Rabble Rousing for Democracy in Lyme

Credit: Robin Breeding


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To the Editor:

Normally I ignore online commentary, but two responses on the Facebook page of this newspaper to a letter “The Antidemocratic Movement in Lyme Continues,” (letter Aug. 8) that I recently submitted, deserve attention in their support for a sentiment that undergirds the antidemocratic movement in Lyme.

Herbert Ross raises two objections to my letter. First, he asserts evidence is lacking that a handful of people in the Lyme DTC and RTC are collaborating to select town leaders rather than hold competitive elections. Let me once again review the facts for his edification.

  • In five elections cycles, there was one contest for First Selectman in November 2017, when Steve Mattson (D) beat Mark Wayland (R), 590 to 425. There were no races for selectmen in 2015, 2019, and 2021 because the town parties decided not to run candidates. There will be no contest in 2023. No one fabricated this data; it is on the public record.

  • In 2015, the Lyme DTC cross-endorsed Ralph Eno (R) for First Selectman. That is on the public record. As the minutes of the Board of Selectmen demonstrate, Eno stepped down on July 3, 2017. Mattson and Parker Lord (R) appointed Mattson to First Selectman and Mark Wayland to Third. Mattson and Wayland were elevated to those positions without the endorsement of voters in an election.

  • When Wayland later challenged Mattson, Eno endorsed Mattson in the Fall 2017 newsletter of the Lyme DTC. Eno endorsed Mattson against his own party; it was his right to do so.

  • In 2021, the Lyme RTC cross-endorsed Steve Mattson for First Selectman. That is on the public record. As the minutes of the Board of Selectmen demonstrate, Mattson stepped down on July 5, 2022. David Lahm (R) and John Kiker (D) appointed Lahm to First Selectman and Kristina White (D) to Third. Lahm and White were elevated to those positions without the endorsement of voters in an election.

  • Since 2017, two First Selectmen have been eligible for salaries paid by taxpayers for a position they did not secure by garnering the most votes but rather by appointment of the other selectmen, including those in rival parties.

  • In the upcoming election, the DTC is not running anyone for First Selectman. The RTC is not running anyone for Second or Third. But due to state election rules, White cannot run for her position outright. In order to guarantee a preselected outcome, she must appear on the ballot as a petitioning candidate and without a Republican challenger. She is doing so without any objection by the RTC.

Mr. Ross may believe the pattern above is by coincidence and not by design and consent, but common sense dictates otherwise. And in addition to those facts, permit me to note three other points.

First, I was the sole vote in 2015 against the cross-endorsement of Eno, on the grounds that the DTC should promote Democrats. Two other members would have voted against Mattson’s proposal but were attending a different committee meeting.

Second, if I am not mistaken, Mr. Ross was in the audience of the DTC meeting in 2015 when Mattson angrily reprimanded a rising progressive voice for suggesting she might mount a campaign against Eno. If he was not there, I would be happy to elaborate on this very telling incident in print.

Third, Lahm himself said in The Day (August 3, 2023) “I’m happy with the team I’ve got.” His “team” is comprised of two Democrats, John Kiker and Kristina White. If I were a Republican, I would at least wonder why Lahm is uninterested in having fellow Republicans on his team, especially since he is chair of the RTC and therefore directly responsible for recruiting and promoting his party and their ideas. Equally, Democrats justifiably might wonder why the DTC is so willing to support a Republican.

Mr. Ross’ second objection is even more revealing. Rather than encourage the DTC and RTC to do their job, he contends: “No person has in any way been impeded from speaking his or her mind, or indeed running for public office. Let him do so rather than sit on the sidelines sniping at those who offer themselves for public service.”

What he is saying is that if citizens in Lyme want honest elections, they have to run for office themselves. Perhaps Mr. Ross is unaware that not everyone has the luxury of time or wealth. Some people work for a living to make ends meet, or promote their business, or raise children, or care for aging parents.

I understand that there are those who intend for Lyme to become an essentially gated community without businesses to stimulate the economy and without social services to attract families or the less privileged. But it is quite an expression of entitlement to suggest that citizens who face normal life demands should not expect a healthy democracy or electoral options!

Sherry Smith Block lauds what she perceives as a tradition of nonpartisanship in Lyme and concludes: “I don’t understand the need for the rabble rousing expressed in the letter by Mr. Gencarella.”

I agree with the promise of bipartisanship. Republicans who seek to pay down debt are not the enemies of Democrats, just as Democrats who seek to increase social services are not the enemies of Republicans. Conservatives and progressives are correctives to each other’s blind spots. In a robust democracy, they are the necessary loyal opposition to hold each other accountable. They represent divergent opinions that can respectfully come together to compromise and reach consensus.

But bipartisanship requires two distinct parties, which vie with one another to offer choices to citizens, who then vote. It is the exact opposite of what the Lyme DTC and RTC have arranged.

There is a social cost to this antidemocratic practice as well. A lack of competition in the marketplace of ideas encourages people to embrace groupthink, which in turn discourages ethical behavior. For example, when I objected to the way he assumed the office, Mattson retorted that I should simply be happy that a Democrat was first selectman—in other words, the ends justify the means. I reject that unethical reasoning then and now. And it is precisely because I am a progressive that I would readily vote for a principled Republican who honors the democratic process over any Democrat who would smother it. Whether on the Left or the Right, our essential commitment must be to voting, so that citizens have the opportunity to express their will and judge those whom they entrust to lead them.

Unfortunately, Ms. Block labels passionate support for voters having such choice as “rabble rousing.” Take note of the words she chose to use. It is not the insult she may think it is to describe those who advocate fair elections—or just holding elections, for that matter. But what that ugly term often does reveal is precisely why people of a certain privilege disapprove of democracy in the first place: It lets the “rabble” speak.

I get it. Mr. Ross and Ms. Block wish for me to know my place and be quiet. So, I will say it loudly one more time: A healthy democracy requires elections, accountability guaranteed by loyal opposition, and compromise between parties who offer different paths for voters to choose between. That entire commitment is lacking in the Lyme DTC and RTC and the current selectmen. And if saying so is rabble rousing, I wear that badge proudly with the rest of the rabble in Lyme—and beyond.

Stephen Gencarella
Lyme, CT