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Lee Gold has been a Republican for most of his life but on Friday the West Hartford town council member declared that he is leaving the party out of frustration and anger over the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Gold, West Hartford Town Committee Chairman Mark Merritt and two other local Republicans — Roni Rodman and Rick Bush — are joining A Connecticut Party, a long-dormant independent political party formed in 1990 by former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. They plan to run as a slate of candidates in the November municipal election.
“I’ve been frustrated and concerned about the direction the GOP has chosen to take,’' said Gold, who is the highest ranking Republican on the town council. “I was really appalled at the events of Jan. 6 at our nation’s Capitol. Liz Cheney being stripped of her position of leadership has made me continue to question where the leadership of the GOP is taking us.”
The announcement by the four Republicans from West Hartford to bolt from the party is the latest sign that some in Connecticut are dismayed by the direction of the national GOP and its embrace of Donald Trump.
Last week, Larry Lazor, an ob/gyn from West Hartford, declared his candidacy for Congress by denouncing Trump’s false assertion that the 2020 election was rigged.
Lazor is not leaving the Republican Party but at least one other Republican from Connecticut has: Glastonbury Town Council member Stewart “Chip” Beckett stepped down from his minority leadership role after quitting the GOP, which he said no longer represents American laws and values at the national level.
A similar schism between Trump loyalist and critics is evident nationally as well. While most party leaders—including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy—are standing by the former president, pockets of dissent have emerged. On Thursday, close to 150 Republicans and unaffiliated politicians announced they may leave the GOP and form a new party.
Gold said he believes he can be more effective from outside the Republican Party. He said he has tried to shift the local town committee to a more centrist position for the past 18 months, but his efforts were rebuffed.
“I’ve tried to change the approach but I’ve run into resistance,’' Gold said. “I don’t want to be part of a party that keeps saying no.”
Merritt, who made an unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 2016, said A Connecticut Party will bring in Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
“It’s about the community and how we approach things together,’' said Merritt, who has been a registered Republican for 30 years. “A Connecticut Party is a very good platform. It has some history of bringing communities together and not worrying if you have an R, a D, [or] a U ....next to your name.”
A Connecticut Party was formed in 1990 by Weicker, then a former U.S. Senator who was planning a gubernatorial run.
Weicker, a Yale graduate from Greenwich, was a Republican moderate in the classic New England mold. He built his national reputation partly by being a Republican who was unafraid to speak out against President Richard Nixon as a member of the Senate Watergate Committee. (More recently, he also denounced Trump.)
But in the 1980s, Weicker found himself out of step with a Republican Party drifting further to the right. He lost his Senate seat in 1988 to then-state Attorney General Joseph Lieberman.
He formed A Connecticut Party in 1990, and won the governor’s office. He served just one term: his tenure was best known for the adoption of a state income tax, a politically unpopular cause that Weicker championed.
A Connecticut Party held a convention in 1992 and endorsed dozens of candidates for the General Assembly. Its 1994 gubernatorial nominee, Weicker’s lieutenant governor, Eunice Groark, lost to Republican John Rowland.
After that, A Connecticut Party faded from view. The party still has a handful voters on its rolls, but it has not endorsed any candidates for office in at least two decades, according to the Secretary of the State’s Office.
To bring the party back, the West Hartford candidates would have to submit a petition to the Secretary of the State signed by 25 people. They would also have to collect signatures of 1% of the total voters who cast ballots in West Hartford’s 2019 municipal election.
Gold and Merritt said it’s time to bring A Connecticut Party back.
“When we look back at history, at what Lowell Weicker did 30 years ago, it was about coming up with ideas and getting away from partisan politics,’' Merritt said. “We can learn from that.”