To the Editor:
The Town of Guilford narrowly avoided a disaster of its own making in the November 2021 election.
We had some of our votes taken away 15 years ago by a Charter Revision, leaving us vulnerable to the Democrats’ and Republicans’ Town Committees to choose our Board of Selectmen (BOS), and very uncompetitive–completely uncompetitive–elections, where general election voters cannot really change or review the parties’ decisions.
Since each Guilford voter can only vote for TWO, not all FOUR, of our Board of Selectmen members, and since Democrats and Republicans are barred from holding all four Selectmen’s seats, the Town Committee Democrats and Town Committee Republicans have had carte blanche to select exactly two seats each for the past 15 years.
No candidate with a “D” or an “R” next to their name running for Selectman has lost an election since 2009, 13 years ago. Since then, the race for Board of Selectmen has not been a race at all. There have always been exactly two Democratic and two Republican Selectmen on the BOS since the Charter Revision. Only the First Selectman’s seat has shifted parties in all that time.
This Charter Revision was always undemocratic, but it became even more dangerous on July 22, 2021. That night, a group partly spearheaded by Danielle Scarpellino removed all 3 Republican incumbents from the ballot. This group of about 125 people attended a Republican caucus that night at the Guilford Community Center, and selected five neophytes who had never held office in Guilford and who had quite extremist views:
These 125 caucus-goers were motivated by a series of opinion pieces put out by the national entertainment wing of the Republican Party, Fox News, about the dangers of “Critical Race Theory (CRT).”
Luckily this group of 125, lacking wise leadership, did not notice their best opportunity for an electoral win: to remove the two Republican incumbent candidates for the Board of Selectmen, and to install their own.
If the new leadership of the Republican Party had been clever or knowledgeable enough to nominate “anti-CRT” candidates to run for the Board of Selectmen, instead of just the Board of Education, voters in Guilford would have been powerless, utterly powerless to stop them in the general election. Voters could never have voted them down despite disapproving of this “anti-CRT” movement by a margin of more than two to one.
Voters defeated the “anti-CRT” Board of Education candidates by the greatest local election margin in Guilford’s 382-year history, because our Charter still allows us to vote for every seat on the Board of Education. In the same election for BOS, the same margin of defeat would not have been nearly enough, and two of the “anti-CRT” candidates would have made it onto the Board of Selectmen easily.
Imagine: A voter walking into the polling booth would only have been able to fill in bubbles for the two Democrats, and no more. Even if another (independent) party had stepped up to run for the other two BOS seats, each voter would have been left in the impossible position of selecting two of the four candidates that they preferred. Only a perfect lucky split of 6500 voters would avoid disaster and defeat 3000 voters on the other side.
“Anti-CRT” Republican voters would have had the easy choice of two “anti-CRT” Republican candidates. They would have won even if their candidates lost the popular vote by thousands.
If the outcomes had been similar to the Board of Education vote (highly likely), those two “anti-CRT” candidates would have trailed more than three thousand votes behind Guilford’s preferred candidates, but still been elected to the Board of Selectmen.
One only need watch the behavior of “anti-CRT” groups at our local meetings to see why extremists would bring Town business to a grinding halt, even with just two seats on the Board of Selectmen. The norm-breaking and rule-breaking take up huge swaths of time at Board of Education public hearings. The repetitive Freedom of Information Act requests have cost our taxpayers thousands upon thousands of dollars, and cost our overworked administrative staff so much time. The waste would be exponentially amplified if the “anti-CRT” group could use the power of office to gum up the works.
Time: These Boards are all volunteer. Only the First Selectman is paid a salary, and he is a busy Chief Executive, particularly in a time of COVID. Every other Board member is donating their time, and time is a precious commodity for making the best decisions.
Guilford needs a new, better Charter Revision. Guilford needs its votes back. Voters should demand the right to vote for all five seats on the Board of Selectmen; the four Selectmen’s seats should once again be competitive, just as the race for First Selectman is competitive.
The Charter Revision work to restore our votes must begin now, and be ratified in time to apply to the 2025 election. It can be done many ways, but the work must begin now, or the vast majority of voters will not have any good choice come 2025.
This does not “rig” any election in the future; it puts the final decision about the Board of Selectmen back in the hands of voters. If extremists win seats in this town by a majority, then so be it. But our town and education system should not have to suffer through years of waste and extremist trolling from elected officials who have lost the popular vote.