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Independent Party Names New Chairman, Draws Line In Sand On Insurrectionists

by Brian Scott-Smith May 6, 2024, 8:00 pm

Connecticut’s Independent Party appointed a new chairman last week to replace Michael Telesca, who stepped down after more than 20 years in the post. Stewart “Chip” Beckett, a former Glastonbury Town Council member and candidate for Lt. Governor, was elected party chair on April 28.

Stewart "Chip" Beckett
Stewart “Chip” Beckett, the Independent Party’s new chair. Credit: Contributed photo / Independent Party

Telesca will continue to serve the party as vice treasurer and also as parliamentarian.

Beckett is a former Republican Party member but said he left the GOP in 2020. He said the party had given him a lot of concerns, but then came the final straw.

“When 147 congressmen voted to support Ken Paxton to overturn the election in other states besides Texas, I thought if this is the national party leadership they have no interest in elections,” Beckett said. “They’re only interested in power and that’s an autocracy and I didn’t want any part of it.”

On why he chose the Independent Party, which is one of four minor parties in Connecticut with statewide ballot access, Beckett cited policy. 

“I’ve always been a small business person and I thought the far progressive left has caused a lot of turmoil and divisiveness and which is now matched by the right,” Beckett said. “But I think our parties have both moved to extremes and left little place for people in the middle.”

He said he believes the Independent Party “could be and should be a more centrist party” for blue-dog Democrats and moderate Republicans to join together.

“And I think that’s 65 or 70 percent of the population,” Beckett said.

He also said he is enthusiastic about his new role but also recognizes that the Independent Party is still relatively unknown.

“I think third parties are very difficult in Connecticut,” Beckett said. “They don’t get any funding from the [Citizens Election Program]. They have a lot of ballot restrictions that the two major parties don’t, as far as getting a slot in the race. So, they’ve largely cross-endorsed other candidates to provide a margin of difference and that’s a lot of the Working Families [Party] for the progressive left.”

Despite the challenges, Beckett says a viable third party is needed when you consider the membership of the other two parties in the state.

“When we’ve got 45% of the electorate unaffiliated, it says the two major parties have failed. Just flat out failed,” Beckett said. “If the Democrats have 35 percent, the Republicans have 22 or 24 percent, neither one can talk about representing a plurality of the population. And I think we need something different.”

He says the Independent Party has had a lot of success with 120 ballot lines for legislative offices and their focus on state politics, rather than national.

And he said he also hopes the news media will start to give parties like his more coverage, rather than the narrow focus he’s seen in the past.

“When I ran with Rob Hotaling for Lieutenant Governor nobody talked about what we thought about very much,” he said. “I know there are several political reporters that told me privately that they voted for us as we had the best ideas. But you know that didn’t come out in the stories and I think that would have made a real difference if people would say there’s really a possibility somebody different could lead the way. Now, we’re in a one-party state. The Democrats have controlled the statehouse for 80 something years and there’s a lot of retribution if you rock the boat. So, I get it, but it’s not the way it ought to be.”

Beckett says it was his running for Lt. Governor that people in the party appreciated, plus he was also looking to stay politically active in semi-retirement at age 66 following a career as a veterinarian. He also looks after his family’s produce farm.

Since becoming the party’s chairman, Beckett said he has been fighting House Bill 5498, which he says would have banned the party from using the word “independent” in their party’s name.

“I was pretty shocked by it. I wrote a letter about it. I provided public testimony. I think it was completely authoritarian. I think it violates any intent of our form of government to have free speech and vigorous public discussion,” Beckett said. “And I think it was trying to protect the majority without them having to do the work of making the majority earn that right.”

The bill has subsequently been amended and the language removed.

Beckett and the party have also decided on making another stand, especially when it comes to nominating or cross-endorsing candidates for office, by asking candidates to sign a pledge that they will accept the results of all elections past and future and rejecting the actions of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the nation’s Capitol.

“We all were unanimous in the decision that we don’t have a democracy – or Democratic Republic or whatever you want to call our form of government – if you don’t respect elections and obviously January 6th 2021 was an attempt to overturn an election that was free, fair, and disappointing, obviously to half the country,” Beckett said. “But it was the results of the election that occurred and it needs to be respected. And I think our country has been stable for 250 years and we can have policy disagreements and we can live through bad policies and we have lived through bad policies. But if we destroy our democracy then we won’t have anything.”

He also made an historical comparison.

“I’m sure you’ve seen some of the things about Hitler being freely elected to overturn the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and early 30s. And I see January 6th, 2021, is very much in that vein. It’s history rhyming with the same populism power grab of I don’t like the results, so I’m going to destroy everybody else.”

Will the requirement influence candidates against signing up?

“I don’t think the people that want to be Independent Party members or be affiliated with us, or cross endorsement, will have any objection at all,” he said.

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