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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Great Connecticut Republican Chairman Race

Over the last month, I've heard whispers of the names of several would-be candidates who are seeking election to become Connecticut's next GOP Chairman.  Regardless of who you support, or who gets the job, its going to be daunting task to get this run-away train back on track.  Perhaps run-away train is a poor analogy because it gives the visual impression of one bulky steam engine derailed on its side, perhaps I should use the visual of a fire-breathing seven-headed dragon unwilling to get back in its cage. Whoever takes the job is going to have to deal with a severely fractured Party; not just discontent - but seething with anger and bitterness.  Before Connecticut Republicans can strategize to conquer their mortal foes - the Democrats, they'll need to make a degree of peace within the camp so they can forge a working coalition from which to advance their goals.

The next GOP Chairman is going to have a
 rough time taming this dragon
It's worth taking a look at the field of candidates from which we (or namely our elected representatives to State Central) have to choose from.  Most of these individuals know they are in the running although many would deny it even if pressed by their own Grandmother to admit as much. And I've thrown in a wildcard or two just to make things interesting.  I'm going to try to be as fair as possible, listing the positives and negatives of each individual, and also provide basic information on their accomplishments and background where available.  As entertaining as some of you mind find this - its not my goal to rip everyone in the field and propose my own uber-candidate who will save us from our current fatalistic course of doom.  So without further ado... let's go!  The treasure hunt for a new Chairman is on!

Doug Hageman: Truly an
Authentic  Connecticut
Doug Hageman
To his credit, while other alleged candidates have taken a cowardly wait and see what Healy does approach, Mr. Hageman is the only candidate who's had the courage to stand up and openly criticize the current chairman, and challenge him for his seat.  Hageman hails from Southington, is married, and has served on his RTC for 30 years; State Central for 8 years. Its likely that Hageman has the most institutional knowledge than anyone else in the field. He's also been involved in local and state campaigns since 1975.

Interestingly enough, Hageman, who is pro-choice, has secured the public support of pro-life Moralist Peter Wolfgang. Wolfgang wrote that if Hageman is elected, "[Social Conservatives would have a place at the table -- perhaps bigger than at any point in my adult life .]"  Hageman is not necessarily conservative on social issues but hasn't shown a bias against conservative members of the Party, and has in fact, already forged working alliances with Neocons, Tea-Partiers, Moderates and Conservatives from different parts of the state.  Don't let age be a detractor, this guy has a reputation for helping any candidates near and far with campaign counsel, and marketing.
The Pros: 25+ years of hands-on campaign experience, Professional lifetime dedicated to sales and marketing; Liked and admired across Connecticut; Effective; Qualified; Pragmatic; Recognizes the key to winning a GOP majority lies with reaching out to minorities who've typically not been part of Connecticut's GOP voter strategy
The Cons: Has declared he will not be the media face of the Party, and would prefer to give younger talent face time on television; Considered by some to ramble, and talk too much; Linked as an advocate for big tobacco, a position largely unpopular with younger Republicans
Tagline: "Republican Leadership needs to listen and work on behalf of Republicans, not the other way around."

Martha Dean: Heroine of
both the Conservative
 & Grassroots Movements
Martha Dean
Widely popular and considered a natural and charismatic leader within both Conservative and grassroots circles, Ms. Dean would be an ideal candidate to mend a severely shattered Republican Party.  Her experience as a successful lawyer, prosecutor, and campaigner makes her well-equipped for the task. Dean is a strict Constructionist, and a proponent of Second Amendment.  Ms. Dean had a few unsuccessful runs at the Attorney General position, but is still considered one of the most knowledgeable attorneys by friends and foes, alike.  Ms. Dean lives in Avon, has a son and is married to husband Malcolm who often accompanies her at campaign events.  Martha is the real deal - unselfish and supportive of most conservatives who need guidance or a hand.  Of all, the proposed candidates, Ms. Dean is probably least likely to seek the Chairmanship.
The Pros: Intelligent, natural-orator, well-organized, natural leader, high energy, campaign experience; Legal guru
The Cons:  A lightning rod for the relentless left - her chairmanship could could serve as a distraction to Party goals; May not have patience for moderates; Can shoot laser beams with her eyes
Tagline: "Never surrender, Never give up."

Art Scialabba
Art Scialabba:
Fairfield County's finest?
Reported to have held the office of Chairman of the Norwalk Republican Party since 2002, Scialabba would be a huge gamble for a Connecticut GOP which needs a leader with wide-ranging experience who can balance the demands of a ragtag group of teapartiers, and caviar-sucking constituency that he usually caters to.  This guy is said to have a big heart; he serves on the Board of Directors of the Keystone House, a group dedicated to providing services for people with disabilities.  Scialabba's success is limited to Norwalk - which is barely contestable as a long time Republican stronghold. 
The Pros:  Non-Entity beyond Fairfield County who comes without baggage; seems like a nice guy
The Cons:  Non-Entity beyond Fairfield County who no-one knows and no-one trusts.  Complexity of understanding needs of districts that are typically not-Republican; Huge learning curve due to lack of experience managing large organizations and campaigns 
Tagline: "Be informed, Get involved."

Christopher Healy: we pray
he's seen the light

Christopher Healy
Well, given the history of this blog, you probably didn't really expect to see an endorsement of Chairman Chris here, did you?  Bottom line is after years of steady decline, and a dismal performance by Connecticut Republicans last year in the face of the greatest gain for National Republicans in history, its time for Chairman Healy to move on.  There comes a point in every leader's tenure where his ego eclipses his value.  Everyone I talk with say its time for him to go.  Deep down I would expect that if he wanted to, Healy could probably strke a deal amongst his long-time friends, and force a contest where he could wind up squeezing enough votes to stay on.  But the end result would be tragic for CTGOP as it would likely cause a permanent schism within the Party. Leaving Healy in place would be counter-productive to GOP goals.  The trouble and disunity would triple not subside given the resolve of his numerous enemies - a list that seems to grow every day.
The Pros:  Capable Fundraiser, In previous years brought management and organization to the Party; Probably votes Republican
The Cons: Vision-less, Endless losing record, Corruption, Rigged convention, Legacy of a deeply divided Party, troubles with the RNC, Reputation as someone who breaks his word
Tagline: "The Tea Party people are a bunch of crazy lunatics."

Al Alper
Al Alper: Wiltonian Today
Future GOP Political
Director Tomorrow
Little is known of Al Alper other than he is the current Chairman of the Wilton Republican Party.  One of his claims to fame is his decision  to remove a 10-year incumbent serving as Wilton's Republican Registrar of Voters; Alper sought a more competent official who would best serve Wilton's constituency.  Most RTC Chairs would have allowed the Registrar to just about pass away in office; Alper's willingness to challenge the status quo works to his credit.  Alper appears to have a record of engaging new talent and welcoming those seeking political change within the Party.  He may not be yet ready for the Chairmanship of the Republican GOP, but I challenge everyone to give him a listen via his town website.  If you're anything like me - you'll love this guy. I could watch him all day long. Give this guy a sword and shield and let him take the Mountain.  God help any invading army with designs on Wilton!
The Pros: Capable of making change, taking on establishment Republicans with tenure; takes the jobs seriously
The Cons:  An unknown entity for now.  Give him time.
Tagline: "I'm Al Alper, and I want to hear from you."

Catherine Marx:
Nice lady but also
known as Healy's lackey
Catherine Marx
Ms. Marx, the current Vice Chair of the CT GOP, would seek the Chairmanship.  So say the many State Central delegates who say Catherine is "burning up the phone lines" trying to build support. The problem with her ascendancy is that she is unproven as a leader, and spent most her time taking orders from Chris Healy - never bucking the broken system, or its corrupt activities.  It's understandable that she wouldn't have undermined the sitting Chairman who brought her in and served as her mentor - but take it for what's its worth.  It's too bad because even if Catherine was capable, she is tagged as Healy's lackey - never wavering, never standing tall when things went awry.  Also, good luck finding articles or stories that show her making a mark of her own; She's like a mystery woman who appeared out of thin air. Ms. Marx ran a tough campaign against State Senator Edith Prague in Connecticut's 19th District back several years ago - and lost.  It's hard to trust Ms. Marx - perhaps she'll get another shot.  But not today.  Healy's critics don't want to see her coming either.
The Pros:  Attractive, Nice lady;  Ran against Edith Prague; Has potential
The Cons:  Served as Vice Chair while the Connecticut GOP burned; Was a silent witness to Healy's antics that lead to faction-ville, and a mess that someone will be left to clean up
Tagline:  "Wasn't me. I'm not Chris Healy" Whoops!

Jim Campbell
Jim Campbell: His GOP would
be serving tar-tar and Grey Poupon
(in Greenwich, of course)
Ascended to Chairman of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee a year ago, Campbell's name is being floated by those dwelling in Fairfield County.  Campbell is a successful Real Estate Agent and Developer employed by Southport-headquartered Summit Development. Campbell previously served on State Central for two years, and unlike many of his would-be opponents has actually been elected to office serving on the Greenwich's Board of Estimate and Taxation for two terms.  Campbell appears to be very closely tied with Linda McMahon which may be why Campbell's name is being floated as his successor if there is any truth to the rumor that Healy plans to quit the Chairmanship and work for Linda full-time as her Campaign Manager in the 2012 Senate Race.  Not mentioned previously, there is some political jockeying going between those in Fairfield County who wish to see Republican State Headquarters moved to Fairfield County, leaving only a satellite office in New Britain from which to conduct meetings and give the impression of centralization.  Some credit Campbell with this idea.  This goes to the ongoing argument by those in Fairfield County who see the CT GOP as funded, bought and paid for by their donations, and see the rest of Connecticut as six county slum.
The Pros: Elected to Office; State Central experience; Successful Businessman; Connected with donors and politicians
The Cons: Wealthy elitist from Greenwich; Would move to relocate GOP base of Operations to Fairfield; May have a hard time understanding what language Republicans in the First, Second, and Fifth districts are speaking; Tea Party need not apply; Wouldn't be a full time Chairman
Tagline: "If we build it in Fairfield County, maybe the peasants from the other Counties will just go away."

Tom Scott: Opportunist
Can the GOP trust him? Nah!
Tom Scott
Served as Connecticut's youngest State Senator who crusaded on behalf of Conservative causes during his multi-term tenure.  He also ran a tough campaign nearly edging out Rosa DeLauro in 1990 winning 49% of the vote; later hundreds of discrepancies were identified but ignored by Democrats and their operatives.  Scott took to the airwaves on local radio stations such as WPOP, waging war against the state income tax.  Getting ahead of himself, Scott ran for Governor under the banner of the Independent Party which nearly cost Republicans the Governorship.  After splitting with the Party, Scott's appeal within the GOP waned; he was deemed untrustworthy by Connecticut Republicans, and he disappeared from sight. 

Those who have worked with Scott see him as extremely arrogant and difficult to work with, often taking credit for the work of others and seeking any and every opportunity to advance his own station even at the cost of Party, friends, and candidates. Recently, sniffing out a great opportunity for self-promotion, Scott returned out of nowhere to manage Len Suzio's special election which Scott deserves some credit for delivering the win; although reports are that he did very little actual work while volunteers did the heavy lifting. Of course, Scott did all the talking.
The Pros:  Respectable 5-terms representing Milford in Connecticut's State Senate; Solid Conservative; Great Oratory; Excellent Organizational skills
The Cons:  Untrustworthy; Self-Promoting; Temperamental; Has as many enemies as friends; Anyone willing to bolt the GOP to run as an Independent against the GOP can't be trusted to lead it; Bad feelings left over from his Indie Days
Tagline: "Screw them. I'll run as an Independent. Who needs the Republicans."

Justin Clark: Needs to show a solid
record of winning campaigns before
making the leap to Chairman 
Justin Clark
Clark is a young upstart having begun his political career in West Hartford in 2006.  He served as Chairman of West Hartford's Republican Party long after the GOPs glory days of holding a winner majority (what West Hartfordites call Post-Bouvier) .  Clark is an attorney by trade (employed by Pepe and Hazard), and also served as a Campaign Manager for Tom Foley during the last election cycle.  In fact, State Central delegates have informed me that Tom Foley has been busy making calls, and calling in favors to find support for Clark's candidacy for State Chairman.  My own view is that Clark wouldn't make the ideal State Chairman since he has no intention of giving up his lucrative career as an attorney. He's also very busy raising a family. 

Moreover, Clark has never managed a winning campaign of any significance. Unfortunately, his campaign experience includes poor coordination of Tom Foley's effort to win key cities (if not outright ignore them) - a decision which ultimately led to Foley's defeat last November.  Clark would be better serve in some other political support role whereby he could benefit the Party with his experience, and also mentor with more seasoned veterans and perhaps one day take the Pary's reigns.  As I've mentioned with other possible candidates, its going to take a well-equipped manager to deal with the seven-headed dragon and bring the divided Party together - Justin Clark just isn't that guy - well, not yet.
The Pros:  Works hard; Liked; Respected; Legal background; Town Chairman experience; Potential leader for the future
The Cons:  Three straight loses; Would be a Part-time leader in a full time job; Needs solid, big-time wins under his belt; Got bested by two Republican Councilmen who switched from the Republican Party to the Democrat Party during his tenure. 
Tagline: "I'm NOT the safety candidate." (only he would get that one)

Sam Caligiuri
Sam Caligiuri: Doesn't
have the personality to put
up with a lot of  BS
Caligiuri is a well-respected State Senator serving Connecticut's 16th District which includes Eastern Waterbury, Chesire, Southington, and Wolcott.  Caligiuri is career attorney with the distinction of serving as Governor John Rowland's Deputy Counsel.  He went on to the private sector where he established a successful practice at Day Pitney Firm.  He remained very active in politics being elected to Waterbury's Board of Alderman.  His high point came  when the disgraced Mayor of Waterbury, Phillip Giordano was led away in handcuffs because of inappropriate relationship with a child. 

Caligiuri struck a deal wherein he would temporarily serve as Mayor to restore order and dignity to Waterbury City Hall. He worked with Republicans and Democrats to clean up Waterbury politics, and straighten out finances putting the City back on the right track.  True to his word, Caligiuri stepped down at the end of his term, leaving the Waterbury City Hall in the best shape that it had been in years.  Caliguiri is well-regarded by Republicans and Democrats.  Sam Caliguiri also ran against Chris Murphy in 2010 but lost after a series of snafus and miscalculations by he and his campaign staff.   That failures of that campaign can be attributed to both a poorly run campaign and a disorganized strategy by current State Chairman Chris Healy.

The only big criticism is that Caligiuri is a one-man show.  Word on the street is that he isn't interested in helping some other schmuck get elected.  That isn't a suitable attribute for a Chairman who is expected to serve as an available resource for upstart politicians.  The other point is that Caliguiri tends to return calls of those who will serve his best interest - and only his interest.  Not everyone would be expected to make an appointment to see him two weeks in advance.  It's just not that kind of job.
The Pros: Well-respected; Long service of political leadership in the State Senate; Works across Party lines to get things done
The Cons: Another guy from Waterbury; May not have the personality and patience for all the nonsense that goes along with the Job; Not going to give up an extremely lucrative career to run around the State recruiting candidates and begging for money; Not going to be hands on; Make hundreds of calls or deal with the lowbrow components of  Chairmanship.
Tagline: "I get $220 an hour, the clock is running."

Rob Simmons: An American
Patriot; might be suited
for a higher calling or
"Extra, Extra Read all about
it. Healy's a louse!"
Rob Simmons
Not a lot has been said by Rob Simmons since he disappeared from sight after being raked over the coals by Chris Healy's back-stabbing machine, and a rigged summer convention which 
installed Linda McMahon as the Republican Senatorial Nominee.  Simmons is respected by serviceman and most Republicans - particularly in the Second district on behalf of which, he served as their US Congressman for three terms.  I've written at length about Rob Simmons qualifications and background, but when it comes to placing him in the role as State Chairman - I'm not sure it would be a perfect fit.

For one, Simmons hasn't shown any real desire to fight for the position - or any position for that matter.  He seems to have had the wind taken out of him and doesn't have the stomach for a fight.  The next Chairman  is going to have to be out front and center coordinating and conducting strategy, raising funds, making hundreds of calls, traveling the state to meet with disgruntled constituencies; I have a hard time seeing Mr. Simmons wanting to take on such a gigantic problem that will require a lot of day-to-day tactical coordination for that matter.  On the other hand, if he had the right lieutenants helping him with these tasks, he could serve as the face of the Party.  To his credit, he did go on Face the State and call on Chris Healy to resign.  If he wanted to really run for Chairman, that would have been the time
The Pros:  Former US Congressman; Former experience in the State Department and CIA; Veteran; Well respected, and well-regarded; High Caliber individual; Negotiator
The Cons: Has been unfairly labeled as a liberal Republican; Not big on social issues;  Would have some issues working with Tea partiers; Outwitted, and outsmarted by Linda McMahon; Hired unprofessional, inept staff to manage his campaign
Tagline: "I'm in, I'm out, I'm in."

Joe Visconti: A natural leader,
a workhorse, a unifier, and an
activist - all rolled into one
Joseph Visconti
I'm sure the idea of a Joe Visconti chairmanship will raise a few eyebrows, but only a fool would rule out one of the most articulate and resourceful political leaders in recent times. Visconti is a wildcard in the mix because his name is being floated by a number of Republican sources who want to see a unified Party focused to achieve one goal - winning.  Visconti has a history of beating the odds; in West Hartford, he defeated the old-guard political machine by winning election to the Town Council (as a Republican) bipassing a corrupt selection process, and managing his own campaign.

In 2008, Visconti made a run for the First Congressional District seat against liberal John Larson.  While Visconti didn't win, he made Larson earn every vote in a District normally considered one of the safest Democrat-held seats in the Nation. 

Visconti lost the nomination bid at the 2010 State Convention (much to do with direct interference by Chris Healy who interjected himself in the contest, and others) but instead of taking his ball and going home, Visconti rallied Republicans, Independents, and even Democrats to support Nominee Ann Brickley.  This is one of many examples where Visconti is known to be a team player, placing the interests of others ahead of his own.  Unlike many politicos today, Visconti is the real deal - he actually cares about Country, Faith, and Family.  He already has a career, and a side career as an entertainment artist so he's not in it for the money.

Many say that Visconti is already serving as the shadow-chairman; recently he brought together mainstream Republicans, Tea Partiers, Faith-based leaders, moderates, and independents together to co-host Liberty Unplugged.  The event was attended by folks with diverse backgrounds such as Linda McMahon, Sen Joe Markely, Rob Simmons, Peter Wolfgang and many others.  150+ individuals gathered to raise funds for an April 15th Tax Rally in Hartford, and to form a working coalition to help defeat the Democrats and rebuild the Party.  Visconti is working to heal old wounds, and bring the Party back to its roots. With a leadership vaccum at the top, Visconti is doing what the current Chair and Vice-Chair should be doing to get things back on track.
The Pros: Liked and admired by friends, and foes; Unrelenting; Dedicated; Proven unifyer; Held elected office; Local, State, and Federal level Campaign Experience; May be the shot in the arm a demoralized Party needs
The Cons: Carrying the title and responsibility of Party Chairman could be an albatross around his neck; Visconti's effectiveness lies in his ability to operate outside of conventional methods; his effectiveness comes in part from his creativity, passion, and disregard for the rules; Unpredictable; Might scare off olddonors not accustomed to Visconti's incredible intensity
Tagline: "Rebuild, Move forward, Don't look back!"

My friends, that pretty much encompasses the Republican field as we know it.  Perhaps there are other candidates hiding in the bushes waiting to announce - who knows.  It's hard to have a favorite in the group, but at least for now there seems to be few willing to have the courage of their convictions to stand up and publicly declare candidacy.  Not delcaring isn't a sign of respect for the sitting Chairman as some suggest, in fact - I think its a sign of cowardice.  If you see something wrong, corrupt, immoral, or failed, you don't just sit there on your rear-end and wait to see how it all unfolds, or worse - wait around while others do your advance dirty work so you can jump in and declare yourself our Savior. 

Unfortunately, Republicans won't really get the chance to choose their next Chairman.  It's left to those who've politicked their way onto State Central.  This is very unfortunate because more often than note getting a post on State Central is a payoff for loyalty, or large donations.  In short, our best and brightest usually do not sit on State Central - which is propably part of the reason its so ineffective.  There's always hope that with enough new members, and challenges by good principled people, that things could change, and we could see a whole new roster of hard-working, 3 am-types, who will fight tooth and nail for wholesale change to Connecticut's GOP structure and move toward a winning strategy for the future.


Matthew said...

Doug Hageman said that he would entertain running for Chairman IF Rob Simmons opted not to. That gives me the impression that Simmons has signaled to Doug that he's not interested.

Whether that's the case or not, I think Doug Hageman has what it takes to bring the party's varied interests together to win. There are at least a couple seats in the legislature that would be Democratic if not for Doug Hageman's work. I'm not sure that any other candidate has the skill set - and the affability - of Doug. He's the man for the job.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record - wild horses couldn’t drag me into the race for Republican Chairman.

Good luck to all.

Tom Scott

Anonymous said...

Al Alper is not afraid to get his hands dirty - meaning, he willingly gets right in there and gets the job done. CTGOP needs someone who "looks" real, not someone parading around Bridgeport in a $10thousand dollar suit. Don't discount him.

The King said...

Thanks to the many of you who sent along emails and comments.

Let me make a couple of points of clarity, and a few comments.

First and foremost - despite suggestions from readers, I'm not going to publish comments about alleged personal indiscretions of any of the people running for GOP Chairman. Nor am I going to attack staffers, volunteers, or family members - you can get that kind on filth from the Hartford Courant (last year's disgraceful article on poor Martha Dean is a good example of going too far). I could write a book based on what I know, but let's stick to qualification and agenda.

Granted I do go as far as to discuss my thoughts on personality and work ethic based not just on what others say - but on my own personal experience with these individuals. If you've had 180 degree different experience - then that's fine, good for you.

There are quite a few newcomers who think they know someone after spending a few weeks working with them during a special election - while some of us have 15 years of history with the same individual. Some of you only see the surface, and that's all you may ever see.

For those whiners who get upset about seeing their darling criticized in writing - go ask to have your diaper changed. If you're willing to run for office, or take a political job - and you say things or do things that have a negative impact on policy or Party, then expect to feel some heat. Don't like criticism - get out of politics.

And for your information - yes, I do get up out of my chair and help Republicans seek office. I help manage, coordinate activities, hold signs, make calls, ghost write, and even lick envelopes - for people I know and those I've only met once or twice.

Lastly, I am sick of losing. In fact, losing has become a forgone expectation by some of our own Republican leaders who are too lazy to think outside of the box, or do the hard work required, or even lack the vision to do something about it. These people have got to go! If you don't believe, you can't lead.

I'll get to some of the finer points later on... I'd like to discuss some of your thoughts you've sent to me regarding certain candidates.

(to be continued)