OP-ED | Sleepy Summer Primaries in Connecticut Test Voter Resolve
Posted to: Analysis, Election 2016, Election Policy, Local Politics, Opinion, Bridgeport, Bristol, Hamden, Litchfield, New London, Stamford, West Haven, Winsted
I bet you didn’t know primary season is sneaking up on us. Sure, we had a presidential primary season back in April, but that had passionate public interest, media attention, and huge turnout. The upcoming primaries, scheduled for the hot and drowsy depths of August, will be the opposite of that.
Still, it’s worth looking at who’s running and what’s happening, because the past year has been anything but a normal one for the major parties.
Two Democratic candidates who were inspired by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” will be on the ballot in August, vying for state House seats in Bristol and Hamden. Student Christy Matthews, 21, lost the Bristol Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement but had enough signatures to petition her way onto the ballot against Laura Bartok, a former staffer at the Capitol.
When you endorse @BernieSanders but you're just a tiny little down ballot candidate who Bernie will never throw support to. 😭— Christy Matthews (@ElectMatthews) May 30, 2016
The potentially more interesting race is in Hamden, where Josh Elliott, 31, had originally planned to challenge House Speaker Brendan Sharkey in the 88th district. But Sharkey decided to retire from politics, so now Elliott is in a primary with endorsed candidate James Pascarella for the chance to win an open seat.
Both races are a formidable test for the fledgling network of progressives Sen. Sanders built up over the primary season. August primaries, especially when there’s no high-profile races on the ballot, don’t generate much excitement.
There are a few other races worth watching. One of them is for a primary race that might not even happen, thanks to the way things always seem to go down in Bridgeport.
Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-Bridgeport, lost the town committee’s endorsement back in May but received the necessary 15 percent of the vote to qualify for a primary without needing to gather signatures. One problem: the chairman of the Democratic convention, who supported Gomes’ opponent Dennis Bradley, claimed at a hearing last week that he was unaware of any form he needed to file in order to let the Secretary of the State’s office know Gomes should be on the ballot.
Gomes is asking a judge to put him on the primary ballot for August, and we’ll know whether he succeeded fairly soon. It seems fairly straightforward to me, but it’s Bridgeport, so you never know.
Bridgeport actually has three other primaries happening: City Council president Tom McCarthy won the town committee’s endorsement over incumbent Sen. Marilyn Moore, but Moore had enough votes to qualify for a primary. Her form, it turns out, was completed and sent in.
On the House side, school board member and activist Maria Pereira is challenging incumbent Rep. Charlie Stallworth, while Rep. Andre Baker is facing a primary from Charlie Coviello, who was a mayoral candidate in 2015.
These Bridgeport races are less about high-minded national political ideals or anger at incumbents, and much more about the enduring dysfunction of Bridgeport’s political family. As for the voters, they proved last year that they can surprise us.
Let’s see, what else? In New London, longtime incumbent Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, is being challenged by nonprofit founder Chris Soto; in West Haven, Rep. Louis Esposito, D-West Haven, will challenge endorsed candidate Michael DiMassa; and in Stamford a three-way primary is shaping up between Rep. Terry Adams, D-Stamford, activist David Michel, and attorney Daniel D. Dauplaise.
In New Britain, school boar chair Sharon Beloin-Saavedra is challenging Sen. Terry Gerrantana, but the more interesting race is for Democratic registrar of voters: former mayor Lucien Pawlak is in a primary for that position.
Believe it or not, Republicans have primaries, too. Rep. Jay M. Case, R-Winsted, is being challenged by “tax critic” David G. LaPointe. And out in Litchfield, Town Treasurer David T. Wilson and Bethlehem’s registrar of voters Melissa Russell will face off for the right to challenge Democrat Gayle Carr for an open seat being vacated by Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield.
This may sound like a lot of action, but really, it isn’t. The vast majority of seats in the legislature aren’t seeing primaries this year, and, in fact, quite a few of them have incumbents who won’t have any opponent at all in August or November.
That alone suggests that if there’s a big anti-incumbent wave out there, we won’t see much evidence of it in the primaries. Turnout will reflect this — in 2008, the last time there was a state-level primary with no high-profile races, turnout was a blistering 13.9 percent.
Maybe August isn’t such a great time for an election.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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