McMahon's bid for second ballot line ensared in Indy feud
The front-runner in August's GOP primary would dispatch supporters to collect the 7,500 signatures necessary to also secure a place on the November general election ballot as the Independent Party candidate.
Democratic frontrunner U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy is cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party. By also appearing twice on the ballot, McMahon could appeal to the state's 9,482 registered Independents and, perhaps more importantly, some of the 828,252 independently minded unaffiliated voters.
Little did McMahon or her handlers know they were stepping into a feud among Independent Party factions that could complicate her election strategy.
"Can she be collateral damage? Possibly," said Michael Telesca, an Independent leader out of Waterbury.
The Independent Party ran a candidate in the 2010 Senate race against McMahon and winner Democrat Richard Blumenthal but failed to garner enough votes to maintain an automatic ballot position for 2012.
When McMahon decided to petition her way onto November's ballot as the Independent candidate, her campaign consulted one of the men it understood to be a party leader, Robert Fand of Danbury. Besides collecting signatures, the Independent Party candidate also needs to submit a letter of endorsement from party officials to the secretary of the state.
But Telesca, who learned of McMahon's efforts after they were reported in late May, argues his faction is the true state central committee representing Connecticut's Independents.
The Secretary of the State's Office and Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission said such disputes are out of their jurisdiction, so Fand this month took Telesca to state Superior Court in Danbury.
The problem for McMahon is if the Independent rift continues past Aug. 8, when her petitions are due to the secretary of the state, that office could refuse to place her on the ballot if it means taking sides.
Complicating matters further, Kie Westby of Southbury, a former Republican Senate candidate, has also filed paperwork to collect signatures for an Independent bid. If Westby and McMahon both qualify, Independents will then likely have to schedule a nominating convention to decide.
The Independent controversy dates back to 2006. Telesca, who had success running local Independent candidates in the Waterbury area, wanted the party to aim higher, for the governor's office, unaware of Fand's Danbury-based group.
"The Secretary of the State's Office was telling us, `You can't use the name Independent ... You're going to interfere with others using the name Independent,' " Telesca recalled.
The Waterbury and Danbury factions agreed to unite over a simple set of bylaws to be updated later.
Telesca argues Fand dragged his heels, then wanted to exert too much control. So Telesca in 2010 organized a statewide caucus of around 60 or 70 Independent leaders to amend the bylaws. He said Fand was invited but did not attend.
Then Telesca started contacting Independents about preparing for the 2012 elections, and Fand questioned his authority.
In his lawsuit Fand claims Telesca had no legal right to enact the 2010 rules and wants a judge to toss them out.
"He is basically trying to steal the party," Fand said. "This is unheard of."
Fand's and Telesca's differences are exacerbated by their visions for the future of the Independent Party.
Fand -- frustrated over unbalanced trade policies and the impact of illegal immigration on entitlement programs -- wants to forge an alliance with Republicans similar to that between the Democratic and Working Families parties
Telesca wants to create a viable third-party platform for people unhappy with the polarization in Washington, D.C.