The following document was sent to me by someone who wishes Connecticut State Senator Joe Markley the best in his pursuit of the chairmanship of the Republican Party. Mr. Markley’s name has been in circulation for several weeks. Connecticut Commentary, while it does not endorse candidates, sees a good deal of merit in Mr. Markley’s bid. He is a masterful organizer, a thoughtful and principled politician. As a bonus, Mr. Markley is one of the few legislators in the General Assembly who can make a speech, sometimes studded with literary references, that bears repeating. The communication below – designed to outline some of Mr. Markley’s proposals for the reification of a political party that now has been marginalized by progressives in the General Assembly with knives in their brains, assisted as ever by Governor Dannel “The Porcupine” Malloy – is clear and eminently readable. It would be redundant to outline the outline here. Connecticut Commentary wishes to say only that it is a true conservative document and one that bears close study. It ought to be circulated among Republicans if only as a revolutionary plan of action for a state and a party that very quickly is slipping below the waves.
Connecticut Republican Revival: A plan for progress by Joe Markley
I’ve discussed my thoughts about the party and tried to make my ideas known. Here I set them down in black and white as promised, an essay on how we might move forward as Republicans.
The State Central Committee
First we must be honest about our situation. The ill-feeling which plagues us as a party surged again a few weeks back. The question isn’t who’s right or wrong, but what is to be done. Blame isn’t the issue on a team, but success; we’ll get nowhere until we get along.
Under the circumstances, the State Central Committee Itself should be the chair’s first concern. A leader must make peace, and help restore the sense of shared purpose that state central needs to function as a leadership body, capable of setting direction, communicating with town committees, monitoring progress, and holding the staff (chairman first) accountable.
That’s a matter of human relations, and of healing hard feelings and perceived division. To that end each voice must be heard, and all contributions valued. Unless we are a team, we fail; esprit de corps and a desire to succeed count more than a table of organization. We can’t win unless we work together, and we can’t work together unless we get along.
I aim to be a chairman, not a czar. I want to work with a committee that believes it can win, structured to encourage participation. Communication must be clear and attitude helpful: we accomplish nothing through ill-tempered wrangling, whatever the facts. Give smart committee members the right role and they will be engaged, not enraged.
The first thing to set straight is the meetings themselves, which are essential for productive discussion, effective planning, and thorough review required to direct an organization. Running political meetings is something I’ve done many times in different capacities. I’ve chaired an RTC, a legislative committee, a congressional campaign, a permanent state commission, and an historic grassroots coalition.
I would make the meetings regular; there’s no need for monthly mystery: pick a day and stick to it. I would also recommend the committee consider a format that enables more fruitful conversation. Our business is too important to be conducted between salad and dessert. I am all for socializing first and dining well after, but we really ought for an hour or so take undistracted heed of our business.
Real participation requires transparency. I would lay out my plans to the committee as fully as possible, and treat the members of state central as partners in building our party. From the chairman on down, state central must cultivate a contagious attitude of progress. We can’t accomplish all our goals at once, but we need to put ourselves on a path for growth which is sustainable and ongoing.
Seventy-four politicos can’t all hope to take part in a limited monthly meeting, but they can pitch in most usefully when broken into smaller groups. John Pavia proposes formation of ten committees, specifying precisely the membership and appointive authority for each. John is an able man with remarkable business experience, and he sees many of the problems we all do. His response I might term schematic, a list of goals and a line of boxes, a bureaucratic structure to divvy up political challenges.
In my experience, politics doesn’t work like that. It is fluid as the ocean, not so much a matter of rigid structure as nimble adaptation. Above all it is a team sport, and clubhouse chemistry counts more than management charts. It depends on human relations, and that takes place face-to-face.
Politics has brought me in contact with people of notable business success. I have socialized, strategized and campaigned with them, and found them rich in strengths. But all their talents don’t guarantee political instinct, which like any knack is randomly bestowed. The complexity and specificity of John’s organizational proposition seems to me both unnecessary and unrealistic. I’d start with what we have already, or should.
The by-laws currently specify three permanent committees. The Finance Committee has never in my experience been so strong, and my goal would be to show our grateful support for its effort, which is essential. The Budget Committee I would give latitude to examine each cranny, and for that body I would seek connoisseurs of efficiency and effective planning. No organization can operate without a sensible budget, developed by that committee and approved by state central.
Rather than create new standing committees, I would activate the third one our by-laws mandate, the Board of Advisors, clearly intended to be our much-needed executive committee. To lead that committee I would appoint a member of wide experience and general respect, and together arrive at a membership representing all outlooks and areas, to be approved by the entire state central committee.
I would consult with the Advisors about our agenda as a practical matter each month. I would also use them as a personnel committee, to discuss our staffing needs and to help me make hiring decisions. Together we would establish and oversee committees and task forces.
We would assemble teams for specific tasks, but not too many at once and not for too long. We might start with three. Providing powerful, accurate, and user-friendly data remains my first concern, and I have often explained how I would address that need as a sample of my method. It is the perfect challenge for a task force, a small group with interest and expertise to work out an answer the whole committee can endorse.
That’s only one step, but in politics all you need is the next right step. Building a bureaucracy doesn’t bring success: a small team with good spirit, properly led, nimble and determined, is tough to beat.
Messaging would be my second recommendation, as I believe it is the first priority of most Republicans I talk with. Such a group must be clear in what it undertakes. There are issues on which we differ, which is a condition of all parties at all times. We must focus on the beliefs which unite us: equality under the law, the founding principle of our party; economic opportunity through economic liberty; limited, Constitutional government, which respects local control; and personal freedom, that gives us responsibility for our destiny. I would hope a Messaging committee might teach us to express what we share fundamentally, that unites us as a party.
My interest in the chairmanship led me to the by-laws, where a glance was enough to suggest a Bylaws Revision committee as a third possibility. That job needn’t be done in haste nor to perfection, but sooner or later we must simplify and clarify our by-laws, and then follow them stringently.
The simplest political bureaucracy (a state party included) is hard enough to make work. Of the ten committees John Pavia proposes, two (Finance and Budget) we have; two (Recruitment and 3
Communications) are functions of the staff in collaboration with the entire party, answering directly to the committee; three (Messaging, Technology/Data, and Bylaws) I would constitute as task forces; and the rest would be entrusted to a reconstituted Board of Advisors.
Planning is speculative—we all attempt it, and we’re none of us right all the time. What headquarters must do reliably is follow through. Calls and emails must be returned whatever else happens, and honest answers provided. Whatever dreams we have for progress and victory, nothing good will happen unless we have a day-to-day operation we can count on, filing forms and mailing notices, staging events and planning conventions, raising money and depositing checks.
A small staff can do the work if it is talented, dedicated, energetic, and inspired. We shouldn’t be outsourcing our work to consultants with no commitment beyond the paycheck. We must identify promising young people and put them to work at our party.
I’ve spent years as a teacher. I assess young people accurately but sympathetically, and see the best way to help them improve. Much of my success as a legislator has been due to the good work I have drawn from young political talent.
Perhaps the most important decision the chairman makes is the choice of an executive director. I would search widely, with particular interest in a talented young person from a successful Republican state operation. I would include the Board of Advisors in the search, inviting them to join me in reviewing resumes and giving them an opportunity to meet with finalists before the choice was made.
We also need an office manager, committed to the party, good with people, and willing to handle whatever comes up. Recruiting, training and managing interns and volunteers would be every staff member’s responsibility and opportunity, from the chairman on down.
A finance director must either be hired full-time or secured by contract; that decision I would make as chair, in consultation with the Board of Advisors and in communication with the full committee. The person selected must be highly motivated, dedicated to our cause, aggressive yet sensitive to human motivations—in short, a go-getter. He or she must be able to work with both the chairman and the finance committee, able to provide proper support as well as taking personal initiative.
The next staffer I’d engage would be responsible for field operations, solely and relentlessly engaged with the life of the party outside of the office, working with candidates, town committees, regional organizations, coalitions and issues advocacy groups, and possessing talent and dedication sufficient to find the best way to be useful. That could be a young import of exceptional sense and maturity, or a local hand with a lifetime’s experience.
The Democrats have an enormous, long-standing advantage in field organization, not simply within the party itself (for it controls what political machinery survives, all within our big cities) but more potently in organizational allies, from SEIU to ACLU to CEA and AFSCME and PCSW—the whole alphabetic bureaucracy (some of it taxpayer funded) arrayed against us.
We don’t need parity; we need to be realistic about what we can and must do to start leveling the playing field.
For instance, we’re all concerned about our shrinking registration. A recent Yankee Institute poll showed nearly fifty percent more respondents identifying themselves as Republican than we actually have registered. Data is readily available that could lead us to these citizens already on our side awaiting our approach.
The field director would be responsible for recruiting a volunteer voter registration captain for each town in the state. The state party would provide the names of unregistered voters who fit the Republican profile. The local captain would organize the effort to reach out to these people. Such an ongoing effort would surely have made a difference in some recent elections.
As much and as quickly as possible, we need a go-to person for every precinct in the state. The biggest part of the job would be outreach, to recruit volunteers. There are many fiscal conservatives who would join us if asked and given a task. House parties could be arranged in as many towns as possible, as often as we can manage, using good data to make invitations, and giving local leaders and public officials the chance to make the case for our cause. We need and we can raise a volunteer army: with proper leadership, it could build registration all year round, and help turn out the vote on Election Day.
We need to reestablish larger organizations as well, starting at the congressional level. Grassroots East is a magnificent model of what we should do throughout the state; their annual dinner a few months back was one of the most heartening evenings I’ve spent as a Republican. We would be a very different party if we had four more groups like that thriving in Connecticut.
I was delighted to see the first steps toward that end in the Fifth Congressional at a meeting in Litchfield a few weeks ago. That to my mind is exactly the initiative our regional vice-chairs should undertake, and I would give them the full support and encouragement of the state party.
We have an excellent opportunity right now with both High School and College Republicans, thanks to exceptionally able leadership now in place at those organizations, and to the young leaders at state central, in the legislature and throughout the party who are eager to help build these groups. We are on our way to establishing a Republican chapter at every college, and momentum is with us in many high schools as well.
These groups not only help determine voting patterns that can last a lifetime, but they will provide a core of volunteers at election time. Perhaps most importantly, college Republicans with the instincts, time, and interest can with training and supervision become campaign managers at the legislative level, and develop skills that will strengthen the party wherever they go, for as long as they remain active.
Republican women’s clubs are another ancillary group showing renewed strength and poised for further statewide revival. Given our challenges in attracting the women’s vote, nothing could be more natural and useful than to encourage these organizations where Republican women can discuss issues, set priorities, and offer the party direction in crafting our message. At both the local and statewide level, we already have leaders who are bringing these clubs back. They should have every encouragement from state central.
If presented with a plan, the Republican National Committee is ready to help with this kind of party-building, providing us with both resources and training. I would make support for these groups a priority for our field staff, for state central members, and for myself as chairman.
Through these organizations, we can build an electoral bench for our party, feeding fresh faces into town committees, local elections, and legislative races. The field organization will also enable us to stage a genuine push in the crucial seventy-two hours before the election. A ground game takes manpower and organization, and it culminates in final voter ID, GOTV, and polling place operation.
Old-style politics have never lost their strength, and they’re needed now. As landlines disappear and attitudes change, phoning becomes less and less effective; thirty-second ads glut the airwaves each fall; and most of the glossy flats we’ve mailed for years go straight into the trash. Turning out the vote door-to-door is more critical and (because of technology, ironically) more doable than it has been in many decades.
Of course, party building won’t work if we don’t have candidates. Over the last five years I have been the leading recruiter of Republican legislative candidates, working with the caucuses, state central members, town committees, and the grassroots to identify and encourage good people to run.
At all levels there are races for state central to recruit in, and races to stay out of. In competitive statewide races of the sort we have had in recent cycles, the chair and staff must keep out of the fray until the nominating process has reached its final conclusion, by convention or primary.
It’s the important races where no credible candidate comes forward that must be the chairman’s priority. That includes particularly the congressional races in our difficult districts. We need to find candidates we have confidence in, and support the good people willing to take on tough races.
Our goal in recruitment should be to find and support the best candidates we can field in competitive races, and to stretch our opponent’s resources by challenging them aggressively on their home turf, making the case for our enduring principles.
It’s not enough to find candidates; we must recruit and train campaign managers as well, so worthy contenders have the help they need. It has been painful to see good legislative candidates lose because no one emerged to lead their campaign. There are young Republicans in our state eager for a chance to test themselves in a campaign.
With the right training and careful supervision, a recent college graduate could, in cooperation with the caucus team and state central leadership, work full-time managing a state senate race, or a cluster of house campaigns. Retired people too might be interested (I’ve worked with retired military who would be perfect for the job); in this state, there are all too many able professionals unemployed, who would be willing to take on a new challenge.
State legislative campaigns are growing more sophisticated, with the use of micro-targeting and social media. State funding puts them in a position to hire a manager with a small percentage of their total budget. We are at a disadvantage if we don’t have trained campaign managers, and we could easily and profitably employ dozens of them. Their experience they could gain now would make them an asset to our party for years to come.
We could certainly use them on legislative races in our cities. Win or lose, a campaign is the organizing and activating principle in politics, the real opportunity to get our message out. Public funding of campaigns lets us take advantages of that opportunity in our big cities, exactly where this exercise in democratic outreach is needed most.
We must be brutally honest about what we can accomplish as Republicans, and get behind an achievable plan for progress. Five funded State Senate candidates would mean over half a million dollars we can spend in Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. With that we could establish a headquarters in each city, hire staff, register voters, stage events, and promote our urban agenda where it counts.
Republicans throughout the state will step up to make sure each candidate reaches $15,000 for public funding. It will be up to the local town committees to help reach 300 in qualifying local donations. I know both goals can be met and in short order, for I saw it done by the Steve Mullins special election campaign in three weeks, in the toughest New Haven senate district.
Properly reasoned, properly funded, and properly run urban campaigns will add points up and down the ticket. They will also serve as adrenaline for the stalwart RTCs. A dozen lively new town committee members, several hundred additional registered Republicans, and many more supportive voters identified on key issues would be a potent campaign legacy.
The RTCs have been the strength of the party in Connecticut. It is up to state central to regain their trust, and the chair himself can accomplish a lot simply by showing up at events identified by state central members.
The relationship is cemented when we offer genuine help. Reliable data as discussed before is step one; help with voter registration is part of that. Answering calls, providing reliable information, and handling the mechanics properly is also a reasonable expectation, and will help restore confidence. State central should certainly follow through on an excellent initiative, long-abandoned, to host websites for every town committee that wants one. The goal should be to provide as much direction and support as possible in the things town committees must do, in terms of templates, training, resources, and ideas.
Interchange between town committees can be facilitated to help spread good ideas and engender a spirit of fellowship. State central members themselves are key to that effort, and district meetings are already bearing fruit where they are held.
I would propose that we go one step further, and hold a statewide Republican retreat, as is done in many other places, an event where all party leaders would be invited to share ideas, discuss challenges, assess our situation, and build camaraderie. It needn’t be an elaborate or expensive event; one full day would be a good start, and a date toward the end of the year would give us a chance to reflect on the last election and gear up for the next.
In the end, neither personal charm, connections, nor effort alone can make up for lack of a vision and plan for success in party fundraising.
Many national donors who live in Connecticut have given up on the state party. They must be convinced that we are worthy of their support, both because we stand for a genuine change in direction and because we can win (the two, of course, are inseparable). Our stalwart supporters in Fairfield County need to know that we appreciate their generosity, and do not hold those who have helped the most and for the longest responsible for our party’s failings.
Reengaging large donors requires mature leadership that can inspire confidence in our political prospects. On campaigns and in grassroots battles, I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. I can speak the language of campaigns and discuss the electoral landscape as comfortably and convincingly as anyone in the state party, with any sort of donor.
I will not only make the case to key supporters; I will also keep them informed of our progress. The presentation I made in the theater of the Chase home in West Hartford could be a model for a regular update on our progress for major donors. Unless we are willing to be honest and transparent, we can’t expect our supporters to invest in the effort. A meeting every few months for critical donors and fundraisers, with the staff in attendance and reports on every aspect of the operation, seems like the least we can do to build confidence.
Our Finance Committee will have an easier time attracting new members and new donors if it knows that the chairman and the staff are dedicated to the mission of the party, clear in their plans, honest about their progress, and at the service of those laboring to sustain the operation.
Beyond the Bush dinner, we should sponsor ongoing events in other parts of the state. Some of these can be program-driven, depending on the availability of political celebrities, the timing of political events, and the emergence of particular issues. Others might assume a regular place on the calendar, especially since geographic and financial constraints make the Bush dinner a challenging evening for some good Republicans around the state to attend.
Critically important is the constant recruitment and recommitment of small donors. That is done through direct mail, phone calling, and on-line, but it can be dramatically enhanced when coordinated with a timely and effective Republican message. I have learned how important it is to have a political message in the news when a solicitation lands in the mailbox, and I know how to place the right story in the press at the moment that we need it.
My ability to create and manage a story and to communicate through the media is a matter of record. As chairman, I would speak carefully, clearly, and with effect. When the message is good, I would look for other people to deliver it, elected Republicans or potential candidates who can benefit from the exposure. I would concentrate on making the case against the Malloy administration, which I believe I have done convincingly and entertainingly. As a legislator, I know the issues thoroughly, the reporters personally, and the news as it happens. No one is better positioned to direct fire against the Democrats, or better understands their vulnerabilities.
Prospecting for donors is an investment in our future. It can be done in cooperation with the town committees, and it can be coordinated with the field staff. The goal should be tens of thousands of small donors: nothing less. I talk to people every day who are looking for a chance to contribute but haven’t been asked—with smart prospecting, we can reach those folks.
Finally, the chairman himself must make a personal commitment to raising money. I know how big that job will be, and it will require not simply perseverance but the maturity to establish confidence and the human instincts to find the right approach. Finance staff would help create lists for the chairman to call and follow up with the contacts.
This agenda cannot be exhaustive or absolute: the way ahead we will find together, step by step. If we don’t start tackling these problems in our party, nothing will change; if nothing changes, our state is doomed. It’s up to us to chart a new course for Connecticut.
We must rebuild our party, for only the principles we assert and the values uniting us can restore our state and nation. Let active Republicans share our sense of mission, from the youngest intern to the most veteran town committee member, local elected officials and legislators included, and above all state central itself, a source of strength and inspiration.
We must do all we can in this fall’s municipal elections, especially since we have some challenging and critical city halls to hold, but we can’t expect the revitalization to be complete by November. Our first real chance to show what we can do as a party is next year’s legislative elections.
We have made steady progress toward a majority, and could seize one in either chamber next time. My goal above all as chairman would be to win a legislative majority in 2016, especially in light of this year’s disastrous budget and the blatant political payoffs attendant on its passage.
I know our issues and how to sell them, and know the legislative districts, and the capacities of the caucuses. I am better positioned to coordinate our effort next year than anyone in the party. I have shown my dedication to this cause, working throughout the state for three cycles to help Republicans willing to fight.
Our effort next year lays a groundwork for the statewide organization required to elect a governor in 2018. For the sake of the principles we share—personal liberty, equality, opportunity, responsibility—let us abandon old quarrels and embrace our common goal: a party that wins, to save the state we love.