KENT—Increasingly dogmatic stands by the nation’s two major political parties are stampeding more and more voters toward the ranks of the unaffiliated according to a Gallup Poll conducted in April of this year.
The survey showed that 49 percent of voters now feel they are independent of party, their numbers totaling as many as the Republican and Democratic parties put together.
Kent has mirrored the trend. The traditionally Democratic town has seen a shift in registration patterns with both parties seeing some defections, but with the Republican voters decreasing at a faster rate than Democrats, while unaffiliated numbers have soared.
At present, there are 933 registered Democrats, 400 Republicans and 705 Unaffiliated voters. Interestingly, four of the candidates seeking office this fall, are unaffiliated, including two vying for the first selectman’s seat.
Martin “Marty” Lindenmayer, who is running independently for First Selectman as an unaffiliated candidate, has previously tested the waters in both major parties. When asked about his decision to run as an unaffiliated candidate for the town’s top seat, he replied “I have been both a Democrat and a Republican in my life, and I got to a place in recent years where neither party resonated with my ethics. Choosing to run unaffiliated was the most authentic thing I could do—even though I know it will be hard for some folks not to vote a ‘party line.’”
He continued, “The importance of exercising your ability, and right and, yes, responsibility to vote cannot be understated. U.S. citizens have the privilege of selecting our legislative leaders–this is an honor that is not available in other places in the world.”
First selectman candidate Rufus de Rham has similarly found himself at odds with partisan politics. “I’ve seen both parties dig their heels in in a way that is not helpful,” he said. “We need to compromise. People are entrenching themselves in minority positions and becoming more polarized. When you take the job of being a senator or representative, you have represent all the people, not just your own party.”
A lifelong Republican with family roots that reach back to the party’s founding in 1859 (his third-great-grandfather Edward Denison Morgan was the first chairman of the Republican National Committee), De Rham said he became Republican “because that’s what everyone in my family did.”
But in those days, Republicans were progressives and Democrats were more conservative. “I came to Kent because my grandmother, Katherine Everts, farmed here,” he related. “She was in the state legislature and supported issues such as child welfare and prison reform and was a strong advocate for the legalization of abortion. Democrats were against that then—now the parties have switched. But I had to draw the line with Donald Trump. I felt he was a destructive force and did not deserve to be a candidate. So, I asked myself, do I become a Democrat, or do I become independent?”
He conjured up his own voting history and that of his forebears, all of whom voted independently despite their allegiance to the Republican Party. “As a Republican, as I went through various elections, I found things are not as black-and-white as the two-party system would have them,” he said. “The best thing they ever did was to get rid of the party lever.”
The third candidate for first selectman is Lynn Mellis Worthington, a Democrat, who is making her first foray into politics after careers in education and journalism. She proudly enunciates her adherence to Democratic Party positions.
“I think by saying I’m a Democrat, it means I stand behind the values of the Democratic Party and what they mean,” she said, . “When I say I want to do the ‘the most good for the most people of Kent,’ that is more than just a campaign line. It is what I feel.”
She said she has drawn strength from working with a group of like-minded people during her campaign. “I understand a lot better why Democratic standards are important,” she said. “The connections that have been made between me and other elected officials who are Democrats will help me. I already have established relationships with people like [U.S. Senator] Dick Blumenthal, [state Rep.] Maria Horn and [Lt. Gov.] Susan Bysiewicz. To dismiss that party affiliation doesn’t matter, I can’t believe that.”
She added, however, that emphasis on a particular party should end with the election. “Once you are in office, everybody is the same,” she said. “We are all residents, taxpayers and voters.”
Farther down the ballot this year are other Unaffiliated candidates. Despite having served 12 years—two of them as chairman—Matthew Winter lost his seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2021 because as an unaffiliated candidate, his name was not listed on the top two rows. Based on his experience, knowledge, and the professional respect of his cohorts, within weeks of the election he was asked to fill a vacancy on the board and within the year was voted back into the chairman’s seat.
The other unaffiliated candidate is Adam Manes, who is also running as a petitioning candidate for the Planning and Zoning Commission. Manes and his wife, Connie, moved to Kent in 2002 and raised three children in the town. Service is important to the couple—she is chairman of the Conservation Commission—and in August 2007 he was appointed as an alternate to the Planning and Zoning Commission. He has served on the commission as an alternate or full member for 18 years.
Like Lindenmayer, Manes has been both a Democrat and a Republican since originally registering to vote as a youth. But the divisions in the extreme ends of both major parties impelled him away from them, even as he recognized that getting elected in Kent is more difficult if you are not on the Democratic ticket.
“As far as Planning and Zoning is concerned, that is non-political,” he said. “It’s fairly straightforward—you have regulations that are somewhat based on the Plan of Conservation and Development, which is created within input from everyone.”
He feels his long years on the commission give him an institutional knowledge that is valuable when assessing new applications.
“I could have gone as a Democrat or a Republican but I didn’t feel this is a political position,” he said. “I do like to serve my town.”
Winter commented, “I hope folks will do their research and vote for who has the best experience for all open positions regardless of party affiliation.”
A theme for both Lindenmayer and Winter is that party affiliation should not be a part of small-town legislature, that matters is who has the experience and skill set to best help the town and plan for the future.