(Hartford Courant) Sen. McLachlan Concerned About Potential Removal Of Independent Party of Connecticut

May 29, 2013

Article as it appeared on Capitol Watch

GOP Concerned About Potential Removal Of Independent Party of Connecticut

Republicans were outraged Wednesday by a Democratic-written bill that would effectively eliminate the Independent Party of Connecticut.

The bill, which is a working draft, says that the word “independent” would be removed from any political party in Connecticut. The reason given is that “independent” is often mistaken with the word “unaffiliated,” which is how hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents are registered.

But the potential switch has huge political overtones in Connecticut because the Independent Party has most recently cross-endorsed Republican candidates, including Linda McMahon in her run for the U.S. Senate and conservative Republican Michael McLachlan in his three successful races for state Senate in Danbury and surrounding towns.

The bill, written without any Republican input, ”demonstrates the power and arrogance of the Democrat majority more than any bill I’ve seen in now my 15th year in the General Assembly,” said Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield.

McKinney added, “It is a disgusting, arrogant power grab. It is unconstitutional, and it is something that all people of good conscience in this legislature should reject immediately.”

But Sen. Anthony Musto, a Democratic attorney who is co-sponsoring the bill, rejected the notion that the measure is unconstitutional and said it would withstand a court challenge.

He said he is concerned about “voter confusion’’ among independent and unaffiliated voters. He said that the word “Connecticut’’ should also be banned from political parties, but that was not included in the bill’s latest version. As such, Musto said he would ban A Connecticut Party that had been created by independent Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. in 1990 in his successful run for governor.

“I don’t think people should be able to use the state or the federal government – the America Party,’’ Musto said. “What right does a group of people, for political purposes, have to purport to speak for the United States or for Connecticut? Realistically, why does someone get to speak for the United States of America? That’s why we have Congress and the President.’’

Musto said he could not predict whether the bill will be passed before the legislature’s regular session adjourns at midnight on June 5.

The bill could potentially eliminate four parties that make reference to independence because the measure bans synonyms and derivatives. The Independent Party has nearly 14,000 registered members, while the Independence Party is listed separately with 833 members, according to the Secretary of the State’s office. Two other parties officially listed on state records are the Independent Choice party, as well as Independence for Montville. Those parties would be forced, under the bill, to change their names by January 2014.

In the same way that the Independent Party has lately endorsed Republicans, Democrats have often been endorsed by the Working Families Party, including Democrats Chris Murphy for U.S. Senate and Dannel P. Malloy for governor.

“This was not a problem for the last 10, 20, 30 years that the Independent Party has been around,” McKinney said. ”It’s only become a problem because the Independent Party in Connecticut has recently decided, that on occasion, it would endorse Republicans.”

Among all registrations in Connecticut, “unaffiliated” has been the largest category for decades. At least since 1958, more citizens have registered as “unaffiliated” than as Republicans or Democrats, according to the Secretary of the State’s office.

In order to avoid confusion, state law already prevents the use of the word “unaffiliated” in the name of the party.

The latest statewide figures, as of the November 2012 elections, showed more than 872,000 citizens registered as unaffiliated and more than 767,000 as Democrats. Among Republicans, more than 430,000 were registered.

While the major parties capture most of the attention, there are actually more than 25 political parties registered in the state, including A Connecticut Party that was created by Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. Others are “Connecticut for Lieberman” and the Guilty Party.

McLachlan, the ranking Senate Republican on the legislative committee that oversees elections, agreed with McKinney that the bill would be unconstitutional.

“For them to say that now, after some 30 years of existence as the Independent Party of Connecticut, that they’re just going to, by the stroke of a pen, erase them from existence is absurd,” McLachlan said.

The bill, which is more than 95 pages, is a conglomeration of about five other bills that have now been packaged into one. The measure would largely block cross-endorsements by minor parties.

The measure would also allow state central committees, and town committees, legislative caucus committees, among others, to create advertising books that could accept ads from individuals up to $50 and businesses up to $250.