Republican Town Committee chairman Al Alper surprised many people when, after failing to get the RTC’s nomination to run for the Board of Selectmen, he decided to try to get onto the ballot through a Republican primary, and if that didn’t work, try to petition to get on the ballot as a petition candidate. We have published an interview with Alper today.

In that interview, Alper asserts that he has the support of current selectman and former RTC chairman, Michael Kaelin. We contacted Kaelin to confirm Alper’s statements; as part of Kaelin’s answer he refers to the Republican Town Committee meeting on July 19 at which the RTC chose their endorsed candidates, slating Lori Bufano and Joshua Cole on the ballot to run for selectmen over Alper.

At that meeting, the RTC made that choice during an executive session, asking all non-RTC members (including GOOD Morning Wilton and other press) to leave so members could discuss and vote on nominees in private. The only non-RTC member allowed to stay during the executive session was first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, who is not an RTC member but is a Republican. Kaelin–who previously was a member of the RTC, serving as its chairman until he resigned in 2010, and who last year changed his party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated–was not at the meeting, but said he read accounts of what occurred in media coverage of the meeting.

Because Kaelin’s statements include remarks about Vanderslice being part of the RTC’s July 19 meeting, we asked her to comment. Below is Kaelin’s interview, followed by Vanderslice’s statement:

Michael Kaelin

Kaelin affirmed his support for Alper’s bid.

“I support Al as a candidate because I do think he’d be a good person to join the BOS. Apart from Al, even if it wasn’t Al, I am certainly encouraging Republicans to sign the petition so that they have a primary.”

Part of what is motivating Kaelin’s support for Alper is what happened at the July 19 RTC meeting. 

“I was really dismayed by the way the Republicans handled the endorsements. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be done. I was the one that wrote the party rules for how they’re supposed to do this.

The major parties they can either make an endorsement by having a caucus, where every member of the party gets to vote at a specific time and place–which is what the [Wilton] Democrats do–or by the party rules, they can delegate the authority to make endorsements to the Town Committee, where only town committee members get to vote.

In Wilton, the Republicans chose to do it by committee members. What was missing in what the Republicans just did, if the town committee members make the endorsement, it’s supposed to be in a public meeting, in a public vote on the record.

They’re acting in a representative capacity; they’re not supposed to be voting by secret ballot, because they’re not voting for themselves, they’re voting for the people who elected them at a caucus to do it. When I read the stories following their endorsement, that they had this executive session and the candidates were discussed in executive session, and they voted by secret ballot, I was dismayed, because to me it was just so wrong. If you’re going to delegate the authority to make endorsements to the party members, then they have to do it out in the open and publicly vote.

They excluded the candidates from the meeting, so they couldn’t defend or promote themselves. Then they invited the first selectman–what was the reason for inviting the first selectman? Why her and why not somebody else who might support another candidate?

I just thought the process was all wrong. It’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.”

As a result, Kaelin is supporting Alper’s bid in part because he thinks the party should have an open vote.  

“The best thing for the party is to have a primary, so all the Republicans get to vote on who their candidates are going to be in the fall election.

Let’s take the veil off this, create transparency. Let the candidates make their case to all the Republican voters in town and let them make the endorsement.”

Kaelin says this isn’t about party affiliation or politics.

“I’m not stepping back in or rejoining the Republican party. I’m not changing back to be a Republican so I can sign a petition, or vote in the primary. The concerns I’m expressing about this process, I would be expressing if the Democrats did the same thing. It has nothing to do with the party, it has to do with the procedure. Why I’m expressing an opinion about this, is because the procedure is something I know a lot about.

[In 1995-96] I was the chair of the rules committee for the RTC when we changed the rules to make the endorsements by the town committee rather than by caucus. I did all the legal research on what the state statutes require, for making party endorsements. I looked at town committee rules for all different towns across Connecticut. The rules committee presented not just the RTC but all the Republicans in the town with the new rules and those rules were voted on in a caucus where all Republicans in Wilton were eligible to vote. To the extent that I’m inserting myself in the process or expressing opinions is because I know something about it and I do not believe it was done correctly.”

Kaelin says that having a primary is more open and inclusive.

One thing I never understood is why anyone views a primary as a bad thing or as something negative and divisive. It’s more open and more inclusive. This isn’t specific to the Republicans, this is specific to our Democracy. The more open and inclusive the process is, the better.

The first step in the process is the endorsement. Whether you do it by caucus or by town committee, all that happened the night RTC endorsed Lori and Josh, all they’re doing is endorsing them.

The next step in the process is, if anyone wants to challenge who the endorsed candidate is for a major party, all they have to do is get a petition signed by the requisite number of party members. If somebody does that, at that point the town committees are prohibited from doing is taking sides–because now it’s gone from the party endorsing somebody to somebody challenging for the party endorsement. The mechanism for the challenge is to let all the party members vote in a primary. You can have more people having input on who the party’s candidate is going to be. Whoever wins the primary gets the spot on the ballot.”

Criticism of the RTC’s nominating process has been levied in the past, that it’s happened behind closed doors for a long time. It’s been suggested that now that the process impacts Alper, it’s convenient to suddenly say it wasn’t open or done the right way. Kaelin says that’s a question that is better answered by Alper. 

“I can’t answer for him on that. I can say that for me, I have complained about this before. If you did a little digging and found out when I resigned and why, it was because of that process, specifically because of the procedure where members of the town committee were not allowed to vote or allowed to speak. I’ve been consistent with that.

It’s not specific to the Republican party; generally, the more people involved in the process the better. Me supporting Al and saying he should have a chance to primary is not me saying I support Al over Lori or Josh. I’m not advocating one should be chosen over another. I’m advocating that all the registered Republicans should be able to vote on this, just like I’d be advocating in November’s general election, the more candidates the town gets to vote on, the better.”

Kaelin also says it’s not about the personalities–it’s about the principle.

“I want to emphasize, saying I support Al and that there should be a primary is not saying anything against Lori or Josh, or even that I don’t support them. I don’t think the way this was done, the way the endorsements were made, was correct. And the way to correct it is to have a primary and let everybody vote. Whoever comes out of the primary is going to come out a stronger candidate because they’re going to have a stronger endorsement.

If you care about how we elect people to represent us and govern us, it’s really important to follow these rules. What the rules are designed for is to have an open and inclusive process. Anything that goes against that, I’m against.”

Lynne Vanderslice

This is the statement Vanderslice emailed about being present in the RTC’s executive session during the June 19 nominating meeting. 

“During the public session, a motion was made to have me remain for the Executive Session. No objections were raised and all members, including Al, voted ‘yes.’ I was not surprised to be included. Since becoming First Selectman, I had been brought into Executive Session several times, as had Mike Kaelin when he was a Selectman and a registered Republican.

“The procedures for Executive Session were not in dispute. It is my understanding during the last couple of times when there were two or more candidates nominated for one Selectman position, the candidates were asked to leave the room. Mike Kaelin may not be aware as he hasn’t been a member of the RTC for some time.

If Mike had been present for the Executive Session, I think he would understand and not question or object to Lori Bufano remaining in the room. I’m confident that Al and Josh, who were there, understand.

Obviously I can’t speak to any of the specifics of the Executive Session, but I left the evening filled with hope. Despite all the chaos on both the state and national levels, I had just participated in an extremely civil, fair and thoughtful political process. It made me proud of Wilton.”