Interview With Connecticut Secretary Of State And Convention Delegate Denise Merrill

[ Posted Tuesday, July 26th, 2016 – 12:25 UTC ]

I conducted the following interview yesterday, before the convention actually started. Denise Merrill is a Connecticut delegate (although not, as she pointed out to me, a superdelegate) and serves Connecticut as their Secretary of State. A recent achievement was the state becoming the first to pass a campaign finance reform law which created a public financing system for elections -- all the other states with such laws created them through ballot initiatives or referenda.

I thought it would be interesting to hear the thoughts of a delegate to the Democratic National Convention who was fairly balanced about her position and could see the other side's point of view, rather than just focusing on those who are more (shall we say) impassioned.

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and grammar.


As Secretary of State, you got Connecticut's DMV to implement automatic voter registration. How do you expect that will change the percentage of registered voters in Connecticut?

I think it's a large number. What we know is that countrywide, probably about a third of the eligible voters are not even registered, and that is an enormous scandal in my view. But it does point to something going on out there. I do think ease of getting registered is part of the problem. We think in Connecticut there are about 400,000 voters who are eligible but not registered. I think we can reach easily half of them, probably more. The evidence is coming in from Oregon that it's probably higher than that. Oregon has already instituted it, and they're just now looking at how many people are now registering because of automatic voter registration, and it's enormous. It's even bigger than we thought.


Who did you support in the Democratic primary race?

I generally stayed out of it. I am a Hillary supporter, but I did not publicly do a lot because of my official position. Personally, I am definitely for Hillary.


How did you feel about Bernie's campaign?

You know, I love Bernie Sanders. I think he has some terrific ideas. He's saying all the things that a lot of us really think. Especially someone like me -- I have been very involved with passing the country's only voluntary-produced public campaign financing system. That is Connecticut -- that is our distinction, and I was part of getting that legislation passed. So what he's saying makes absolute sense to me.

But also, as a woman of a certain age, I'm keenly aware of the historic moment. I do think that Bernie and Hillary agree on many, many things. That's where I am.


How do you feel about the selection of Tim Kaine as Hillary's running mate?

I think it was a safe choice. I'm someone who wants stability right now. I am really terrified of the future, only because of the language being used right now, the incredibly inflammatory -- I've never seen a campaign where followers of Donald Trump were saying to murder the other candidate. It is so far beyond anything I ever thought we'd see in this country that I am frankly terrified of some of that actually being acted upon. You're seeing it -- it's OK now in this country to be violent, to voice violence, to voice a lack of respect for any due process of law. That troubles me, greatly.


Do you think the Democratic Party is united now?

I think they will be, I really do.


After the convention?

Yes, after the convention. We're on the first day. Feelings are very high. Our state was about 60-40 for Hillary in the primary, and we have very strong Bernie supporters. I am on the liberal wing of my caucus, I will say, and as an all-time liberal I am very friendly with all the Bernie supporters, but I also hear them saying: "We are terrified of Trump, so we must come together." I think the outcome of the convention will determine that the party will come together. I really do.


Even the young Bernie voters?

I hope so. I mean, that is what is the most important thing about Bernie's campaign, that he brought in the kids. We have to keep them -- you know, they are so discouraged, they have not had a good experience with government, or the language about government, since they were born. I think that some of us forget that, sometimes. I have spent my career trying to bring young people in, for 35 or 40 years I did a lot of educational programs about the law. I'm a lawyer but I was also a teacher, so that probably explains why I feel the way I do. I just think we have to keep them engaged and I hope whatever happens that the movement Bernie has created continues in some way, shape or form.

My own children, who are now in their 30s, are torn. I think my daughter is probably for Hillary, and she has three girls. You can't underestimate the fact -- we've never had a woman president. It's time. It's our turn. [Laughs] It's time! And this is the most informed, most intelligent, most experienced person who has run for office probably ever. But my two boys are totally for Bernie, so there's a split, even in our family. But not that deep. I think not that deep.


What was your reaction to the news of Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down?

I think it was the right thing to do. I think a lot of concessions have been made to Bernie's campaign, and that was another one of them. I think it's too bad, because I think she's actually been very effective, but I think it had to happen, given the revelations.

When are we going to learn about these emails -- I tell you, when I came into office in 2010 I still didn't understand that my personal emails could be available under the Freedom Of Information Act. It feels very invasive, quite frankly, whether you're a public official or a state employee. So all of us have had to get used to that.


Donald Trump is now claiming Connecticut could be a swing state -- that he might pick it up. What is your reaction to that statement?

I think that's preposterous, frankly. You know, Donald Trump says a lot of things -- whatever hits him at the moment, it seems like. That strikes me as another one of those kind of statements -- a throwaway.


One last question -- at the Republican convention, during the boosterism roll-call part of the show, the Connecticut delegation bragged about being the home of PEZ and the WWE. Are you going to do a little better than that at the Democratic convention?

[Laughs] We have a few other things to brag about!

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


17 Comments on “Interview With Connecticut Secretary Of State And Convention Delegate Denise Merrill”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    what did delegates have to say about bernie's motion to suspend the rules and nominate hillary?

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I think they were okay with it.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The following interview has been lightly edited for length and grammar.

    What? Connecticut's Secretary of State has bad grammar!?


  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It is hard to understand how the greatest democracy on the face of the earth finds it so difficult to register its voters and, frankly, to run elections ... especially considering the number of elections run in any given year and the length of the campaigns.

    That 400,000 eligible voters who are not registered really jumped off the page, I must say ... ???

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM [3] -

    Not really. I think I changed "there's 400,000" to "there are 400,000" but I have to be technically correct in such things for journalistic and ethical purposes. Also, I'm a pedant...

    Denise was a great interview and a very impressive SoS. I kicked myself later on for not asking her on her take on being a female SoS of a state who is supporting a female SoS of the country. Seems an easy connection to make, but then hindsight is always 20/20...



  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM [4] -

    As she mentioned, Oregon is showing all other states the way forward... automatic voter registration is going to work wonders.


  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Automatic voter registration is essentially what we have here in Canada where, through our income tax returns every year, we authorize Elections Canada to update their voter registration records.

    We also don't have voting machines but, in national, provincial and municipal elections we only and simply vote for the candidate in our riding and not directly for Prime Minister. So, the ballot is a very simple piece of paper with all the riding candidates names on it and we mark our choice with an 'X' ... of course, we have only one tenth of the US population with no "down-ballot" choices to make.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    So, any chance you can swing an interview with Vice President Biden?


  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Not really. I think I changed "there's 400,000" to "there are 400,000" but I have to be technically correct in such things for journalistic and ethical purposes. Also, I'm a pedant...

    Yes, a pedant. Thankfully, you don't subject our comments to the same level of scrutiny.

    But, I now have a better understanding about why it is I always get so frustrated when I use one too many commas or put the apostrophe in the wrong place or any number of other grammatical errors. Which is why I keep asking for an after-posting edit function, you know ... :)

  10. [10] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LizM -

    Fear not, I don't even subject my OWN comments to that level of scrutiny!



  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  12. [12] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I think the breaking news has changed a bit. Trump has just asked the Russian's to cyberspy for him.

    Trump has thrown himself under his own bus. I think it might be time to call in the guys wearing white coats carrying nets and a syringe full of tranquilizers.

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Do you think there could be some method to Trump's madness?

  14. [14] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    the method is to say absolutely anything, no matter how outlandish, to keep the attention on HIM. it's the all press is good press theory, and its effectiveness is depressing but predictable.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I don't know, Joshua, I keep getting this feeling that he's trying to be so outrageous - so ridiculously outrageous - that there is no way, no how that he could ever be elected as POTUS and leader of the free world. I still think that prospect scares him to death.

    If that's his strategy, I sure hope it works!

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    me too liz.

  17. [17] 
    Suddenlyreflective wrote:

    Speaking as one who came of age in Connecticut, I'm not certain what there is to recommend my state. Heubelin Tower, maybe? Nice neighborhoods?

    I mean, we've got a lot of places to visit, but they're so small that they're not going to show up in the kind of kid's book that's titled "Learn About the 50 States." What's in Texas? The Alamo! What's in Georgia? Old plantations! What's in Kentucky? Coal Mines! What's in Connecticut? Uh...seafood? Hell if I know.

    CT used to be a manufacturing powerhouse but that all dried up after World War II when the factories moved west. Now we're a state with wealthy suburbs and depressed, crummy cities full of Black people in poverty and even THAT isn't unique.

    I don't know. You come to Connecticut and tell me. You can see it from the outside. I can't.

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