By SHERIDAN ROY
Joe Markley came out of the wintry cold on a recent Tuesday and settled comfortably in the Observer conference room. The crisp fall breeze that he and other candidates felt leading up to Election Day 2018 had been replaced with harsh winds and warnings of snow.
Markley’s race for the seat of Connecticut’s lieutenant governor, alongside Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski, fell short, but the pair will go down in state history. The 2018 gubernatorial race in Connecticut was a unique one, including an Election Night ballot count that continued long after the candidates retired for the night.
When Markley went to sleep, his Republican ticket was in the lead.
“I hung around the hotel until it was obvious that nothing was going to be determined that night, and I went home and went to bed around 3 a.m.,” Markley said. “I woke up around maybe 8:30 a.m. with a missed call from Bob. I listened to the message and he said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to tell you, I’m going to go on the radio and concede.’ I thought, ‘Well, I wonder what happened, but I guess we must’ve lost.’”
Elections are nothing new to Markley. He first held office as a state senator in 1984 to 1986 at age 27.
“I was in the senate kind of out of nowhere,” he said. He was elected during the “Reagan landslide,” in which presidential candidate Ronald Reagan (R) carried over 60 percent of the vote in the state. Markley served one senatorial term, then took a lengthy hiatus—24 years—from being at the forefront of the political eye, though he never fully left the political scene.
Markley returned to the senate in 2010, and was reelected in 2012, 2014 and 2016. In 2018, Markley threw his hat in the ring for lieutenant governor, earning both the state Republicans’ nomination, and his spot on the Nov. 6 ticket in the primaries.
“Being the supporting actor was always a position I was interested in,” Markley said of being lieutenant governor as opposed to governor. “I didn’t feel the need to be the lead.”
Markley learned early on that the legislature serves an important role, but it comes with difficulties.
“The governor is the leader, and to some extent, all the legislature can do is fine-tune what the governor sets,” he said. “I never felt like it was possible to effectuate fundamental change from the legislative branch. This seemed like a much more doable thing and a useful thing for the party.”
Markley was the first to announce his candidacy for the seat, and breezed through the primaries. He recalled having more control over that race than in the general election.
“We won [the primaries] easily because we had really good organization,” he said. “We have to draw our own volunteers for support, so I thought, ‘I can organize that, and whoever the nominee is for governor, I can bring that to the ticket.’”
After his win in the primaries, his hopes of combining both his organization with the gubernatorial candidate’s organization did not come to fruition. Markley credits a shift away from the strategies that were successful during the primary season.
“I particularly thought our campaigns would merge, and that didn’t really happen,” said Markley. “He had out-of-state folks who didn’t really see a need to. They believed in raising the money and buying TV ads.”
He felt, with Stefanowski’s campaign, there was a lack of “ground game” or desire to work with local folks, “and that was a mistake,” he said. Nevertheless, Markley accepted the loss, and focused on the positives. The Republicans came out in numbers for the 2018 race.
“This is three in a row that we’ve come very close,” he said. “People say the Republicans can’t win in this state. Well, it’s just like we played a football game and it was 37-35. You can’t tell me we can’t win if we came that close.”
Though he took a loss at the state level, Markley’s home town carried him to victory locally. The final totals in Southington showed 12,036 votes for Stefanowski-Markley, and 7,431 for Ned Lamont-Susan Bysiewicz, the Democratic candidates.
“Rob Sampson and I have had eight years together in Southington with a pretty high profile and a lot of meetings, contacts, and videos,” said Markley. He and fellow Republican Sampson held seats representing Southington in the state for the same eight-year stint. Sampson’s most recent race brings him up from the House of Representatives, to Markley’s former seat in the Senate.
Southington has more registered Democrats, but in this election, voters carried Republican candidates to local victories.
“[Sampson and I] really have been able to persuade people about what these Republican issues are. I think people have agreed with our positions. It’s a matter of saying, ‘Let’s convert people instead of chasing them in what they believe.’” said Markley. “I think politicians should be opinion leaders in that way.”
Though Markley is known for his strong, conservative beliefs, the seasoned politician understands the importance of reaching across the aisle.
“In this business, it ought to be like two guys who are friends, who play on different teams,” he said. “When we’re in the conflict, we play hard, and when it’s over, there’s no reason why we should have a problem.”
Come early January, when the winners of the 2018 race are sworn in, Markley’s time in state politics will come to an official close. But, he may not be out of the realm entirely. Markley said that this probably isn’t the last chapter in his story.
“I don’t feel like I got it out of my system altogether,” said Markley. “I think I’m bound to be kind of involved in the party, because unless I moved out of here, I don’t know that I could get out of that conversation.”
For the time-being, Sen. Markley has returned to his Plantsville home, nearby the land that his family has owned since the 1730s. He continues his usual routine, meeting up with locals to share conversation and coffee, bumping into supporters at the grocery store.
In other words, it’s business as usual.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.