Friction over RTC caucus proposal
In the wake of dissent over eliminating a caucus and laying sole authority for nominating candidates for local and state office in the hands of the Republican Town Committee, the group will decide whether to leave the matter to Republican voters next month.
More than a dozen speakers turned up at the New Canaan RTC’s meeting Monday night to argue in favor of retaining the mid-summer caucus, RTC Chairman Jim McLaughlin said. Members of the RTC will reconsider the change and whether they wish to put it to a vote by registered Republicans at a Jan 12 caucus to elect members.
The RTC will meet again Monday, Dec. 21, to vote on whether to put forward the bylaw change or make changes to bolster participation in the caucus, McLaughlin said.
“After the meeting the RTC went into executive session to talk and there were differing views,” McLaughlin said. “Some people changed their minds, and we decided we would consider different alternatives and possibilities and make a decision next Monday on whether we would put the change on the agenda for the caucus.”
McLaughlin, who said he sees some merit to the potential change, said the RTC took up the possible bylaw change this fall after rank-and-file Republicans questioned whether the thinly attended nominating caucus was still a vital political mechanism.
“We got a lot of feedback this year and two years ago from Republican voters who said that they don’t like the caucus because of the timing or having other family obligations or work,” McLaughlin said. “We did some research and learned our process of a caucus is highly unusual.”
The bylaw change would not impact rank-and-file Republicans, who would continue to elect delegates to the RTC to do the nominating on a bi-annual basis, McLaughlin said.
Republicans who argued in favor of the change recently said they were reluctant or unwilling to spend two or three hours at a caucus on a night during the middle of summer, and McLaughlin noted that many area towns have moved to using an internal vetting process to select candidates for election. In place of the caucus system, candidates who wished to seek nomination would put themselves forward to be interviewed and vetted after which the full body would vote to endorse a slate of candidates for the ballot.
Only 285 ballots were cast by Republicans at the July caucus for this fall’s election in a town with more than 6,000 registered Republicans, a reflection of how many people are traveling at that time of year, McLaughlin said.
“We heard from many of our citizens (not to) eliminate the caucus because it is a tradition and good tradition,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said Republicans and candidates might sometimes encourage less engagement or regard for the institution of the caucus by suggesting supporters just stop by to cast their ballots and skip the more time-consuming effort of listening to statements of both incumbents and hopefuls.
“Maybe what we should do instead of eliminating the caucus is strengthen the caucus,” McLaughlin said. “The candidates’ part of what has happened over the years is that in response to citizens saying they are busy they’ve recommended coming at a certain time to sign a ballot and leave … Well that’s not a caucus…”
Among the officials at the meeting was First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, who said Tuesday that he favors retaining the caucus because it is — even without broad participation — a more democratic way to set the slate.
“Let’s keep it as open and democratic as possible. It may not be the perfect solution but it is a way of allowing candidates to engage the public and we (opponents to the change) felt it would diminish the role of citizens by putting the choice into the hands of a 15-member committee.”
The New Canaan Republican Town Committee has set Tuesday, Jan. 12, for its bi-annual caucus to endorse up to 20 delegates to serve from 2016-2018. The caucus will be held at 7:30 p.m. at a location not yet determined.