For Wilton Republicans, this past year has been one of re-centering and repositioning. A change in leadership and new faces among Wilton’s Republican Town Committee members, as well as a redesigned website, signal a distinct shift on the part of local Republican leaders. We asked RTC chairman William Lalor to talk about those changes and what they mean for Republicans in town.
GOOD Morning Wilton: This year has been a big transition year for the RTC, and a lot of shifts–you as new chair, new website, new first-time members. What is behind this shift and what’s propelling it?
William Lalor: You are 100% right that the RTC has seen a lot of changes, and there is a lot of new enthusiasm heading into a campaign season that’s of obvious importance for Wilton. There are a lot of new faces throughout the organization after the most lively caucus that anyone can recall. We frequently have visitors including high school and college kids and others around town who are interested in getting involved. That wasn’t the case before.
Aside from the internal changes this year’s elections are an obvious driver, as is the sense that a town like Wilton should have an influential and engaged RTC. More broadly, so should all of Fairfield County; among other things the towns here are treated like Hartford’s piggy bank and ought to be organizing and speaking up, and that’s what we are doing for Wilton. There is certainly a strong sense that this election is unique and urgent and that we need be actively campaigning and helping GOP candidates.
GMW: There have also been some controversial events–Al Alper’s break from the party endorsement process and petitioning in last year’s Bd. Of Selectmen election; controversial remarks made by RTC BOE candidate Andrea Preston. Did that hurt the RTC?
WL: Yes, both of those things hurt the RTC. For an organization like ours, of course they were distractions and an impediment to what the rest of us are trying to accomplish.
What I have tried to emphasize about the RTC since becoming chair is that we are a diverse group: educators, small business owners, parents, veterans, retirees, immigrants, et cetera. We really can’t be pigeon holed and we are more than any individual member.
The RTC is comprised of 40 smart, capable, hardworking people with an array of ideas and qualifications, and we frequently have these great, lively discussions and opinions–this really belies the idea that any one individual on the RTC should overshadow the rest. We have very important elections coming up, and that’s the focus.
GMW: The year has been a big transition year for Wilton’s Democratic Town Committee as well…their membership has grown, they’re fielding candidates, they’ve gotten very organized under a new chair. For a town that has often been a red dot in the middle of a blue state, what do you think about the DTC’s growth in Wilton?
WL: I have not paid too close attention to the DTC’s status. I did have a very cordial, friendly meeting in the fall at Orem’s Diner with Tom Dubin, the new DTC chair. Tom’s been courteous and I think we are on the same page about treating one another like neighbors rather than mortal enemies and talking over coffee rather than on degenerative Facebook threads. I view the DTC as my neighbors foremost. We’ll of course campaign for the candidates and ideas we believe in, and when it comes to making choices about taxes, smart economic growth, etc., I believe that voters will see things our way. And so I wish the Democrats the best, just not on Election Day.
GMW: In both parties, especially nationally, you see a broad spectrum of members between moderates on one side and the ultra-wing on the other. How do you deal with that locally?
WL: There are always wedge issues, especially given the tone of things around the country, that get a lot of visibility and air time and both sides of the aisle are responsible for some of this and a lot of it is strategic. We can all argue about Michelle Obama’s arms (fabulous) or Melania’s outfit (fabulous) but meanwhile, our governor is punishing Fairfield County towns with ECS (Education Cost Sharing) and other cuts and pushing through more tax increases as “tolls.”
Or maybe your neighbor lost her job in Stamford and is moving to South Carolina, or your uncle closed his deli in Trumbull and is moving to Florida, and now you can’t sell your own house. Or, you are commuting to Manhattan wondering why it feels like a neglected spur on the Chicago and West Michigan railway circa 1897, except of course for the world class fare.
So, there are elements on both sides who will yell and scream, but this is Wilton and I’d like to think we can all look at what’s hurting us and have a discussion and focus on how to fix it. Whenever I chat with people in town–in particular those who are not politically active–they are most focused on what affects them every day: taxes, real estate values, jobs, opportunities for graduates and retirees to stay here, transportation, schools, and general worry about having a future here at all.
These issues are not always very visible in the media, but they are exceedingly important to voters, especially in this election year. The Republican candidates have experience and a record of success on these issues, and that is where they are focused. They have plans for moving forward and helping make a much needed change in direction of the state with the gubernatorial race.
GMW: What other plans do you have for the RTC in Wilton? Any other changes in store?
WL: The RTC is more egalitarian, if that’s the right word; certainly less autocratic. We have a lot of people doing a lot of great work. We hosted a great forum and fundraiser at Old Town Hall last month for statewide GOP candidates including the gubernatorial candidates. We have a new, state of the art website and dynamic social media presence. We could not have done this a year ago, and that capacity to make an impact is the biggest change.
We’ll be opening campaign space later in the summer. It is really just keeping our noses to the grindstone and raising money and campaigning for GOP candidates and getting ready for the fall campaign season.
GMW: This summer you have an interesting preparation for campaign season ahead of you. Locally, Gail Lavielle is being challenged, Toni Boucher has a challenger who is generating a lot of buzz, Tom O’Dea is being challenged by a Wilton resident. and a primary with a big field of gubernatorial candidates. Is it going to be a more active summer than usual?
WL: I do think this will be a very busy few months. We are charged up and ready to work. Connecticut has serious problems, and it is not being dramatic to say this is the most important election for Wilton in decades. Wilton is dealing with Connecticut’s problems very close to home and with severe consequences. We are working hard for our candidates and expect to be busy through Election Day.
I know very little about Toni Boucher’s opponent. I met his grandparents at the July 4th softball game and I know he just graduated from Georgetown University and has an active Twitter account, but I am looking forward to seeing more substance. Gail’s opponent seems like a nice enough person, too, but that’s about all I could really say. Like most people I’ve talked to I hadn’t heard of her before she announced a few weeks ago. Certainly we all know Ross [Tartell] a bit better with his involvement in Wilton.
All of the GOP candidates are serious and experienced leaders with great track records on behalf of Wilton. That doesn’t just sound nice; it has the added merit of being true. They are all important advocates for Wilton up in Hartford. So, we will be campaigning and doing whatever we can to help them reach voters. We have great candidates and we’ll be working for them.
GMW: Specific to the local legislative races, what’s your take on how each of these races look?
WL: There is a funny scene from the movie Field of Dreams where the young Moonlight Graham is batting against an aggressive, veteran pitcher on the corn field and is buzzed with a good fastball. His coach leans in from outside the batting cage and says something like, “He set you up for low and outside so look for low and outside.” Graham looks relieved, but then as he heads back to the batters’ box the coach chimes in, “But watch out for in your ear.” That, in a nutshell, is my approach to these things. We will look for low and outside, but we are prepared for in our ear.
But I don’t want to sound cavalier about this. The RTC is really energized for an important election, and I believe we have great, very qualified candidates. The stakes are high, and we are committed to help our candidates win. The stakes are really too high to fall back on old routines.
GMW: Anything else?
WL: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about the new things the RTC is doing. We meet every second Tuesday of the month, and our meetings are open to the public except on occasion when in Executive Session.