State Rep. Matt Lesser may not be widely perceived as “a powerhouse in the Connecticut Latino community,” but the 33-year-old Middletown resident could help Hispanic Democrats achieve their goal of finally electing a candidate to a state-wide office who also happens to be Latino.
As a five-term state legislator Lesser can point to extensive experience as a legislator and public official, while boasting a Latino connection through his mother who immigrated to this country from Argentina.
Lesser recently registered an exploratory committee, entitled “Matt for Connecticut,” with the State Elections Enforcement Commission and announced his potential candidacy for secretary of the state with a video on his Facebook page.
Lesser acknowledges that his “story” might be different than that of many Hispanics in Connecticut, but he “absolutely” considers himself as part of the state’s Latino population.
However, Lesser has not been cast as the “Latino candidate.” Various political biographies gleaned from the Internet do not mention his lineage. He grew up with his mother speaking Spanish; He is not fluent, but understands a lot of this language.
At the same time, his affinity for his Latin American heritage is underscored by his involvement with the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, whose membership includes Latino state and local office holders and other political activists, and his membership with the legislature’s influential Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
One of the primary goals of Hispanic Democratic Caucus is to find and elect qualified Latinos to the six constitutional offices that will be on the November 2018 ballot. These positions are governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, comptroller and secretary of the state.
Still, there is a recognition among Caucus leaders that while inclusion is a priority the numbers are not there for someone to run as the Latino candidate. “You have to run as someone who is qualified, who has a platform and a story but also is Latino,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a former chairman of the caucus who now is one of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s top aides.
Lesser has stated that he will only run for SOTS if the Democratic incumbent Denise Merrill opts against running for the job she has held since 2011. “I respect Denise,” Lesser said, “and the ball is in her court.
What the 33-year-old Lesser brings to the table as a potential candidate for secretary of the state is a career of political success that began when he was a student at Wesleyan University leading a statewide campus registration drive. He later served on Middletown’s Zoning and Planning Commission, being elected chairman in 2007.
Lesser has represented the 100th District, which covers most of Middletown since 2008, having been elected at the age of 25 and has been co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Banking Committee since 2015. He also is a member of the Government Administration and Elections Committee and the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.
The recent announcement by two-term governor Dannel Malloy that he will not be running in 2016 has opened the flood gate in terms of Democrats and Republicans who would like to succeed him.
As of April 22, eleven candidate committees had registered with the state, many indicating the office they are seeking is governor. The thirteen exploratory committees listed all indicate “undetermined” under the office column.
Lesser said what underlies his interest in secretary of the state, a position which includes administering elections, is a desire to get more people registered and voting. “We need an electorate that looks like Connecticut and reflects its diversity,” he said.
“Voting is the most important right in a democracy,” the Middletown Democrat said, and “an area of disagreement between the two parties.” He noted that Republicans have sought to make voting more difficult in some states.
In Connecticut, Lesser said, early voting, the ability to cast ballots at times other than election day, which he favors, has stalled because it is a partisan issue. “Thirty-eight states offer some type of early voting and we don’t,” he said.
This is a situation Lesser would like to see change because it adversely affects people on the low-end of the income scale and many “new Americans,” he said. Lack of early voting effects people who “have two or three jobs and may be juggling child care.”
For now, as a legislator Lesser said his focus will be on the difficult budget situation that faces the state. He previously had served on the Appropriations Committee, which is at the center of the fiscal deliberations, but he has other assignments this term.
Describing himself as a full-time politician, Lesser lives with his wife Sarah, an attorney, in the northern part of Middletown.
The state legislator said he has “a huge number of family members” living in Argentina, whom he has visited. His maternal grandmother came to South America from France as a refugee from the Nazis and married an Argentinian. Lesser’s parents met when his mother came to the United States on a vacation. The couple eventually married, with the ceremony in France, and moved to Middletown.
“Matt personifies the American story and has been an effective legislator,” Rodriquez said, adding that it is still very early in the political process leading up to 2018 and “time will tell” who ends up on the ballot.
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