Elsewhere here at glowbass.com this morning is a report on an Election Reform panel discussion held by new Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Friday January 7th. The conference was informative, and educational for a Secretary with responsibilities that may extend to regulatory, enforcement and legislative changes in how elections in the state are conducted. Her press aide, Av Harris was most helpful in arranging for the event, and suggested that I might post a video of the conference at my own website, which I hope to do shortly. It is currently available in it’s entirety, and worth watching, despite the somewhat detailed nature of the discussion at times, by anyone interested in little “d” democracy in the state of Connecticut, or indeed in the nation. A very interesting case study, given the Bridgeport ballot shortage, to say the least. So it may be viewed at http://ct-n.com and was taped January 7th 2011, and is entitled Secretary of the State Election Reform Forum.
Following the forum, Secretary Merrill took some questions from the press, and I was priviliged to join her in her office outside the legislative chambers along with Av, for a series of questions on matters pertaining to the conference and other issues. Her reactions to the conference are posted in my other article here this morning.
When asked about her background, Denise was quick to mention her family’s labor union heritage, saying she was from a family of Irish immigrants, that her grandfather had lost all in the Great Depression and gave credit to FDR for her family’s survival. She recalled her roots 5 minutes outside of San Francisco. Career-wise, the first words she spoke were of the League of Women Voters, which ironically went unrepresented directly at the panel discussion due to snow and transportation difficulties encountered by League representative Christine Horrigan. Melinda Valencia, of the Citizen Election Audit Coalition[which incorporates the CCAG, Common Cause and the League] did, however, represent many of the League’s positions admirably during and after the conference.
When asked why she chose to run for Secretary of the State, as opposed to retaining her position as State House Majority Leader, the Secretary commented that she fully intended to “capitalize on my relationships” with members of the Legislature. Those relationships were evident as the inaugural week events unfolded, as she is clearly respected, liked and admired by her peers in the Legislative chambers. She affectionately called the state House of Representatives a “home” and clearly loves the institution.
She spoke about the ruling by the Robert’s U.S. Supreme Court on elections, which allows for corporate and group purchases of advertising for political reasons without reporting who bought the time or how much was spent, or without any accountability required as follows: “I’m horrified. I think it’s the worst decision our Supreme Court ever made.” Continuing on that topic, Denise said “I see my job as a bully pulpit. This decision will make it more difficult to run clean elections.”
On same-day election registration within Connecticut, she said she is “more and more willing to consider” it and that it is really more a question of finding out the ways of finding practical ways of implementing same-day registration, rather than whether to implement it as far as her own policy position on the matter is concerned at this point.
On the election of 2000 and the problems with the Presidential ballot count in Florida, Secretary Merrill minced no words again by saying “that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened.”
The conversation was cordial, friendly and the Secretary clearly had enjoyed all the weeks inaugural events and spoke of the fun she had during the ceremonies and what-not. She has a good sense of humor and enjoyed discussing certain aspects of campaigns for public office and her enjoyment of having the opportunity to meet people all over the state during the campaign. In short, she seems very real.
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to speak with the Secretary of the State who left office the instant Denise Merrill took her oath on January 5th, former Secretary Susan Bysiewicz. She was actually driving through one of our lesser snow storms of the winter. As I type, we are getting hammered with over a foot of snow here in Wallingford. So Susan was driving from one location to another, still busy and still very active. Ms. Bysiewicz spoke of her plans to practice law soon with a private firm and of her decision-making process regarding her options for a future run for political office in the state.
She has an interest in challenging for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by independent U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, as a Democrat, and indicated that she is entertaining such thoughts. When asked about the prospect of a possible contest with Ned Lamont for the nomination, who lost the gubernatorial primary to Governor Dan Malloy this year, but won the Democratic primary for the Senate against Lieberman in 2006 only to lose the general election to Lieberman[who ran as an independent after losing his own party’s nomination and then campaigned actively for the Republican presidential candidate in 2008] Susan was clear. She likes Mr. Lamont, respects him and admires him apparently, however she feels that his ability to win statewide has not been demonstrated and that he’s had two opportunities and not capitalized.
Also honest, straightforward and real, Ms. Bysiewicz was gracious and humble in accepting thanks for her service over the years, especially as Secretary of the State and in particular in the weeks following the close gubernatorial election in November. Since the hanging chad fiasco of 2000, and the loss of Presidential popular vote winning candidate Al Gore to the losing candidate George W. Bush, by one vote(a 5 to 4 party line vote in the U.S. Supreme Court) and the focus placed on the Florida Secretary of the State at the time, this position has been the focus of much more public scrutiny, and both Ms. Bysiewicz and Ms. Merrill have been and are acquitting the job in ways that reflect well upon Connecticut. A sit-down interview with Ms. Bysiewicz is in the works. Thanks to both.