On the Trail: Battle for Independent Party Gets Heated, Stefanowski Warns of Legal Challenge 

Rob Hotaling at a recent campaign event


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The morning after Rob Hotaling’s apparent razor-thin win on Tuesday over Republican Bob Stefanowski for the Independent Party’s nomination for Governor produced an array of reactions from those with a stake in the outcome.

Stefanowski, who courted party members to try to win an Independent Party cross-endorsement to garner more votes against incumbent Democrat Ned Lamont, threatened to sue.

According to Stefanowski, the one-vote margin at its caucus in Guilford was made under a flawed process that violated the party’s rules, and that his name wasn’t even on the ballot.

Party Chairman Mike Telesca, who cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of Hotaling, was at the Secretary of the State’s Office in Hartford bright and early, filing the results of the vote. 

And Hotaling received an unexpected call of congratulations from Lamont, who likely stands to benefit from having another candidate on the November ballot who could draw votes away from Stefanowski. 

“I really appreciated it,” the 44-year old banking executive, engineer and digital specialist from Cheshire told CT Examiner of the call. “He even mentioned that he hopes to see me on the debate stage.”

But getting there seems likely to involve overcoming a legal fight from Stefanowski to get his name on the 30,000-member Independent Party’s ballot line. In 2018, Stefanowski lost to Lamont by a 44,000-vote margin.

Bob Stefanowski at a recent campaign event

“We are consulting with counsel and expect to legally challenge the results of tonight’s Independent Party caucus vote due to flagrant violations of their own bylaws,” the Madison businessman’s campaign said in a statement late Tuesday night. 

The first round of voting produced 79 votes for Stefanowski and his Lieutenant Governor candidate Laura Devlin, 75 for Hotaling and running mate Stuart “Chip” Beckett, and four for lesser-known candidate Ernestine Holloway, of Meriden.

Party officials then initiated a second “ranked choice” ballot, in which the candidate receiving the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated, in this case Holloway.

That created a 79-79 tie between Hotaling and Stefanowski, which prompted party chair Telesca to cast a vote in favor of Hotaling, raising angry calls of foul in the room from Stefanowski campaign officials. 

“Per their own bylaws, Chairman Telesca has no authority to break a tie,” the campaign said in a statement. “If a candidate does not achieve 51% of the vote, a re-vote is to be held. Chairman Telesca voted two times, once in the initial vote and a second time to break the tie. As the presiding officer of the caucus governed by Roberts Rules of Order, it’s questionable as to whether he could vote once, let alone twice.”

Stefanowski also complained that despite “completing an official application on July 4, 2022, and sending hard copies via certified mail and email to the committee officers, his name was not included on the pre-printed ballot.”

A stack of Independent Party ballots on Tuesday night.

In a telephone call made from outside the Secretary of the State’s office just after he filed the results Wednesday morning, Telesca said no bylaws were violated in the voting process.

He said that state statutes regarding minor parties such as his say that they “may” follow their bylaws, but are not required to – a provision that he says was backed by a ruling from the State Elections Enforcement Commission in regard to a challenge within his own party during a previous election.

“We already had that ruling from a similar situation and we had to make a decision right then and there,” on the vote Tuesday night, Telesca said.

Hotaling told CT Examiner that he is going forward with his campaign without regard to the controversy about the voting process, which he acknowledged created “a lot of emotion and anger” from both sides.

Stefanowksi was on the party’s ballot in 2018, but Hotaling and Telesca said that was due to the party not having a legitimate candidate of their own at that time.

“I can care less what Stefanowski wants to do with this – I’m moving forward,” Hotaling said of the possible legal challenge. “The party has made it clear from the beginning that it wants to be treated like a real party. And if they have a serious candidate, they would want to nominate and endorse that serious Independent Party member – which I am.”

Hotaling said he also believes that the state’s 950,000 unaffiliated voters are looking for a valid alternative to the major parties. Green Party of Connecticut candidate Michelle L. Bicking also is running for Governor.

“They want more voter choice in November and they want different ideas,” he said. ”They don’t want to be tied to a specific party. They want to be able to go left or right or middle.”

Asked what he brings to the table to attract voters, Hotaling said, “I am more accountable, more transparent. I have a wider and deeper background across multiple industries. I could probably list seven industries where I’ve had a a job as a senior leader. I’m fundamentally a proven problem solver.”

Telesca said that despite the uproar over the caucus vote and the threat of legal action, he does not believe Stefanowski has been put at a disadvantage.

“He isn’t damaged – he’s going to be on the ballot anyway,” said Telesca. “There’s a reason why we have a third party. We’re trying to give more voices, more choices on the ballot and that’s what it’s all about.”

This story has been updated to include a photograph of the ballots, corrected vote totals and additional comments about the balloting.

Steve Jensen

Steve Jensen was a journalist for 13 years with the Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer of Manchester before becoming a Communications Director for the State of Connecticut. Jensen covers politics and law enforcement for CT Examiner. T: 860 661-6404