State GOP re­group­ing, re­assess­ing

Stamford Advocate - - News - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt kkras­[email protected]­medi­; 203-842-2563; @kait­lynkras­selt

The Repub­li­can Party might have un­til June to choose its next leader, but the be­hind-the-scenes pol­i­tics of fill­ing the role are already well un­der way.

Cur­rent party chair­man J.R. Ro­mano has yet to de­cide if he’ll seek re­elec­tion, and spec­u­la­tion has already be­gun on who else might step in. For­mer state Sen. Joe Markley and Ben Proto, a GOP strate­gist from Strat­ford who was Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign co­or­di­na­tor in Con­necti­cut in 2016, have both been named as pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors.

“This is a lot of work and it’s not easy,” Ro­mano said. “In pol­i­tics like any­thing else, there’s a lot of peo­ple talk­ing. I’ve just been qui­etly do­ing the work of a chair­man.”

While Proto is in­ter­ested, Markley, who gave up his state Sen­ate seat to run for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, has made it clear: he is not.

“I’m not sur­prised I’m get­ting en­cour­age­ment. I was in­ter­ested in it four years ago, and I thought it was the right mo­ment for it. It’s not right now. I don’t have any in­ten­tion of run­ning,” said Markley, who re­cently took a part- time job do­ing pub­lic re­la­tions for Farm­ing­ton-based Com­pan­ions and Homemak­ers, a home care or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Be­ing the state party chair­man is a very dif­fi­cult job and I have great sym­pa­thy for J.R,” Markley said. “I think that very few peo­ple re­al­ize how much falls to him and how tough it is. Even though I ran against him for the po­si­tion in the first place, I’ve al­ways been hes­i­tant to crit­i­cize him. When you have a dis­ap­point­ing elec­tion like we did, he’s the first per­son that’s go­ing to get blamed. I think he’s done a great job, he hasn’t done a per­fect job, but I haven’t seen any­one do a per­fect job.”

Proto said he’s been “ap­proached by a num­ber of peo­ple” to con­sider the chair­man­ship.

“Right now what I’m do­ing is just talk­ing to peo­ple about the party, where the party is at, dif­fer­ent things we can do to im­prove our struc­ture and our or­ga­ni­za­tion and share our mes­sage,” Proto said.

He be­lieves the party’s mes­sage could have been bet­ter pre­sented, but Proto would not ex­plic­itly crit­i­cize Ro­mano. He praised the se­ries of five de­bates Ro­mano hosted prior to the party con­ven­tion, though he does not think par­tic­i­pa­tion in the de­bates should have been tied to mon­e­tary thresh­olds raised by the can­di­dates ex­clud­ing some of the early hope­fuls in­clud­ing New Bri­tain Mayor Erin Ste­wart.

“While the con­cept of what he wanted to do was good, I think it cre­ated more be­lief with sec­on­dand third-tier can­di­dates that they were first-tier can­di­dates be­cause they had a stage that they nor­mally would not have had,” Proto said. “State cam­paigns at the end of the day is about herd­ing kit­tens and it’s very dif­fi­cult to do. They all want to run off and find their own lit­tle ball of yarn to play with. It’s not easy.”

Ro­mano said he’s heard that sev­eral peo­ple might have an in­ter­est in his job — which he made clear is not a walk in the park — but none as se­ri­ously as Proto, who he knows has had many con­ver­sa­tions with party in­sid­ers about the role.

Sen. Len Fasano, the top Repub­li­can in the Sen­ate, blamed the party’s losses on “the Trump fac­tor,” which he said no party chair­man could have over­come.

“J.R. has al­ways had the best in­ter­est of the party at heart,” Fasano said. “Bob Ste­fanowski got 100,000 more votes than (Tom) Fo­ley did (in 2014), and I think the larger turnout had a lot to do with Trump. To say J.R. failed, I look back and say, ‘What else do you want him do to?’ I think he did a fine job. I have an open mind about chair­men, but I don’t think we should make a change just to make a change.”




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