Bob Stefanowski’s floundering attempts to get the endorsement of the Independent Party have attracted renewed attention to the role that minor parties play in Connecticut politics. As a card-carrying member and Communications Director of the Working Families Party, the third party that did in fact endorse a serious gubernatorial candidate, I´d like to talk a bit about our process, our role shaping campaigns and elections in the state, and our approach to politics.
The Working Families is a progressive party. We advocate for an economy that serves the needs of everyone, not a privileged few, where everyone has a job that treats them with respect. We support healthcare for all and free quality childcare, affordable housing, and an end to residential and educational segregation. We fight for equality, for freedom, and social justice. We canvas, we protest, we organize, we rally. We even write the occasional angry column in the newspaper.
What distinguishes us is that we are also really focused on not just loudly asking for things to happen, but on getting legislation passed that makes a difference in people’s lives. Especially in executive races like for Governor, we make endorsements to ensure victory for the viable candidate most aligned with our values to then sign laws and get things done.
A good example of our approach to politics is the paid family and medical leave bill signed by Governor Lamont into law in 2019. This is a really good piece of legislation that ensures that no worker in Connecticut has to choose between taking care of their health or a loved one and their own job and financial well-being. For the bill to become law, however, progressives needed to move legislators and the Governor’s Office to our side. Having big democratic majorities was not enough, as centrist legislators had been willing and able to sink the bill in past sessions. We needed to create a political urgency to pass the bill.
That is what WFP did during the 2018 election.
For starters, we made a point that for a candidate to receive the WFP endorsement, they needed to support paid family and medical leave. We included that in our candidate questionnaires, and we asked everyone during our endorsement interviews. During the campaign, we worked hard to keep paid leave at the very top of the agenda, knocking on thousands of doors and mobilizing volunteers in phone banks, events, and texting parties. This obviously included then-candidate Ned Lamont – and we made sure to have him on the record as many times as we could in support of paid family leave.
In 2018, we did disagree with Lamont on many issues, from raising taxes on the wealthy to passing a public health insurance program as a first step towards universal healthcare. We knew there was a real chance to win paid family and medical leave, however, so we endorsed him and fought hard to get him elected. Lamont won the election, progressives gained more seats in the legislature, and paid family leave became the law of the land during the next legislative session.
For us, then and now, it is much more important to elect leaders that will move the state towards social justice than to make a point. Unlike other minor parties in the state, we aren’t just happy with 5% of the vote for a losing candidate. We define ourselves as the non-delusional left: We are focused on delivering results, not slogans. We fight to win, not to make a point; we play politics for policy, not for fun. This is not the place for academic debates, “owning” the other side, or feeling good about ourselves and our fierce activism, but on moving elected leaders to act. And if they don´t, working to elect better ones, not throwing the election to the other side in a fit of pique.
During the past four years, we have had some disagreements with the Governor. Lamont has remained reluctant to raise taxes on the wealthy, and we repeatedly clashed on healthcare reform and the public option. On many, many, many critical issues, however, he has delivered on his promises, from paid leave to the $15 minimum wage, expanded HUSKY coverage for undocumented children, green energy, or debt-free community college. These wins matter. Working families across the state are much better off today than they would have been under a Stefanowski administration.
From now until the November election, we will work to ensure that Governor Ned Lamont wins reelection. We are going to do so not because we agree with him on all issues, but because we know we can work together to improve the lives of working families in Connecticut.