, a former life-long Republican, and Frank, a former life-long Democrat, won’t even be an option for voters until November.
So far the campaign has drawn over 200 volunteers who have collected signatures from over 9,000 voters on petitions to qualify for the November general election ballot. The campaign is aiming for between 10,000 and 11,000 to have a safe margin once town clerks check all the signatures against voting rolls; Griebel needs 7,500 verified signatures to make the ballot.
There were nominating discussions, a panel discussion, and acceptance speeches.
The campaign sought to highlight the diversity of their base and their desire to include everyone regardless of party, gender, race, or religion.
The convention featured speeches from individuals who have known Frank and Griebel.
“He is not a politician. We don’t need any more politicians,” Pastor Sam Saylor said, describing Frank. “He’s a peopletician.”
Saylor and Frank met at a Mothers United Against Violence rally in Hartford. He said they’ve bonded over stopping the proliferation of firearms.
Saylor said that when he lost his son in 2012 he didn’t think anyone outside his community could understand it, but Frank did. Saylor said he reached out and continued to stay in touch after that rally.
“In this house everyone is welcome,” Frank said. “In this house, the people we will serve have come together to say enough is enough. We are tired of the gridlock in Hartford. We are tired of political bickering and we are tired of politicians putting party over people.”
He said “it’s time to restore Connecticut to its glory days.”
Frank used some of his 15-minute acceptance speech to set expectations for the unusual ticket.
“To my Democratic friends who tell me that they vote Democrat because of social programs, I say if we continue down this economic path, many of the programs won’t survive,’’ Frank said. “To my Republican friends who think were going to solve our fiscal problems by eliminating the income tax or breaking union contracts, I’m not buying that used car and you shouldn’t either.”
Griebel, who ran and lost in a three-way Republican primary for governor in 2010, joked that next time he’s going to put himself at the start of the speaking program and not the end.
He welcomed the crowd to the “radical middle.” He said “we’re committed to lead Connecticut not left or right but forward.”
Griebel said the middle “demands comprehensive and structural change.”
He said the first of five themes of the campaign will be “igniting private sector growth.”
Unlike some of the other candidates who have a “doom and gloom” outlook about Connecticut, Griebel said “attitude matters.”
“If you believe we’re headed in the right direction then you can tolerate some changes that will need to be made along the way,” he said.
He said the state should have an aspirational goal of 200,000 more jobs in Connecticut by 2029. That’s more than the state lost during the 2008 Great Recession and has slowly recovered over the past 10 years.
He said the state needs to do a better job promoting the fact that it’s between Boston and New York and has lower commercial real estate costs than either of those metropolitan areas.
“This is a great state,” Griebel said.
He said employers need to be engaged in the political process in order to accomplish the kind of change he wants to create.
Griebel said the second theme will focus on transportation. He said they will also advocate for passage of the constitutional lockbox that will also be on the ballot in November.
He suggested they put an electronic toll gantry in a high occupancy vehicle lane to see how it works, “instead of just bitching about it one way or the other.” Griebel, who supported the Hartford-New Britain busway that most Republicans call a boondoggle, said they will look to see if they can open it to private carriers to see if they can leverage that investment.
“We have to think outside the proverbial box,” Griebel said.
He said they also have to bring people into the big tent and make sure they are getting the best ideas.
The third, fourth, and fifth theme involved urban reinvestment, regional government, and unfunded pension liabilities.
Griebel suggested that they look at the CT Lottery and possibly securitizing state property to shore up the pension funds. He said he doesn’t want to pit generations against each other, but at the moment the state is on the verge of pitting 3-year-olds against pensioners.
As unique as Griebel and Frank are in Connecticut, they’re not necessarily unique nationwide.
Cathy Stewart of IndependentVoting.org said Connecticut is poised for an independent, unaffiliated ticket like Griebel and Frank. She said 43 percent of the country no longer identify as Democrats or Republicans.
Connecticut has elected an independent to the governor’s office in the past. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and Eunice Groark were elected in 1990 on the A Connecticut Party ticket.
Running as good government candidates, not unlike Griebel and Frank, they were able to build a coalition of liberal Republicans, moderate Democrats, and independent voters to win.