Vacancy for Secretary of State could mean traffic jam

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Democrats could see a stalemate among lawmakers and other party activists in hopes of filling the vacancy left by the announced departure of Secretary of State Denise Merrill after a dozen years in office.

The names of possible candidates started circulating in political circles from the time Merrill broke the news last week.

But party leaders may have to curb the ambitions of some hopes as Democrats forge a 2022 ticket of constitutional officers that reflects the demographics of the state. Governor Ned Lamont and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz are expected to run again, as are Attorney General William Tong and State Treasurer Shawn Wooden. Controller Kevin Lembo is a wild card

With this predominantly male team, another woman could be necessary on the ballot for reasons of political opinion. And there has been a tradition of women serving as secretary of state dating back to the late 1940s. In fact, only four men have been the main state election officials since the end of World War II, Miles Rapoport of West Hartford being the last man, holding the post from 1995 to 1999.

Democrat Ella T. Grasso was secretary for a dozen years from 1959 to 1971, on the verge of becoming the first full female governor elected in the country, in 1974. Bysiewicz, former member of the House of Representatives of Middletown, also served as Secretary of State for 12 years, from 1999 to 2011, when Merrill, a former House Majority Leader, took office.

Among the possible Democratic candidates whose names are in the round are state Senator Matt Lesser, D-Middletown; State Senator Mae Flexer, D-Windham; representative Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport; Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman, union organizer and former candidate for lieutenant governor; and State Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey of Fairfield.

On the republican side, Brock L. Weber from New Britain, a political agent who is executive assistant to Mayor Erin Stewart there, filed his intention to run on April 30, according to deposits with the National Election Execution Commission. The last Republican to serve as Secretary of State was Pauline Kezer de Plainville from 1991 to 1995. Before Kezer, there was a string of Democrats dating back to 1959.

Others in both parties are sure to emerge as talks among party insiders accelerate. In addition to the gender issue, some Latinx political leaders say Hispanic representation remains disproportionately low at the highest levels of Connecticut politics.

The state employment secretary pays $ 110,000 per year, plus fringe benefits, to be the state’s top election official and registrar of state-owned enterprises. The post looms larger these days than in the past, as access to polls and election security have become national controversies, with Republican-led states reacting to Donald Trump’s loss of the presidency by reducing voting opportunities.

“Denise Merrill has been very involved in the Connecticut public service, and her voice and drive will be missed in the Secretary of State’s office,” said Nancy DiNardo, chair of the Democratic State Central Committee. “Connecticut Democrats have a wide range of qualified candidates ready to stand up for voter rights, and Denise’s gracious announcement this week will give anyone interested in running for the job time to explore a race. I have no doubts that the voters of Connecticut will be able to choose from some excellent candidates. “

While Democrats interested in becoming the next Secretary of State have until next May, when the party’s national convention selects the candidates and allows others to force the primaries, the political realities are that those who wish to replace Merrill must act. relatively quickly, by forming committees of candidates, raising funds and gaining some state-wide recognition.

Ben Proto of Stratford, the new GOP state chairman, said on Friday he expects other potential candidates to emerge quickly as the summer progresses.

“The Secretary of State is interesting because it’s always been one of those races that no one has ever paid attention to, but everything changed last year,” Proto said. “The role the office plays in election management and electorate management and the way we maintain elections and voters lists are much more relevant than ever. The stroke can be a little longer than in previous cycles. “

Lesser explored the possibility of running for secretary of state in 2018, while he was a member of the House of Representatives. He formed a committee but ended the candidacy after Merrill said she was seeking re-election. Lesser decided to run for the Senate instead.

“Obviously, I thought about it four years ago,” Lesser, co-chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Legislative Committee, said in a telephone interview on Friday, when asked if he was interested. “I’ve had a lot of calls from friends and colleagues over the past few days, from people I respect. It would be crazy not to think about it. But we just got out of the legislative session, so I haven’t made a decision. Of course, I find it interesting, with a lot of people.

Flexer, as co-chair of the Legislative Committee on Government Administration and Elections, has led the effort to revise electoral laws in recent years, including the proposed advance voting amendment to the State Constitution through a statewide ballot question in 2022.

A complementary constitutional amendment, which would require voters to vote on a postal vote without excuse, was opposed by Republican lawmakers this year. He did not receive enough support to proceed with the 2022 poll, so the earliest possible before voters would be 2024, if the next elected General Assembly approves the measure.

Flexer, who served in the House from 2009 to 2014 and is now in his fourth two-year term in the Senate, declined to comment on Friday on the possibility of running for the vacant post.

Rosario, a member of the Committee on Government Administration and Elections who is also Deputy Speaker of the House, said on Friday that he was definitely interested and encouraged by people all over the state.

“I think Denise has had a long and successful career in government service, and not just as Secretary of State, but also in the House. “I’m definitely interested in researching him. I think I would make a great candidate. It doesn’t hurt to kick the tires.

McCarthy Vahey, another member of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, is also co-chair of the Planning and Legislative Development Committee.

“Since Denise’s announcement, people have contacted me suggesting the Secretary of State as a way to continue my service for our state and I’m taking a look at it,” McCarthy Vahey said in an interview on Saturday. .

Bermúdez Zimmerman did not immediately comment.

Merrill said during his announcement that there will be a whole new era of voting technology facing the next Secretary of State. She noted that some Republican-controlled states are restricting voting opportunities at a time when they should support their expansion.

“We need to maintain public confidence in our elections,” Merrill told reporters of a potential successor. “A lot of people are interested in it. Obviously there is a lot of concern about minority rights across the country, so maybe it will be someone from a minority community. That would be wonderful. I would of course like to see another woman in my place. But I think it’s a very open race at this point.

[email protected] Twitter: @KenDixonCT


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