7 Days of the Election in Storrs: The rising independent


Petitioning candidate Oz Griebel jokes with members of the audience prior to facing off with fellow candidates for Connecticut Governor; Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski in their final gubernatorial debate Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, at the Premier Ballroom at Foxwoods in Ledyard, Conn. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day via AP)

A raspy voice picks up the phone. It is four in the afternoon. The call is clearly held amidst the hustle and bustle of a very busy schedule. Without missing a beat, a friendly “Good afternoon,” cuts through the background noise.

“Call me Oz,” Oz Griebel said with a light laugh. He was quick to diminish any formality; he made it clear he was honored to be interviewed.

After being asked if he was excited for Tuesday’s upcoming election, he laughed again.

“Election, I like that,” Griebel said. “We are going to win on Tuesday. We will be elected.”

Against the backdrop of a partisan battle, Griebel had gained 11 percent of voters’ support as of Oct. 10, according to US News. Greibel is a former Republican who ran for governor in 2010 and lost the primary to Tom Foley. His running mate, Monte Frank, is a former Democrat. Griebel is the only gubernatorial candidate to run an independent campaign, and he’s rising in the polls with a platform that prioritizes solving the specific problems of Connecticut’s education system as well as the state of Connecticut’s economy.

In reference to gubernatorial candidates Ned Lamont (D) and Bob Stefanowski (R), Griebel says he is tired of partisan bickering focused only on the parties and not the people. He makes clear neither him, nor his campaign, adheres to the constriction of a political party.

“These are two people just throwing mud at each other,” Griebel said. “They have no ideas… their primary loyalty is to their party. Griebel/Frank has no strings attached (to a party).”

The disruption of the bipartisan system is the very catalyst for fifth-semester political science major Seraphin Tala’s involvement with Students for Oz. Tala said his interest stems from Griebel’s separation from the bipartisan system that tends to hinder progress.

“Both Democrats and Republicans seem to only care how they govern in relation to their partisan counterparts rather than the actual problems they are able to solve, [in] (which they have proven incapable in the past),” Tala said. “When in reality, there are many gray areas and compromises that must meet somewhere in the middle.”

Griebel said he is not endorsed by the Independent party; he is running as an independent candidate. His recent endorsement by The Hartford Courant is only one symptom of the anti-party sentiment some are adopting. The state’s largest newspaper officially backed Griebel due to the complacency of government leadership in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

“In a state where unaffiliates outnumber Republicans and Democrats, it’s time for an independent governor,” the Courant wrote.

Griebel said after the exposure from the Courant’s endorsement, he has already seen an increase in lawn sign requests, funding and support across the state.

“On the pure politics side it’s obviously very important… that endorsement is a big deal for us,” said Griebel. “(The endorsement) really helps with credibility issues…ensuring voters it is not a wasted vote.”

Economics plays a large part in Griebel’s rising poll numbers. According to the Courant, Griebel is the candidate best positioned to combat Connecticut’s current budget of $2 billion in the red.

“His plans are less bold than pragmatic,” the Courant wrote. “For example, he would move state commissioners onto 401(k)-style retirement plans, as many municipalities have done with their employees. He also understands the need to go from a state of 169 municipal fiefdoms to more regional governance. He offers reasonable solutions and is willing to discuss options.”

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When asked about his specific plans for Connecticut’s economy, Griebel said he plans to utilize Connecticut’s rainy day fund of $2 billion to combat our current $4.6 billion deficit.

“(This will) give us breathing room so we don’t have to do that harm of raising taxes or making draconian cuts,” Griebel said, “(I plan to) solve our problems by eliminating personal income tax and moving the minimum wage up to $15.”

To further save state money, Griebel said he plans to reexamine the monetary allocation within Connecticut’s education system.

“(We need) a much more cohesively-structured approach to higher education where many more of the tax dollars are going into the classroom as opposed to the overhead,” Griebel said. “(Money is) going to be in tighter supply over the next 2 to 8 years. We’ve got to be creative to ideally reduce the cost of attending the public university system in Connecticut.”

Griebel, a former teacher, coach and school board member, has a personal link to education. He previously worked with Hartford Promise, providing tuition assistance to high achieving students in the Hartford Public School system. He recognizes the financial burden student loans put on young people when they graduate and will look to increase the efficiency of the current education system to combat this.

“The idea of getting at some consolidation of administrative services, yes I would hope would lead… working with University of Connecticut’s new president… to support a system where tax dollars are used for an appropriate amount of processors (and) classes that students want or need… as well as a much more structured, sustained relationship between higher education and employer communication,” Griebel said.

Though Griebel said he could talk about his plans for Connecticut until he hears snores, he said to keep his message simple. When asked for his final words to UConn students, Griebel said to diverge from simply voting party lines and to not worry about who your neighbor, your mailman, your friend and your weird relatives are voting for.

“You’ll see us, Griebel/Frank at the bottom of the ballot,” Griebel said. “Vote the bottom line on Nov. 6.”

Grace Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at grace.burns@uconn.edu.

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