Some candidates for governor will skip the party conventions

HARTFORD — As the state’s major political parties prepare for the May conventions, at least two candidates for Connecticut governor have already decided to skip the partisan events altogether, opting to petition their way onto the primary ballot.

Democrat Guy Smith announced this week he plans to collect signatures from roughly 15,500 registered Democrats, or 2 percent of the total number of registered Democrats in the state. Petitioning Republican candidates also must meet the 2 percent rule.

The other way to participate in the state’s Aug. 14 primary is to receive the support of at least 15 percent of the delegates at the Democratic and Republican state conventions.

But Smith insists that the current convention system “is built for career politicians” who are “pandering to party elites” and not everyday voters. Smith also is not participating in the state’s public campaign funding system.

“The system is rigged for the old guard,” said Smith, borrowing a term from a politician he has sharply criticized, Republican President Donald Trump. He complained he has had difficulty obtaining information including about delegates.

“We’re going to go to the Democrats of Connecticut,” he said.

It is one of the latest examples of gubernatorial candidates choosing non-traditional routes to the state’s highest office in this year’s election, which has attracted more than two dozen candidates. Republicans are endorsing their candidates for governor and other offices on May 11-12 and Democrats will meet May 18-19.

The GOP is hoping to win back the seat held by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not seeking a third term.

Republican Bob Stefanowski also has said he is going to skip his party’s convention and make his case directly to primary voters. He needs to collect about 9,600 signatures.

“The current convention process discourages just the type of candidates most voters want — a fresh, outside and real world perspective from a new candidate who has not been courting potential convention delegates for years,” Stefanowski wrote in a letter to Republican Party Chairman JR Romano. Stefanowski, a former CEO and a chief financial officer for an investment bank, also has skipped four Republican gubernatorial debates and is not participating in the public campaign finance program.

Asked about Stefanowski’s decision to be a no-show at the convention, Romano said, “Obviously there’s the convention process and there’s the ability for people to petition on the ballot, and they have every right to do it.”

Nick Balletto, chairman of the Connecticut Democrats, issued a similar statement in response to Smith’s comments: “It’s interesting that Guy Smith does not feel he is a credible enough candidate to qualify for funding or to receive support from Democratic leaders across the state a month out from convention.”

Meanwhile, several Republican candidates said at a recent debate they may attempt to petition their way onto the primary ballot if they do not meet the necessary 15 percent threshold at the convention.

One GOP gubernatorial candidate, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, called it “an incredible sign of disrespect” for candidates to skip the convention or “not respect its outcome” by collecting signatures after the convention.

“These delegates are the volunteers who knock on doors, stuff envelopes, make phone calls and sacrifice their time to get Republicans elected locally and statewide,” said Herbst, adding that he believes the convention helps determine which candidates can motivate the party and win.

Oz Griebel, who ran as a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, has taken an entirely different approach this year. He teamed up with a Democratic running mate, Monte Frank, and they are more than halfway finished collecting the 7,500 signatures needed to appear on November’s general election ballot as an independent ticket, forging the primary process.