Three women, each with her own path to becoming an active Republican in historically Democratic Middletown, have made it their mission to inject new life into the city’s Grand Old Party.
The median age of Republicans in Middletown is 65, says Lea Tomaszewski, a special education teacher, recently appointed member of the city Arts Commission, and a Republican since last May.
“We want to attract young people and women,” to the party, she said.
"Increasing membership is an important first step in a city dominated by registered Democrats, Tomaszewski explains. “To me, being a Republican in Middletown means being an underdog.”
And that’s because, according to the secretary of the state, by October 2010, 14.3 percent of registered voters were Republican — compared to 47.9 percent Democrat.
Councilwoman Deborah Kleckowski is well-versed on what it means to be a Republican. In fact, she served for six years, beginning in 2003, as a Democrat on the Planning and Zoning Commission before her yearlong campaign to unseat the Democratic chair led her to switch parties and run for Council as a member of the GOP.
Kleckowski said Mayor Sebastian Giuliano called her into his office in July of 2009 and asked her to join his slate.
“’There’s just one thing,’ he said, ‘you have to register as a Republican.’”
One thing Kleckowski, now an adjunct freshman seminar humanities professor at Middlesex Community College, learned from the ordeal, is that “issues are neither Democrat or Republican. We are a community first. You cannot legislate on party.”
Robin L. Goss came from a family of Republicans.
She’s a former registered nurse who for the past 10 years has been director of business management at the Middletown law firm Gibson & Behman, P.C.
When I turned 18, I registered to vote and I told my mom I was going to register as a Democrat. “She said, ‘Don’t you dare do that to your father,’” Goss said. “To me, it was like a religion. I was raised in a Republican family.”
Her grandfather, Edward Wheeler Goss was a U.S. Rep. from Connecticut.
For the last two to three years, Goss was involved in the statewide Tea Party. What finally got her involved in the Middletown Republicans was the issue of health care.
“Congressman John Larson was hosting a town hall meeting,” she explained. “Outside, the crowd was huge. The level of organization on the other side was phenomenal — it was a machine. They had busses, people holding up little flags, people holding up bigger flags …”
It’s this type of cohesion and momentum that Tomaszewski, Kleckowski and Goss hope to bring to the Middletown Republican party. “I am hoping we three women can revitalize the Middletown Republican Town Committee and attract new members,” Tomaszewski says, “particularly women and younger people in general. Also, we hope to be a more visible presence in the community.
“When Robin and I joined, we quickly realized that Deb had begun to revitalize the MRTC, but could use support.”
Tomaszewski says plans are for the MRTC to have a presence at the regatta in the fall, at car cruise night in June and the Memorial Day parade.
They also hope to plan regular benefits, like the one Tomaszewski hosted at her house last month that raised $1,000 for the Middletown GOP, as well as social events. A ladies brunch May 1 at the Mattabesett Canoe Club will feature red, white and blue daiquiris and Republican elephant sugar cookies by Kathy Kogut, of Middletown’s http://www.kakesbykathy-llc.com/
Goss has floated the idea of designing MRTC shirts that members can wear to events to distinguish themselves — and their distinct opinions on big issues.
Like health care.
Goss is against a national health care plan.
“My view of government is not one founded to provide for each individual's needs but rather our collective needs (defense, infrastructure, etc.) with greater state sovereignty (closer to the people it serves).
“Government isn't able to ‘provide’ for one without taking from another through taxation. Providing safety nets for those truly unable to provide for themselves is an absolute necessity in a civilized society, but we have moved far beyond that standard and rely too heavily on government to provide those needs.”
Specifically, Goss says, government mandates are a tough sell.
“Health care reform is an absolute necessity — no doubt about it — but there are more sensible reforms that should be considered. “
Kleckowski points to recent disasters like the Kleen Energy explosion and Oddfellows Playhouse’s costumes and props loss as examples of how community organizations come forward to help those in need — rather than expecting government to fill that role.
“We don’t need social services because organizations like the Kiwanis, churches and people take care of their neighbors,” Kleckowski says. “Republicans believe government does the big things, like police, fire and health inspection.
When people ask Kleckowski, “‘Are you in politics?’” she says, “I consider myself in government, in service to the people. Republicans are about empowering the individual, not entitlement.”
Entitlement is the crux, Kleckowski says, of what it means to be a Republican in Middletown.
“Republicans believe it’s the citizens’ money. Democrats believe it’s their money, that they’re entitled to services as opposed to personal responsibility and the role of the government.”
All three women agree on the point.
“For me, it's about promoting a culture of empowerment (versus a culture of entitlement),” Goss says, “more personal responsibility and smaller government, because shrinking the size and scope of government decreases the cost to support it and lowers the tax burden on citizens.”