Long perceived as simply a second ballot line for the Republican Party, Connecticut’s Independent Party has begun to shift its endorsements to include more Democrats and candidates not supported by either major party, a Connecticut Examiner analysis of state election data finds.
In state legislative elections in 2014, 2016, and 2018, the Independent Party cross-endorsed a total of just nine Democrats, while in 2020, they cross-endorsed 18. It’s still a far cry from 2020’s 87 Republican cross-endorsements, but is a demonstration of a trend noticed by party observers.
Carlos Moreno, state director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, said he’s noticed a change, particularly in the number of Democrats cross-endorsed by the Independent Party. Another minority party leader in the state, Peter Goselin of the Green Party, has picked up on the same trend.
“There’s been a shift,” said Peter Goselin, co-chair of the Connecticut Green Party. “The Independent Party used to tend to cross-endorse Republicans, but in the last few years, they’ve been a lot more open to working in a broader coalition.”
Nancy DiNardo, chair of the Democratic Party of Connecticut, said she’s been pleasantly surprised by the Independent Party reaching out to Democrats about cross-endorsements, since she said she previously perceived them to just be an arm of the Republican Party.
The chair of the Connecticut Independent Party, Mike Telesca, said the shift is an intentional one, and acknowledged that the party has traditionally endorsed far more Republicans than Democrats, saying “it’s not even close.”
“Up until this last election, Democrats never really thought they could get a cross-endorsement from us, and viewed us as a rubber stamp for the Republican party,” Telesca said. “We’re trying very hard to get away from that.”
Connecticut’s Independent Party has more than 20,000 registered voters, making it by far the largest minority party in the state, compared to Connecticut’s 2,561 registered Libertarians, 1,827 registered Greens, and 323 Working Families Party voters, according to data from the Secretary of the State in 2016.
The Secretary of the State no longer breaks down voter registration numbers between minor parties, but as of last November, the state had 850,046 Democrats, 480,026 Republicans, 939,679 unaffiliated voters, and 38,426 affiliated with minor parties.
While the Independent Party is still far smaller than either major party, candidates on their ballot line regularly receive hundreds of votes, which can be the margin of victory in state legislative elections, giving candidates of the major parties a meaningful incentive to court cross-endorsements.
It’s a symbiotic relationship, because when minor parties do not put a candidate on their ballot line in an election cycle, they lose that line for the next election and must then gather petition signatures to get back on the ballot. If instead they cross-endorse a candidate from a major party, they keep that ballot line going forward.
A seven-year-long court battle between Independent Party factions, driven by those incentives, helps provide context for the shifting endorsement trends. Two political factions, one based in Waterbury and the other in Danbury, spent the better part of a decade in court to determine who had the right to nominate candidates for statewide office.
Telesca, who led the Waterbury faction, has described the Danbury faction as simply an arm of the Republican Party, led by longtime Republican Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. Boughton, and current leaders of the Danbury Independent Party, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“We’d have our Independent Party caucus and decide on our nominations and submit them to the Secretary of the State, and then the Danbury Republicans would also send in a list of Independent Party nominations that put up all Republicans across the entire state,” Telesca said. “The Secretary of the State would say, we got two candidates for the same ballot line, so now we can’t put anyone on the ballot.”
In 2018, a Connecticut Superior Court judge decided that Telesca’s Waterbury faction was the true Independent Party, and had the right to determine endorsements, which Telesca said has freed up the party to become more truly independent.
While the shift is noticeable in 2020’s state legislative elections, it has also played out on the local level with this fall’s municipal elections, where third parties can be particularly helpful due to minority representation requirements.
In Guilford, the town’s nine-person Board of Education cannot legally have more than five members of the same political party. In July, Republicans in Guilford nominated their five candidates for Board of Education, choosing not to endorse Republican incumbents but instead supporting five candidates advocating for the banning of critical race theory in schools.
In a two-party election, by state law three of those five anti-critical race theory candidates would have been elected by default, as Democrats could hold at most five seats on the board, and one Republican on the Board is not up for reelection.
To stop that from happening, Guilford’s Independent Party jumped in, nominating three unaffiliated candidates who opposed the banning of critical race theory and cross-endorsing two Democrats. Now, voters could potentially choose five Democrats and three Independents, fully blocking the Republican nominees.
“The Republican candidates were well out of the mainstream in Guilford, and we thought we should give Guilford voters an alternative,” said Bill Bloss, a lawyer advising Connecticut’s Independent Party and a former Democratic Board of Education member.
Guilford Republican Town Committee Chair Paul Chello did not respond to a request for comment, but State Republican Chair Ben Proto put it simply: “The Democrats are trying to co-opt the Independent Party.”
According to Telesca, moving from a second ballot line for Republicans to being co-opted by Democrats is not the goal.
“We aren’t going to be a rubber stamp for any major party,” Telesca said. “Nobody owns us.”