Gerry Garcia New Haven
Today I write to publicly tip my cap to Denise Merrill, our Secretary of the State.
Mark Twain called Connecticut the State of Steady Habits, a nickname we have earned. The nickname captures how we bring our Puritanical past into our present by expressing the resistance to change that is in our DNA. It means that we divide ourselves into 169 city-states and even more school districts because … well, because that’s how we’ve always done it.
I first appreciated our adherence to our State of Steady Habits in 2009, around the same time I met the then-General Assembly Majority Leader Denise Merrill, as we competed against each other for the Democratic nomination to run for Secretary of the State. I was an outsider, only able to finance a run on the statewide stage thanks to the Citizens Elections Program. The CEP, as originally designed, was intended to level the political playing field and encourage wider participation in our body politic by eliminating incentives for candidates to rely upon special interest funding. Some 222 years after our state’s 1788 founding, I became in 2010 the first person of Latino descent ever on a Connecticut statewide ballot, made possible by CEP.
My outsider’s perspective gave me insight into our antiquated and frustrating voting system: a relic of our Puritanical roots, it was an equal-opportunity offender. It disenfranchised all Connecticut people equally, from Latinos to our Fairfield county commuters to our single moms to our seniors to our veterans to our working poor. No one benefited from an outdated model that required voting in person, at a specific school or firehouse, only on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, exclusively during the hours of 6AM and 8PM. As barriers to voting here resulted in lower voter turnout, it shocked the voting faithful to hear that many other states had long ago adopted more flexible voting options, had seen a rise in voter participation, and had kept fraud extremely low.
As a Latino, I have a particular eye for how our voting system has discouraged Latino community participation. In a state of 169 city-states, each of our communities has it’s own unique and special qualities. Latinos live in every town in our state, yet lack of focus on this growing demographic has been one of the causes of our underrepresentation at the polls and as candidates.
Since becoming Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill has been the voting system reform champion I hoped to be, and has achieved more in one term than I imagined possible. She has worked hard for everyone, but she has done a particularly remarkable job for Connecticut Latinos. Secretary Merrill hired talented, respected, spirited and effective individuals to spearhead her Latino community outreach, and she should be commended for this work. Latino registration numbers are up substantially, and I expect to see increases on Tuesday. She has earned the credit.
More broadly, Secretary Merrill fought for the constitutional amendment vote that is on Tuesday’s ballot. It’s passage can finally lead to giving all Connecticut voters the option – and the right – to vote by mail. This is a measure whose time came long ago, and as a result will enable much broader participation in every Connecticut community including among Latinos.
Finally, Secretary Merrill has emerged as a fierce defender of the Citizens Elections Program in which she is again a participant.
Having lost to Secretary Merrill four years ago, I have watched her tenure with keen interest. She and her team have done a truly outstanding job for all Connecticut citizens in general, and for Connecticut’s Latinos particularly. I applaud Secretary Merrill for her many successes in her first term, and I invite you to join me in voting for her this Tuesday.
Gerry Garcia ran for Secretary of the State in 2010. He lives in New Haven with his wife Magda. Gerry serves on the boards of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. He is a member of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus and a Regional Governor for the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity.