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Newtown has had its share of celebrities and newsmakers from the worlds of entertainment, medicine, science, business — even agriculture. But the community has never served as a springboard for a gubernatorial campaign, nor has it ever claimed hometown bragging rights to a candidate for lieutenant governor.
On a frigid Saturday, January 6, dozens of residents and visitors to Edmond Town Hall got some of the first opportunities in the state to meet and chat with gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, and his running mate, Sandy Hook resident Monte Frank.
The pair spent more than four hours in the Edmond Town Hall lobby gathering the first of more than 7,000 signatures they will require from qualified voters across the state to secure a spot on this November’s ballot as independent candidates for Connecticut’s two top elected offices.
While a good number of those who showed up were specifically there to add their signatures of support to the petitions, a good number of others who were coming in for an early movie matinee got a mini-lesson in Connecticut political science as they were briefly educated about the process by which candidates outside of the major party structures qualify to be on the statewide ballot.
As the number of aspiring candidates seeking to take on the jobs being vacated by departing Governor Dannel Malloy and Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman begin to swell, seemingly exponentially in recent weeks, Mr Griebel and Mr Frank present perhaps the most unique contenders.
Mr Griebel, who campaigned for the governor’s office once before, was a lifelong Republican until he recently changed his status to unaffiliated — and Mr Frank was a lifelong Democrat who similarly changed to being unaffiliated to pursue their hopes of winning in November and digging in to help get the state back on a progressive track.
Meeting Monte Frank
During a brief noontime press conference, Mr Frank took to the podium first, telling a packed Mary Hawley room crowd that he has loved Newtown since his family relocated here in 2003.
“This really was, and still is, a special place,” Mr Frank said, “it’s home.”
Following the tragedy of 12/14, Mr Frank observed that numerous charitable organizations sprouted up and continue to make a positive and significance difference in Newtown, as well as across the state and nation, including establishing Team 26, a group of cyclists who travel between Newtown and Washington, DC, annually advocating for common sense firearms laws.
“The phrase ‘We Are Newtown’ means something special,” he said. “Since 12/14, we have shown the world what that means. I promise that I will carry that special Newtown spirit to Hartford.”
Mr Frank then turned his attention to the “partisan politics” and “political rancor’” that he said has gripped Hartford, and exhausted state residents who are “looking for a new way forward.”
“That’s why Oz, a lifelong Republican, asked me, a lifelong Democrat, to run together as a bipartisan team. And we recently shed our party affiliations to run as independents,” Mr Rank said. “We are bringing together the best of both worlds on a unity ticket. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or unaffiliated. We are looking for the best people and the best ideas to help us turn this state around — no parties, no politics, just solutions.”
Mr Franks said he and Mr Griebel will marry fiscal responsibility with social justice while maintaining a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.
“Our number one focus will be on creating jobs and improving the economy,” he concluded, reminding those gathered that his running mate is an attorney, a former minor league baseball player, former CEO of Bank Boston Connecticut, and for the last 16 years, CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, a leading business and economic development agency in the capital region.
Taking to the podium, Mr Griebel turned to the issue of getting on the ballot.
A Grassroots Effort
“This is a grassroots effort, very much building from the bottom up,” Mr Griebel said, likening himself and Mr Frank to entrepreneurs who have “getting together for several months to define our product, find the way to deliver it, and engage our customer base — you — to support what we’re doing.”
Mr Griebel said similar to his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for governor, he and Mr Frank will not be taking public financing.
“It’s a philosophical point, but basically I don’t think that’s the right thing to do with taxpayer money,” he said. “As we look out at a $2.5 billion deficit or more, the $37 million line item in the budget [for public campaign financing] would be better off eliminated to make a small dent in the deficit, or better used to fund social services and make better investments in infrastructure.”
Mentioning the departure of General Electric, Mr Griebel said he and his running mate hope to “reignite private sector confidence in the state.”
“The ability to do the things Monte mentioned on the social justice side are linked to that,” he said. “There has been no net job growth between 1989 and 2017, and without job growth you are not going to generate the income we want to take care of those in need, to invest in things like transportation, higher education to make sure we have a pipeline of talent here, and we want to have aspirational goals.”
Mr Griebel said he hopes to see Connecticut double the projected population growth the state is expected to experience into the mid-century, and hoped to see much of that population growth in urban centers.
“If the jobs come back, our income tax [revenue] goes up without raising rates, our sales tax goes up without having to raise rates, our gasoline tax goes up without having to raise rates,” Mr Griebel said. “The idea of working together across party lines for the people of Connecticut is what this campaign is all about.”
In closing, he thanked attendees and event organizers Kyle Lyddy and Mary Ann Jacob, and called on everyone to not only support the campaign by signing the ballot petition, but to promote their efforts into November.
“We’re not going to have the benefit of the public financing that will come to the two major candidates, nor will we have the kind of money coming to them from the Democrat’s and Republican’s Governors Associations,” Mr Griebel said. “That means our approach is going to have to be more imaginative, more grass roots — it’s going to take a lot of people who like what they’ve heard to go out and spread the word about what we’re doing.”