The year that issues mattered in Greenwich
Now that the lawn signs are down and nobody in Greenwich wants to think about elections anymore, I’d like to add an observation on our local contests. Because there’s something people seem to have missed as to why Greenwich may or may not be casting off its heavy blanket of monolithic Republican rule.
Yes, voter registration numbers have certainly evened out over the last 25 years or so with registered Republicans dropping from 45 percent to 35 percent of the electorate. During the same period, Democratic registration increased from 20 to 28 percent, which still leaves a whopping 37 percent as “unaffiliated.”
Most local political insiders however recognize that the number of “lean Republican” among the unaffiliated far outnumber the “lean Democrat” contingent. So while statistically the Republican advantage certainly is shrinking, it’s still pretty apparent that a strong plurality of Greenwich voters would at least prefer a Republican given the choice. So then what was actually different this time around?
If Republicans want to believe that national issues and virulent anti-Trump feelings are what cost their incumbents this election, I’ll say that’s only a modest piece of the puzzle. If Democrats want to point to their growing demographic advantages as the reason they’re going to Hartford for the first time in a century, I’d say they’re overlooking a critical element of why their winners won. Here’s something I noticed in town for the first time in a long while: candidates talked about multiple, non-fiscal issues, and the electorate not only listened, but showed that they cared.
For decades, Greenwich Republicans could simply roll out their low tax, small government message, repackage it to fit whichever way the political winds were blowing, and count on the electorate to equate the message with “conservative values.” Those Republicans positioned themselves as the parental aristocracy you should vote for because of course they just knew better. And historically, any issue that wasn’t about the sober management of your money was relegated to the sidelines and dismissed as Democratic bleeding-heart irrelevancy.
This year though, the electorate was presented with Democratic candidates who talked about many different issues, and much to the shock of Republicans, the electorate listened, engaged and wanted to know more. All of a sudden, voters in Greenwich — in much larger numbers than in the past — started looking at how its candidates felt about gun control, environmental policy, women’s rights, and critically, about the direction of the country at large, and not just taxes and economics.
I’m not sure our Republican legislative Superfriends were ready for this however. It looked to me that as election season wore on, the Greenwich delegation, who opened with their calls for financial responsibility and chastising Gov. Dannel Malloy for perceived fiscal malfeasance, ended up scrambling by the end of the campaign to defend their positions on a number of topics they weren’t particularly comfortable talking about.
Post-election, Rep. Fred Camillo was dead-on correct when he said, “... you have places like Greenwich that are far more competitive than they ever used to be.” Absolutely. Fantastic. That’s the way it should be. Greenwich will only benefit from having an electorate that’s curious and informed about multiple and varied topics that impact their lives. An engaged citizenry not perpetually focused on and spooked by visions of tax monsters real or imagined. Sadly though, when Rep. Camillo also says, “People are moving to Greenwich from blue states and they’re coming here to change things, ” that’s missing the point.
There’s no conspiracy here. People move to Greenwich for all kinds of wonderful reasons; such as our schools, our parks, and our location. But now, Greenwichites both new or deeply rooted, seem to care about our politicians positions on multiple and nuanced issues. Should we be surprised that in an Information Age people would like to be better informed? Or that they are no longer beholden to any one party to have all the right answers? And that change is not something to be feared, but embraced as a way to help build a better future?
People don’t move to Greenwich with a desire to overthrow the existing political order. That’s just something they want to do once they see our political aristocracy in action.
David Rafferty is a Greenwich resident.