NEW HAVEN — Connecticut Republicans elected Ben Proto, a veteran of GOP politics, as the new head of the state party on Tuesday night.
Proto, 62, has a legal practice in Stratford specializing in business and real estate law.
Proto led the campaign for Donald Trump in Connecticut, and earlier supported Steve Obsitnik’s campaign for governor in 2018. Proto was the state coordinator for John McCain’s presidential run in 2000.
On Tuesday night, Proto beat Gary Byron, of Newington, who served as a state representative from 2015 to 2019 and is now a radio talk show host at WDRC-AM, as well as Jim Campbell, of Greenwich, who was the Republican Town Committee chairman. Also in the running was Jennifer Cusato, who was disqualified because she lives in Florida.
In a late night call to CT Examiner, Proto said one of his goals for his two-year term is to increase the number of Republicans in office at every level of government, especially after losses in the last four years in the General Assembly that he said were related to national issues.
“I think a number of those issues have lessened and over the next year or so will lessen even more and we’ll be in a position where we can present our ideas,” he said.
The Republican Party last won the gubernatorial race in 2006 with Jodi Rell, who served until 2011. Lowell Weicker Jr. was the last elected Republican Senator from the state, serving from 1973 to 1989. Congressman Christopher Shays held office from 1987 to 2009.
Proto said Republicans in the state need to work together to move the party’s agenda forward.
“We need to talk about our principles and values and to show the people of Connecticut how with Republican leadership we can help stop the downward spiral that the Democrats have put us into over these last literally 50 years — but it’s over the last decade and a half or so where we’ve really seen Connecticut tumble from its once high perch as one of the truly great states in the country.”
He said that Democrats have inappropriately imposed government into aspects of life that should be personal and private.
“The Democrats have created these insertion points into our life whether they’re inserting the government between parents and their children, or they’re inserting government between a party, a person and their God, an employer and an employee, and between a doctor and the patient.”
Proto said one of his goals was to completely rebuild the party’s digital platform, ranging from the GOP website to the party’s social media presence.
“It’s getting us beyond simply just Facebook and Twitter — rebuilding our text messaging and emailing capabilities, tying the town committees in with the state party on our digital platform so we can cross produce content and get message and content out through more than just our accounts but using as many of our town committees that have accounts. And, for those that don’t have accounts, getting them set up so that we can drive messages if there’s a specific local issue that’s going on,” he said.
He said that listening to voters and understanding their issues and concerns was key.
“We’re not going to convince anybody to vote for us and our issues. People vote on their issues so the more we can learn about their issues, the more we can understand where they’re coming from, the better we can communicate our message using our principles and values,” he said.
He said his focus will be on how Republicans can save the state of Connecticut.
“I don’t want to have to get on a plane and go visit my grandchildren someday, but unfortunately that’s what’s happening to a lot of people in this state because of what the Democrats have done to literally crush their ability to remain in this state.”
Proto replaces Sue Hatfield, of Pomfret, who filled in after former State Republican Chairman J.R. Romano stepped down in January. Hatfield chose not to seek election to the chair.
This story has been edited to correct the election date of Gov. Jodi Rell.