After establishing itself in New York, the Working Families Party spread into neighboring Connecticut in 2002. With its effective use of fusion-voting and cross-endorsements, the party quickly grew in Connecticut and won its first elections in 2003. Since then, the Connecticut WFP has elected a number of its own candidates to municipal offices and supported progressive candidates from major parties in their bids for statewide offices.
I recently interviewed Joe Dinkin, the partys communications director, about the state of the party and its goals. The interview occurred before Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) announced he would not seek re-election.
Does the Connecticut Working Families Party have basically the same goals as the New York Working Families Party?
Yeah, I think we see pretty eye to eye. Our goals are basic economic fairness, extending access to affordable health care, making sure people who work hard get paid decent wages, making taxes more progressive and fair, and holding politicians accountable who make promises on these issues.
Do you work closely with the New York party or are they separate entities?
Theyre separate entities. All our decision making, issue priorities and candidate endorsements are decided by local leaders.
What tops the legislative agenda?
Last year  our top legislative priority in Connecticut was to enact legislation creating a basic workplace standard for paid sick days. 600,000 workers in Connecticut dont get a single paid sick day all year. Whats more alarming, especially in the wake of the swine flu outbreak, is that some of the largest groups of people without paid sick days are folks who work in food service, hospitality, retail, and even, alarmingly, sometimes in hospitals, school bus drivers you know, places where youd never want somebody coming to work sick because theyd run the risk of spreading illness not just to their co-workers but also to the broader public. So were pushing a paid sick days legislation in the Connecticut General Assembly. This past year it passed in the House, but stalled out in the Senate and never got a vote. But I think its likely to be revived in the next session.
Is there a rural/urban split amongst your supporters or is it generalized across the state?
One of the interesting things about where we got votes in the 2008 general elections, is that the towns where we received the most votes were often suburban towns with large numbers of unaffiliated voters. What it shows, I think, is a message about affordable health care and good jobs and taxes that are lower on the middle class and higher on the extremely wealthy is very popular among almost everybody.
Do you ever endorse Republicans in Connecticut?
We have occasionally. In 2008 we endorsed two Republican candidates who had both been supportive of paid sick days and other progressive issues in the past.
How would you characterize your relationship with the major parties in Connecticut?
I think that in so far as were able to help progressive Democrats get elected, theyre very appreciate of that. Back in 2008, our top priority statewide race was in the 4th Congressional District. We cross-endorsed Jim Himes for Congress from Bearfield County and worked our butts off to help him win and I think folks that were supporting him were pretty glad that we did.
In 2010 what some people are seeing as not being as good a year for the Democrats without Obama on the ballot those same folks hope that we will [work hard to support progressive Democrats] again.
How about other third parties in the state?
We have a different strategy. Ours is to move important legislation and to win, rather than have a position of ideological purity.
What are the partys statewide goals in the future?
I think that Connecticut really has the opportunity to be a leader in establishing a very robust system of universal and affordable health care. Building on whatever ends up happening on the Federal level, I think we can do better in Connecticut. As one of the wealthiest states in the country, we hope to close our educational achievement gap, provide high quality public services, [and pay for these] with fairly progressive taxation rather than the somewhat regressive set of state and local taxes we have right now.
One thing weve done of interest is that weve built a real local base of power in Hartford where weve essentially totally replaced the Republicans as the second party in Hartford and are fast building toward parity with the Democrats. Well, that may be overstating it a bit, but the current composition of the Hartford City Council is six Democrats, two Working Families Party, and one Republican. In 2008 we made history by electing what the Secretary of State tells us is the first ever minor party Registrar of Voters in a city in Connecticut, Hartford. In the 2009 municipal elections, we essentially tied the Democrats and each won two seats on the Hartford Board of Education.
For more, see the partys website at (www.ct-workingfamilies.org). For more information on the Paid Sick Days campaign, visit (www.everybodybenefits.org).
Nate Pedersen is a Minnesota native, Wisconsin-educated librarian now living in Scotland. See natepedersen.com.
From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 1, 2010
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