Election Editorial: Sending a Message
This week’s elections in Darien selected representatives for offices held within our town. Voters made their choice for selectmen, RTM representatives, the Board of Education, Planning Zoning commissioners, and a number of other offices. Many of our races went probably as they were expected to go, with the big surprise being a sitting selectman missing out on returning to the board. Yet it is impossible to look beyond our borders at what was going on elsewhere in our state and our country, where Democrats secured a multitude of victories, and wonder just how much is a push back against President Donald Trump.
Just in Connecticut, a number of cities and towns that have been held by Republicans flipped to Democrat control. In total, 22 towns in Connecticut flipped from Republican to Democrat control. Only six flipped the other way. Two towns have female mayors for the first time. Farmington, Trumbull, and Glastonbury, which have all been Republican, flipped to Democrat control.T
Outside of our state the trend of breaking new ground continued. Ed Gillespie lost the race for Governor in Virginia to Ralph Northam by nearly 10 points. That particular race received national attention after Gillespie was endorsed by Trump. Gillespie was outspoken on issues like preserving confederate monuments, the ongoing NFL kneeling protests, and violence from hispanic gangs, standing with Trump in each case. Trump tweeted that Gillespie, “did not embrace me or what I stand for,” and pointed to that as a reason for the loss on Tuesday night.
In another surprising turn that received less coverage, Virginia’s new Lieutenant Governor is also a Democrat, Justin Fairfax. Fairfax is African American, and is just the second African American to hold a state office in Virginia. Fairfax defeated Jill Vogel, who took stances aligned with Trump on issues like abortion and gun control. Virginia also saw a Democrat win the race for District Attorney. Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman, won election to the Virginia state legislature over Bob Marshall. Marshall voted to ban gay marriage in Virginia, and wrote and introduced the “bathroom bill” which prohibited transgender individuals from using the restroom of their gender identity.
In Minnesota, an openly trans African American woman was elected to the Minneapolis City Council, another first. Hoboken, New Jersey elected a Sikh mayor. In New Jersey Phil Murphy won the race for Governor, and voters in the state openly said their vote for Murphy was a backlash to former Governor Chris Christie and his connections with President Trump.
There were stories like this happening in states across the country. I exited polled here in Darien on Tuesday and was struck by one voter who said she was voting Democrat specifically “to send a message” to Trump. The voter said issues would have to be put aside, and this person also called on our senators to stand up to Trump (it is noteworthy that both the State Senators that represent Darien, Bob Duff and Carlo Leone, and our US Senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, are Democrats and very vocal Trump critics, as is Darien’s Congressman Jim Himes). Still I was fascinated. I spoke with newly reelected Selectmen Kip Koons who told me he had encounters during the campaign in which people told him they wouldn’t vote Republican ever again just because of Trump. State Representative Terrie Wood has told me she has had the same type of encounters with voters here in Darien.
As that voter walked into the polls exclaiming the intention to vote Democrat to send a message while shaming Republicans at every level of government, I found myself feeling disappointed. Their words had revealed that they weren’t necessarily clear on who was representing them in the Senate at the state and federal level in the first place. I would never presume to tell someone how to vote. But voting party line Democrat in Darien to send a message to Trump might not be the statement one might think it is. John Kasich won the GOP primary here, not Trump. Hillary Clinton won the general election in Darien, not Trump. Conservatives in Darien tend to, for the most part, be conservative primarily in regards to fiscal issues, while being moderate to even progressive on social issues, which is not at all in line with where Trump has stood.
Of course plenty of Republicans won across the state, and some in closely contested races. Elections for state offices here next year will no doubt feature Republican campaigns that blame Democrats for all of our state’s woes, despite many of those problems being old enough that both parties truly share the blame. It will also likely feature Democrats doing their best to align Republicans with Trump, as it clearly worked in so many places on Tuesday.
But the events of the day should give us all some pause. A resistance to the rhetoric of Donald Trump has reached as far as the municipal level. People were voting Democrat for their city council, local boards, and other positions, just to resist Trump. Voter turnout was up, and up significantly for Democrats. DNC leader Tom Perez is pointing to Tuesday as a sign of things to come, and it isn’t unreasonable to think that the 2018 races are, at this moment, already tilting the Democrats way. And while Trump has rolled back and removed some policies of the Obama Administration, he actually has only passed two pieces of new legislation, neither one particularly major, which is surprising given Republican control of Congress.
There have already been multiple announcements from Republican leaders planning their retirement, including in strongholds like Arizona. This means more open seats in 2018. Tuesday may have showed us that the road map to political success for Democrats could be as straightforward as tying GOP candidates to Trump as the President’s approval ratings remain very low. Even at the municipal level, this strategy worked in places. GOP candidates at the town level have already started to distance themselves from the President in an effort to defuse this tactic, like Erin Stewart who won a third term as Mayor in New Britain even as rumors swirl of a run for Governor. Mark Boughton, Mayor of Danbury, has done the same, saying that it isn’t reasonable to take that vote against Trump down to the local level and have it sway local issues.
As much as so many of us disagree with Trump on certain issues, is this approach to voting really a good thing? Is it what we want from ourselves as an electorate? Even if it does disarm Trump by swinging Congress to the left, is the approach “I’m voting for person A because I hate person B” really the way democracy should work? An R or D next to someone’s name does not inherently make that person the right choice because you would have an R or D next to your name.
The next year will be fascinating right up until the first Tuesday in November, 2018. Trump’s polarization of the populace on the political spectrum has set us on course towards a potential watershed moment in political science and history. Wherever we fall on the political scale, we need to do that moment justice. If you choose to vote to send a message, don’t let a letter of the alphabet decide what that message is. Send a message by voting for the person who stands against what you are against and stands for what you are for. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, the letter next to that person’s name might surprise you.
The days of being able to paint an entire party, Republican or Democrat, with one broad brush, are well behind us. Some members of the right have clearly quite a long ways to the right, pushing policies that could undo decades of social progress. Some members of the left have gone a long way left (Lee Carter ran as a Socialist and beat a Republican incumbent in Virginia on Tuesday). But others haven’t, and are probably more flexible on issues than we might think. We can’t assume how someone feels about an issue just because of that D or R. Every vote we make in every race, no matter how small, should send a message about what we think is right, not what we think is wrong.