Interview With Connecticut Secretary Of State And Convention Delegate Denise Merrill

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!

 

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