By SHERIDAN CYR
Tensions peaked in the Southington Republican Town Committee last week when a new slate of 75 members was set forth, introducing 23 newcomers and excluding some veteran members.
Former Town Councilor Cheryl Lounsbury, Board of Finance member Ed Pocock Jr., and Board of Water Commissioners member Erika Pocock, were not included in the new SRTC slate.
The absence of these members did not sit well with Board of Education chair Brian Goralski, who voted in opposition to the new slate. Following the meeting, Republican BOE members Patricia Queen, Joseph Baczewski, Terri Carmody and Colleen Clark, along with former Town Councilor Paul Champagne, former BOE member Juanita Champagne, and former Town Councilor Ed Pocock III, came to Goralski’s side in support.
The eight Republicans signed a joint letter of resignation and sent it to SRTC chair Steve Kalkowski.
“Our resignation is the result of our ongoing displeasure with the direction and tone of this committee, as well as the recent exclusion from the committee of long standing public servants in our town,” the letter reads. “We value differing views and opinions along with open and respectful communication.”
Kalkowski, SRTC chair since December and former vice chair, said the decision was a result of careful vetting and consideration by a subset of the executive board.
“We came up with what we felt was the best slate of candidates,” he said. “First and foremost, we want members who actively participate in our meetings, who come forward with recommendations and feedback, who offer ideas and solutions to things we need to address within our town and party. We want people who will attend our meetings and volunteer and help with fundraisers. Members should actively support the Republican platform and support elected and appointed officials.”
The new slate will be effective starting in March of 2018 and remain in place until 2020.
Pocock III disagreed with Kalkowski’s idea of guiding principles when selecting the SRTC slate.
“Slowly but surely, the freethinkers of the Republican party have been picked off. They had their ‘night of the long knives’ Monday where they eliminated valuable people,” he said. “They said, ‘we had no time to call those members and let them know.’ Really? It shows this whole thing was sneaky and vindictive.”
Pocock III stated this was a conflict of beliefs. “We stood for strong ethics, our party leadership didn’t. We wanted an open and honest process with hiring our Town Manager, the party leader ship didn’t. I’m not here, as Mr. Kalkowski said, to ‘cover each others’ backs.’ The only backs I care about are the people of Southington.”
He made it clear he was upset about his father, Ed Pocock Jr., and his daughter, Erika Pocock, not being brought back onto the slate, and said it was an operation intended to hurt him.
“And it’s not just because they’re my family,” he said. “It’s the principle.” He added that if his father had done something wrong, he would be the first one to tell him so. Additionally, Pocock III said he has always supported promoting women in politics. Kicking his daughter off the slate didn’t make sense to him. “How many 29-year-old women do you know who want to get involved in politics? Not many.”
Following his father and daughter’s exclusion from the SRTC, Pocock III joined in on Goralski’s resignation.
Goralski was the lone voice against the slate that was presented to the committee on Jan. 15.
“The leadership has become self-serving, in my opinion. They seek like-minded people, and are serving their own interests. Personally, I do not wish to be associated with that,” said Goralski. He said much of the tension stems from a loyalty to the party.
“We should be evaluated based on our loyalty to the people of Southington who elect us. Our dedication is to what we were elected for, not to our party,” he said. “You can’t throw away different opinions. That’s how they’ve become too like-minded.”
Goralski stated he simply doesn’t share the views of the leadership. He added he has no regrets about his resignation, and has not heard of any feelings of regret from the other members who joined in on the resignation.
“I do wish Steve the best as chairman, but his first act was to exclude people,” he said. “I hope he charts a new direction. If good people are excluded, I can promise you that I and many other Republicans will not sit back and let that happen.”
Kalkowski was unanimously elected to the position of chairman following Brian Callahan’s resignation in December. Callahan recommended Kalkowski for the position. In his new role, Kalkowski seeks to heal the Republican party.
“We’ve had some issues, and I think we suffered some of that fallout in the November municipal election where we ultimately lost majority in the Town Council and lost a seat in the BOE,” he said. “My role and what I’m looking to do first and foremost is to repair our party and restore our team, and assure we all agree and support our elected and appointed officials. We should all agree on our platform of fiscal responsibility, transparency, economic development and open space.”
Looking ahead at the 2018 general assembly election and the 2019 municipal election, the Republicans who resigned from the SRTC are still eligible to run for office as long as they remain registered Republicans. The SRTC will look at their options and create a slate of runners.
“Those who resigned are still registered Republicans, and I don’t believe they will change their affiliation,” said Kalkowski. “I believe they live and breathe the Republican values, and I do respect that.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.