When voters head to the polls in November, they may find their choices are limited.
The Democratic and Republican town committees in Beacon Falls, Naugatuck, and Prospect endorsed their slates for the November election last month. Of the six slates endorsed, only the Prospect Republicans backed a full ballot.
The problem of filling out a slate extended beyond the less-heralded positions. Naugatuck Republicans and Prospect Democrats didn’t endorse a mayor candidate.
Beacon Falls Republican Town Committee Chairman Michael Krenesky, who is also a selectman in town and running for re-election, called the process of finding candidates a “huge challenge.”
The Beacon Falls Republican Town Committee didn’t endorse a tax collector candidate and left a spot on its ticket vacant for the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.
“Most of these are thankless jobs that, at the end of the day, you don’t make friends because you have to make hard decisions,” Krenesky said. “There is a lot of responsibility and accountability for anyone in these positions. I don’t want to discourage anybody, but it can be very trying at times.”
Krenesky said part of the reason it is hard to find people is the length of some of the elected positions, which can be up to six years.
“It has become harder to find people who want to commit that time,” Krenesky said. “Some people look at six years and say that’s a life sentence.”
Naugatuck Democratic Town Committee Chairman M. Leonard Caine III said there is a trend of less people getting involved with, or even interested in, local politics.
“Going back to 1985 in Naugatuck, if you went to a meeting at the Town Hall the Hall of Burgesses was packed. There were few, if any, seats available. Now if you go there are 10 to 12 people there at best, and most of those are reporters and department heads,” Caine said.
The Naugatuck Democratic Town Committee endorsed three out of a possible five candidates to run for the borough’s Board of Education, one of a few offices that didn’t draw a full complement of candidates.
Caine said people don’t have much free time. He pointed out that, in some families, both parents are working and the children are in sports.
“People just don’t have the time in their lives to be as interested as they once were,” Caine said.
Naugatuck Republican Town Committee Chairman Kim Kiernan echoed Caine’s sentiments, saying that many people do not have the time to commit to running for and holding an elected position.
“Our community is made up of mostly working families, which is a good thing. For the elected positions that are themselves full-time jobs, such as mayor, tax collector, town clerk, most people are not willing to quit their current jobs for a two-year term and then have to campaign to keep the job after that and possibly be unemployed in the end,” Kiernan said.
The deadline to endorse candidates has passed. Candidates must now petition to get on the ballot.
Prospect Democratic Town Committee Chairman Eileen Cranney said the committee has active petitions going, including one to fill out its candidates to run for the Prospect Town Council.
The trend of lower political participation isn’t specific to the local area.
According to information provided by the Secretary of State’s office, 38 of the 169 municipalities in the state had uncontested races for their top political seat in 2011. That number rose to 43 in 2013 and to 45 in 2015.
While there has been a trend of decreased interest at the local level, Connecticut Democratic Party Communications Director Leigh Appleby said the 2016 presidential election that saw President Donald Trump, a Republican, win has spurred interest in more people.
“This trend is specific to 2017. A group of people who have never been involved in politics before are getting involved at the local level,” Appleby said.
Kiernan felt what is happening at the national level has turned a number of people away from wanting to get involved in local politics.
“There are many people interested in holding elected positions. However, when they find out that it is political and that they have to run a campaign, it is a turn off. People are tired of ‘politics’ because they think of it as a dirty word. I think what is going on nationally is turning people off to the political process,” Kiernan said.
However, she said the issues facing the state — a multi-billion dollar deficit and the inability to pass a budget — has spurred on Republicans.
“At the state level, I think people are growing more aware of the terrible decisions and mistakes being made by Gov. [Dannel] Malloy, especially regarding the budget,” Kiernan said.
Prospect Republican Town Committee Chairman Nazih Noujaim said the fact that Malloy is one of the least popular governors has definitely helped the local Republican ticket.
Although there may be some interest, the challenge for the town committees lies in finding those people.
Both Caine and Kiernan said their respective town committees try to identify and reach out to as many people as possible in hopes of finding candidates.
“You try to talk to good people to gauge their interest. However, most say they don’t have the time,” Caine said.
Kiernan said the Naugatuck Republican Town Committee has tried increasing its social media presence and holding meetings to get people interested. However, people still need to be asked directly before considering running, she said.
“For the most part, I find that people need to be personally asked before they will get involved. The RTC members try to make a habit of regularly asking people to come to our meetings and encourage them to get involved,” Kiernan said.
Krenesky said one of the selling points for running for office is that, while it can be difficult, at the end it is rewarding.
“If you like dealing with people it can be outrageously rewarding. Even if you just help one person,” Krenesky said. “If there is just one thing I have done to help someone I can walk out of having been in office saying it was a success. I can say, ‘At least I helped my community here.’”