OP-ED | Governor Griebel: Visions of Weicker Dancing In His Head?
The world is full of dreamers. And that’s a good thing. Dreamers make the impossible possible. In the words of Robert F. Kennedy, non-dreamers say “why,” but “I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
And of course there is the modern incarnation of the word, the so-called “DREAMers”—the 800,000 or so young migrants caught in legal limbo by the machinations of President Trump, Congress, and the immigration code.
Now it seems Connecticut has its owner dreamer in the form of a 68-year-old wise man who until recently ran the regional chamber of commerce and now wants to mount an independent campaign for governor. Oz Griebel, the éminence grise of the state’s business community, made it official earlier this month when he announced his candidacy in a news conference at the Capitol.
As if to emphasize the unconventional nature of his candidacy, Griebel, who failed in a bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010, stepped up to the microphone with his running mate, erstwhile Democrat Monte Frank of Newtown, a municipal attorney and a litigator at one of the largest law firms in the state — and past president of both the Connecticut and the New England bar associations.
Of particular interest to Second Amendment aficionados and the more radical taking-away-our-guns conspiracy nuts, Frank has also been active in his town’s recovery from the Sandy Hook massacre and is the legal adviser to the Newtown Action Alliance, which has advocated for stronger gun control in the aftermath of the worst school shooting in U.S. history. This has made Frank the object of scurrilous attacks from the paranoid basket of deplorables otherwise known as the Sandy Hook hoaxers. Frank officially has my sympathies. Now I want to vote for the poor guy just to spite those vile bloodbath deniers.
Griebel has solid business creds, having been the boss for 16 years of the MetroHartford Alliance, which represents more than 1,000 businesses, municipalities and organizations — or as the alliance calls them, “investors.” In addition, before taking over the alliance, Griebel managed the Connecticut operations of BankBoston.
And you can be sure that Griebel has cultivated and built relationships not only with members of the business community but with key power brokers in the Capitol and across the state. That would give him a leg up over other outsider types who think they can walk into the legislative office building and tell everyone what to do, as they often did while running the show in the business world, and as “outsider” Tom Foley tried to do not long ago.
Griebel and Frank will have obvious appeal among those who, like me, cannot bring themselves to identify with either party. In announcing his candidacy, Griebel said, “We’re going to make history.” That would be true only in the sense that he would be the first independent candidate elected U.S. senator or governor in Connecticut who has never run successfully for statewide office before.
Some have questioned whether Griebel would have the wherewithal to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. But getting 7,500 eligible voters to sign a petition isn’t a monumentally difficult task if you’re well organized and have a core group of dedicated supporters.
I know. Jonathan Pelto, who tried and failed to petition on as a gubernatorial candidate in 2014, described the process as “Herculean.” But by his own admission, Pelto and his team suffered from “organizational” problems and simply “dropped the ball.”
Don’t bet on that happening to the managerially savvy Griebel. He and Frank are also eschewing the state’s public financing program and so will not have to clear any early bureaucratic hurdles to qualify for taxpayer funding.
The real question isn’t whether Griebel can qualify to be on the ballot and raise enough money to mount a credible campaign; it’s whether he can actually win. There the deck is stacked against him. I think he would be a capable governor who would be pro-business, while still maintaining a healthy skepticism of that community, controlling the costs of the post-employment benefits for retired state employees and maintaining essential services for Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents.
“I think the climate right now in Connecticut is such that a really attractive independent candidate who has solutions to our state’s economic woes and our finances ... could actually pull a lot of votes,” Gary Rose, a longtime professor of political science at Sacred Heart University, told The Courant.
But unless you’re a larger-than-life figure like Lowell Weicker or Joe Lieberman, it’s mighty tough to make a go of it as an independent candidate for governor. Americans in general — and Connecticut voters in particular — talk a good game about electing outsider independents but when push comes to shove, we mostly retreat to our little partisan corners.
That’s too bad because so far I haven’t been terribly impressed with any of the dozen or so announced or presumed candidates from the two parties.
I agree that Griebel is an attractive candidate on a bipartisan ticket who might be able to thread the needle of creating an atmosphere that says Connecticut is open for business, while maintaining the left-of-center progressive values our voters seem to crave. Our neighbors in Massachusetts have managed to do just that. Is it really out of the question that we can, too? Or am I just another dreamer?
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
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