Mike Telesca serves as chairman of the Independent Party of Connecticut, a statewide third party that seeks to elect independent candidates to local, state, and national office.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Telesca about the identity of the Independent Party, and how he sees the party’s prospects for this fall’s municipal elections.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How do you see your role as chair of the Independent Party of Connecticut?
My role is to facilitate the growth of the party, and that’s what I try to do. I try to find people who are politically active in different areas and show them the benefits of being under the Independent Party label. If you’re considering running unaffiliated, you still have to collect the same amount of signatures, but whether you get elected or not, you’ve lost that line and have to collect signatures again if you want to run for reelection. The benefit of doing it under a party format is that you get to build on your earlier hard work and build an organization.
How optimistic are you about this fall’s local elections?
I’m very much enthusiastic over what we’re doing. There are a lot of sand traps and tricky things where, if you’re a novice, you’re going to miss it, and they have no problem denying your paperwork to get on the ballot if you don’t cross your “t” or dot your “i.” I try to help empower people on the local level. I don’t care if Democrats or Republicans are running the town, it’s all the good ol’ boys system, and if you’re not part of that and want to see some change, we’re going to help you get on the ballot and get your voice heard.
Do you anticipate the Independent Party putting up its own candidate for the gubernatorial race next year, or endorsing one of the major party candidates?
My preference would be to put up our own candidate. Will it turn out that way? I don’t know. First we actually have to find someone who can make the run, and it’s not an easy run to make. If we can’t find a candidate to run, we’ll probably cross-endorse, because we’d probably lose the ballot line. If we have to cross-endorse, we’ll probably go with the challenger, rather than the incumbent, but that’s a long way away. I don’t know about next year, I’m trying to get through this year. I have deadlines to get through right now, and every town is different. There are things this governor does that I like, and things that I don’t like, but that’s me, personally, not necessarily the party.
What is the Independent Party platform?
We’re basically a ballot access party, that’s the way I view it. We want independent minded people who can think for themselves, and try to avoid running people one extreme or the other, because if you’re all the way to the left or right, that’s not where the answers are. The two major parties are pulling more and more to the extremes, which is leaving the center, where things actually happen and people can get along. We want to put more people who would represent that, who are open minded, willing to hear evidence from both sides, and make thoughtful decisions that are not based on ideology, more on reality. As far as the party goes, we don’t take stances on any one particular issue. We want candidates who speak for themselves. For example, they can be pro-life or pro-choice. The party’s not taking a stance on that, the candidates are. I’m trying to get intelligent people to run for office. I don’t care what camp they come from.
While the Independent Party does put up its own candidates, it also often cross-endorses candidates from the major parties. Does the Independent Party generally cross-endorse more Democrats or Republicans?
Each town is different, and it’s a case-by-case basis, but I would say that at this point, as far as municipal races, we’re pretty 50/50. There are a few cross-endorsements here and there, but it’s hard for me to tell you exactly what’s going on in the towns. That’s up to local control, and I don’t usually get too involved, nor do they want me to be.
The Guilford Independent Party made news earlier this month when it cross-endorsed Democrats in a direct bid to stop anti-Critical Race Theory Republicans from controlling the Board of Education. Is that alliance with Democrats unique?
Guilford is a different situation, and I have not had a personal hand in what’s going on there. But as far as Critical Race Theory goes, I think the people who are trying to get elected to Boards of Education for the distinct purpose of stopping the teaching of Critical Race Theory are misguided. I don’t understand the argument, and I don’t think anybody’s teaching white children to hate white people. We shouldn’t ignore our history, and I don’t support the view that we should whitewash America’s racial past.
Back in February, you wrote that in the aftermath of the Republican party’s “meltdown” with “Trump Loyalist[s] still hanging onto Trump,” “more than 8,000 Republicans in CT have left the Party and a lot of them have joined the Independent Party.” Have you seen meaningful Republican defections to the Independent party, and if so, what have those numbers looked like?
I don’t have those numbers, but to be honest with you, I think the problems that Biden is having right now in Afghanistan will prompt other people to leave the Democratic Party. People seem to take on national politics and apply it to local elections, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with it, and that was certainly the case with Trump. I try to stay away from the labels because I like to not show favoritism towards one party or the other.