The autumn of an odd-numbered year in Connecticut provides a vast classroom for politicians at every level. Municipal election campaigns are in season in most communities and local candidates are seeking the attention of the state's most engaged voters.
Local campaigns reveal a lot about the state of our politics and the mood of the public. The results in individual communities are not usually a referendum on state and national issues, but local politicians become the best instruments of gathering impressions on the state of opinions.
Here's how it happens. Thousands of candidates will be on November ballots. A fair chunk of them will be knocking on doors during daylight for the next four weeks. They hear a lot.
The first challenge for local candidates is finding people at home and willing to answer the door. Local candidates, who may not feel the vehement partisanship that characterizes much of contemporary politics, are nevertheless seen as frontline representatives of their party. Engaged voters like to talk to them about more than local zoning and school issues.
The impressions local candidates form can be more valuable than a paid focus group or polls. Many people like to talk and they are often familiar and comfortable with local elected officials. There is a lot of talent in local governments. Normal people are in local politics to perform a public service. Most are not lit from within by insatiable ambition and a love of the inside game. Unlike a deep tranche of politicians at other levels, they like to go home at night.
The outstanding example of that steady desire to serve the community revealed itself in the ordeal and inspiration of Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra. A talented administrator, Llodra provided inspired leadership and comfort to her beleaguered town last December when 20 children and 6 adults were killed by a madman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are many people, clear-eyed, kind leaders like Llodra, in local government.
Candidates who have launched or are considering bids for high office in 2014 ought to take a break from professional consultants and spend the next month on local trails with municipal candidates. They could learn from them. There is nothing like door-to-door campaigning or spending a few hours in front of a grocery store to put candidates in touch with life as its lived by voters.
A candidate could master the details of Monday's Fitch rating of Connecticut bonds, reciting its many reasons for the state's negative economic outlook and sound informed when talking to voters. But there's more to it than the rating agency's unhappy conclusions. As important is to hear and absorb howmembers of the public explain it. They are living the state's extended decline each day. Many more people are paying for state grants to millionaires and billionaires than are receiving them, and they know it.
Danbury Republican Mark Boughton is exploring another bid for governor. He's also running for re-election this year. Boughton is a favorite to win a 7th term in the western Connecticut city, but he's doing a smart thing by walking from door-to-door talking to voters.
Tom Foley ought to do the same in towns around the state. The former ambassador from Greenwich does not possess a common touch. On the hottest political day, he comes off as chilly. He would profit, a word the wealthy businessman understands, from hitting the pavement with a local pro like Nancy Nickerson of Farmington, Kurt Cavanaugh of Glastonbury or Wethersfield's Donna Hemmann. A Democrat could learn a lot from a Sunday with popular West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka or Manchester's Leo Diana. These people know how to connect.
Even prospective candidates would benefit from going door-to-door. Dr. William Petit, who entered the life of Connecticut when his wife and two daughters were murdered in their Cheshire home in 2007, is the target of Republican recruiters who hope he'll run for office next year. Before he decides, Dr. Petit ought to experience life on the day-to-day campaign trail. It varies from drudgery to a great slog through the human condition peppered with compliments, insults, arguments and surprises. This is the ideal time to witness it before getting in too deep. The best guides are available this month.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun