The Serve America movement is establishing roots locally and throughout Connecticut.
SAM, a political party founded in 2016 by Morgan Stanley lawyer Eric Grossman, aims to eschew ideology in favor of problem solving. He supports electoral reform, in particular ranked choice voting, to open up the political system beyond just two parties. And it sports members from all parties, whether left, right or center. SAM says he’s looking for independent candidates who focus on problem solving, not partisan politics.
Led by former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly, SAM has hosted several events in Connecticut over the past week, including one in Stonington last Tuesday. The “friend collectors” were intended to build recognition and eventually fundraise for the party. North Stonington first draft man Michael Urgo and Stonington first draft woman Danielle Chesebrough, both unaffiliated and SAM supporters, were in attendance on Tuesday.
So far, Jolly said, SAM has filed party documents in four states. In Connecticut, he filed the party’s initial formation materials, “and we’re working on accessing the ballots on a number of different lines,” Jolly said.
“We plan to have a line for the governor’s race in 2022. We are starting to recruit and elect city officials now, which will create voting lines there,” Jolly said. “Our movement is about candidates. Without candidates there is no new party movement.”
Political parties must present a candidate who meets a voting threshold for each elected office in the state in order to win a voting line for such races. Jolly and other SAM members are excited about Dan Rosenthal’s candidacy for Newtown’s first selectman. The incumbent Rosenthal has decided not to run again as a Democrat and instead runs unopposed as a non-partisan SAM candidate.
Urgo, Chesebrough, Jolly, and Connecticut SAM leader Monte Frank all credited Oz Griebel’s 2018 Independent Governors campaign for allowing SAM to flourish in the state. Frank was Griebel’s running mate. Griebel died in 2020.
“Oz and I ran like a non-partisan ticket – Oz was a former Republican, I was a former Democrat – and so we engaged in fixing this issue as part of our campaign. We had these discussions on 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 after the campaign Oz formed the SAM Connecticut chapter and started to build it. When Oz passed away, I took him over. We have now filed party designation documents and are working to become a minor party in the state.
Jolly said SAM was organizing a unit ticket to New York for the governor and lieutenant governor and took note of Griebel and Frank’s campaign.
“Oz and Monte went into their teens at some point. If independent candidates don’t win, that movement is kind of gone, there’s no infrastructure behind an independent candidate,” Jolly said. “We came to try and help Oz and Monte win, but after this race there was enough independent politics heartbeat in Connecticut that we started building infrastructure.”
Urgo said he believes Southeast Connecticut has “that independent spirit” that welcomes SAM.
“Look at Stonington and North Stonington right now, we both have leaders who aren’t part of a big party, so that must definitely mean something,” Urgo said.
Jolly said Connecticut voters are engaged, smart about their politics, but also independent.
“They’re not just going to call because they’re told to, and it’s a good testing ground for SAM right now,” he said.
Jolly also said that Connecticut’s ultra-local political system, where each municipality has a separate political identity, is a great fit for SAM.
Frank said he toured the state talking to voters about SAM and saw the same as Urgo and Jolly.
“Our way of looking at politics and redefining our government has been very well received,” Frank said. “We believe that what is happening in Newtown will pave the way for many more municipal CEOs to follow in the future.”
Chesebrough, who is running for re-election but is backed by Democrats and Republicans in Stonington, said she believes SAM may one day overtake the status of other minor parties such as the Green or Libertarian parties.
“For Mike and I, it’s really about electoral reforms, changes in the way we elect people and hopefully eventually govern,” Chesebrough said. “We are in a time of division and you see so much polarization not only of parties but of people, I think SAM is trying to come up with solutions that could really help locally / nationally.”
State Representative Greg Howard R-Stonington said on Wednesday that last year there had been discussions about forming a SAM caucus within the state legislature, but those discussions had not yet produced anything concrete.
Just as SAM is open to bringing any unaffiliated party or voter into its big tent, its ambition is limitless. Jolly raised the question of how to have a SAM presidential candidate and form a party platform with so many votes.
“The problems are 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 I want to work with like-minded people on issues, but also people who see the world differently. “