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New political party aims to build roots in Connecticut

The Serve America Movement is establishing roots locally and throughout Connecticut.

SAM, a political party started in 2016 by Eric Grossman, a lawyer for Morgan Stanley, is meant to shun ideology in favor of problem solving. It supports electoral reform, particularly ranked choice voting, to open the political system beyond just two parties. And it sports members from all parties, be they left, right or center. SAM says it seeks independent-minded candidates who are focused on fixing issues and not partisan politics.

Led by former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly, SAM held several events in Connecticut during the past week, including one in Stonington last Tuesday. The "friend raisers" were meant to boost recognition and possibly raise funds for the party. North Stonington First Selectman Michael Urgo and Stonington First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough, both of whom are unaffiliated and supporters of SAM, were in attendance on Tuesday.

Thus far, Jolly said, SAM has filed party paperwork in four states. In Connecticut, its filed the initial party formation paperwork, "and we're working toward ballot access on a number of different lines," Jolly said.

"We do expect to have a line for the governor's race in 2022. We are beginning to recruit and now elect municipal officials, which will create ballot lines there," Jolly said. "Our movement is about candidates. Without candidates there is no new party movement."

Political parties have to field a candidate who reaches a polling threshold at each elected position in the state in order to earn a ballot line for such races. Jolly and other SAM members are excited by Dan Rosenthal's candidacy for first selectman of Newtown. An incumbent, Rosenthal decided against running as a Democrat again, and instead is running unopposed as a nonpartisan SAM candidate.

Urgo, Chesebrough, Jolly and Connecticut SAM leader Monte Frank all credited Oz Griebel's 2018 gubernatorial campaign as an independent for allowing SAM to flourish in the state. Frank was Griebel's running mate. Griebel died in 2020.

"Oz and I ran as a nonpartisan ticket — Oz was a former Republican, I was a former Democrat — and so we engaged in that problem solving as part of our campaign. We had those discussions about how to find common ground and compromise in order to move the state forward," Frank said. "During the campaign, we were endorsed by SAM and following the campaign, Oz formed the SAM Connecticut chapter and started building it. When Oz passed away I took it over. We've now filed party designation papers and are working toward becoming a minor party in the state."

Jolly said SAM was running a unity ticket in New York for governor and lieutenant governor and took notice of Griebel and Frank's campaign.

"Oz and Monte got into the high teens at one point. If the independent candidates don't win, that movement's kind of gone, there's no infrastructure behind an independent candidate," Jolly said. "We came in to try to help Oz and Monte win, but following that race there was enough of a heartbeat of independent-minded politics in Connecticut that we started building infrastructure."

Urgo said he thinks southeastern Connecticut has "that independent spirit" that's welcoming to SAM.

"Look at Stonington and North Stonington right now, we both have leaders that are not in a major party, so certainly that has to mean something," Urgo said.

Jolly said Connecticut's voters are engaged, smart about their politics, but also independent.

"They're not just going to follow along because they're told to, and it's a good proving ground for SAM right now," he said.

Jolly also said Connecticut's ultra-local political system, where each municipality has a distinct political identity, is a good fit for SAM.

Frank said he's been touring the state talking to voters about SAM, and he's seen the same thing Urgo and Jolly have.

"Our way of looking at politics and redefining our government has been very well-received," Frank said. "We think that what's happening in Newtown will blaze the trail for many other municipal CEOs to follow in the future."

Chesebrough, who is up for reelection but is cross-endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans in Stonington, said she thinks SAM can one day progress past the status of other minor parties such as the Green or Libertarian parties.

"For Mike and myself it really is about the electoral reforms, the changes to how we elect people and eventually hopefully govern," Chesebrough said. "We're in such a divisive time and you're seeing so much polarization not just of parties but people, I think SAM is trying to bring about some solutions that could really help locally/nationally."

State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, said Wednesday that last year there were discussions about forming a SAM caucus in the state legislature, but that those discussions haven't panned out into something concrete yet.

Just as SAM is open to bringing any party or unaffiliated voter into its big tent, its ambition is limitless. Jolly raised the question of how to have a SAM presidential candidate and forming a party platform with so many voices.

"The issues rest with our candidates, which is very different from other parties," Jolly said. "The structure of SAM is to bring together people who say, 'I'm here on these issues and want to work with people like-minded on issues but also people who see the world differently."

s.spinella@theday.com

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