Governor candidates seeking backing of Independent Party

HARTFORD  — Some candidates for Connecticut governor are hoping to secure the nomination of a third party that’s been embroiled in a years long legal battle over who are the rightful party leaders.

The Independent Party of Connecticut, which organizers estimate has roughly 30,000 members, was holding its caucus for governor and other statewide offices on Sunday in Waterbury. Several gubernatorial candidates, including Republican Party nominee Bob Stefanowski, Republican Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and petitioning independent candidate Oz Griebel are among those who’ve expressed interest in getting the group’s backing.

“We are so excited to offer the Independent Party of Connecticut a true ‘independent option,'” Griebel’s campaign tweeted on Friday. “How appropriate: an Independent on the independent line.”

There’s been a long-running dispute between two factions of the party — one from Waterbury and the other from Danbury. The Waterbury group lays claim to having created the party and getting it qualified as a statewide party after members collected signatures and nominated Ralph Nader for president in 2008. But in 2016, the two factions nominated separate slates of candidates, and that led to the party not having a line on the ballot for U.S. Senate that year.

Last week, a Superior Court judge sided with the Waterbury faction in the dispute and ordered the Secretary of the State’s Office to accept the group’s endorsements and nominations.

The Danbury group is expected to appeal the judge’s decision. It has been accused of being a proxy for the Republican Party by mostly cross-endorsing GOP candidates. Rocco Frank Jr. of Milford, the vice chairman of the Independent Party of Connecticut and a leader of the Waterbury faction, said independents should have a right to vote for their own candidates.

“We don’t want to be a rubber stamp party,” Frank said.

Messages were left seeking comment with the Danbury faction’s attorney and Stefanowski’s campaign manager.

A cross endorsement was key in the 2010 Connecticut governor’s race. That’s when Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy narrowly defeated Republican Tom Foley in 2010 with the extra votes he received as Working Families

Party candidate. This year, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party and his name will appear twice on the November ballot.

If Griebel gets the minor party’s endorsement, his name won’t appear twice in November. Even though he’s close to getting 7,500 signatures approved as a petitioning candidate, the ability to be cross endorsed is only available to the two major party nominees. But Griebel, a former Republican, and his running mate Monte Frank, a lifelong Democrat, decided recently to seek the Independent Party’s nomination partly because they would be listed third on the ballot, rather than last, behind other minor party candidates.

“It’s all practical politics,” said Griebel, who met with party members on Saturday as they nominated some legislative candidates. “If an Independent Party member is serious about having an independent group of thinkers not associated with one of the parties, we are the option. We’ve been at this since the beginning as independents. We’re bringing an independent perspective into the governor’s office next November.”

In order to obtain the Independent Party’s endorsement Sunday, candidates must bring their delegates with them to the convention.

“They all work from the list and they have to find people who support them,” Rocco Frank said. “Whoever shows up with the most amount of delegates for their candidacy gets the line.”

The party also plans to endorse candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the State, Comptroller, Treasurer, Attorney General and the 5th Congressional District on Sunday. Caucuses are planned or have already been held for state legislative races.