State Representative and Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Evelyn Mantilla defies stereotypes. She is Latina, openly gay, raising a daughter with her partner. Should she win, her victory could be a story of national interest.Mantilla, who has represented Hartford’s Fourth District for nine years, announced her candidacy July 18 for statewide office. With her entry, six Democrats – ex-Litchfield selectman Audrey Blondin, state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann (D-West Hartford), former Old Saybrook state Rep. Robert Landino, real estate investor John Nussbaum, Jr., and La Voz Hispana newspaper editor Norma Rodriguez-Reyes – now jockey for a chance to run in November 2006. So far, no Republicans have filed papers with the Secretary of State’s office. She hugged practically everyone in Ashley’s breakfast nook on Main Street in Hartford before she and her campaign’s volunteer press secretary David MacDonald sat down to talk with ctnewsjunkie.com Monday morning.
Why did you decide to throw your hat in the ring?I didn’t just decide. I’ve had my eye on this office for three years, thinking it and planning it, if anywhere in my head. I am running for Secretary of State because in the nine years I have been in office, it has become so clear that there are too many communities in this state that are not represented.When I was first elected, right away, I asked to be in the Government Administrations and Elections committee specifically because I wanted to work on issues of campaign finance reform. Even though the district I got elected for is one of the poorest districts, and our constituency is dealing with issues of poverty like housing and hunger, the only way to work on those issues is to get people in that constituency elected to higher office.The election is 16 months from now. Do you think that the candidacy is too long? Do you think it induces voter fatigue?I think it can. It is something that we all have to worry about. The only difference now is that the first election actually happens on the day of the convention in May of 2006. There is a very specific audience in the Democratic Party that we all have to put our candidacies in front of. That is one of the reasons for the early start.How do you rate your chances?I think they are very good.Why?I bring a base of communities, the Latino community, the LGBT community and people that have worked in the progressive circles for a long time. One of the things I understand is that you don’t just jump into a race like this, you need a base. I am working hard to solidify this base.Fortunately or unfortunately, fundraising is a part of this. I consider myself a good fundraiser.Would you as Secretary of State campaign to make the election season shorter?I think teamed up with campaign finance reform, and full public campaign financing, that is a change that could make things work better.We have to be honest, one of the reasons why so many of us are running early is that we know we are going to be judged on how much money we are going to raise. Fundraising matters. Do you think that is perverse?It is the unfortunate reality, but of course it is perverse.How do you plan to differentiate between centrist Democrats and on the ground Democrats who want to get rid of guys like Lieberman?I am a lot less concerned with the party leadership, our own elected officials, and trying to address the issues that they bring up. I am interested in addressing the day-to-day issues that people care about. What that makes me think of in my own district, it has been nine years I have represented this district, going to capital, and talking with my colleagues, it is amazing the differences in the issues that they deal with.The overwhelming majority of my constituent work is about poverty and how it affects them – not in policies or rules that come down from government. It is phone calls from single moms who are getting evicted tomorrow, or elderly people in my district who can’t get access to a dentist because no one will serve them.How does the Secretary of State get grandma a root canal?It is a platform to talk about democracy from that individual’s perspective, why it matters that the mom with the two or three kids can’t get affordable housing because there aren’t enough people in power who are fighting for that.What kind of support do you have statewide at this point? We are concentrating very heavily on my base, organizing in the Latino communities for starters. We have identified in meetings, and have received support from cities and towns with significant Latino populations. Although we are not done in that process, it is looking very well. The almost immediate backing of the mayor of Hartford and my own town chair, Noel McGregor, we know we need to come in with Hartford. Also, another really good indicator is in my fundraiser for the exploratory committee. We have been able raise contributions from every single congressional district in the state.Suppose both you and [state treasurer] Denise Nappier are on the ticket for the Democrats in November 2006. Does having two minority women from Hartford hurt the party?I think it is a definite plus for the party. I bring communities that are not at the table. I bring a unique combination in my professional background in technology, and my social background in issues like civil rights. those are things i bring to the table that are not there yet that can help round out the ticket.Geography doesn’t matter?No, in this case, it does not.How much have you raised and how much do you think you need to raise?In the exploratory committee, which we had open for about five months, I raised about $56,000 from close to 400 individuals—all with the lower limit. Exploratory committees can only accept up to $250 per individual. How much do you need to win the primary?Our budget is $1.2 million for the full cycle.How much do you need to win the primary?Half a million.Do you think six people in Democratic primary makes it easier for the Republicans after the Democrats have bloodied themselves?I don’t worry about what that is going to do in terms of facing a Republican. I view the primary in terms of building strength as opposed to the other way around. Why?It forces us to talk about the issues early. It forces us to organize the party and our own operations. Frankly, I would much rather have an operation up and running and full steam ahead in August, meaning a field operation, not just the usual campaign thing, that could continue through right until November,On your web site, you point out four areas you seek to focus on – voter education, campaign finance reform, technology and serving small business. In regards to voter education, how would you engage young people in the electoral process? We have to do it in our schools. One of the ideas I have been thinking of is having some say in how curriculums are written in terms of civic engagements for younger kids. That is item number one. Item number two is just about the fact that we run elections that don’t talk to the issues that young people care about. Why do you think we let that happen, we have such a standing system in the political world and in Connecticut that hasn’t opened enough doors, whether it is through a town committee, state party, or anything like that, where young people with talent can come in and learn to run campaigns. What kind of budget would you appropriate to create outreach to high school students to induce them to volunteer as poll sitters, as Connecticut law now allows?I think you can do that with about a half a million dollars in a biennial budget. About $250,000 a year?Yeah.What about giving 16 year olds the right to vote?I support it.Why?We give 16-year-olds a great deal of responsibility through school involvement, or work involvement. We expect them to develop their own opinion. I don’t see why politics should be any different. We should let them have their voice heard, which is by a vote.What criticisms would you offer of Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz?I offer none. In regards to campaign finance reform, what proposal do you put on the table?I want to see a full system of public financing. I understand that we are not in a position to implement such a system for the next cycle. I support doing it for the following state elections. Why not now? I don’t think we can raise the money when we are already in the middle of a biennial budget.Why isn’t there the will to do it? When the state legislature wants something done, like, say, the Patriots’ Stadium, it gets done. It can happen, why doesn’t anyone want it to happen?I don’t know. One of my biggest frustrations is seeing how much we try to hang on to what we have without opening doors for new stuff. That is how we don’t allow people to participate. A lot of the resistance to campaign finance reform is that it h
as served incumbents well, and incumbents are less likely to change it. It takes a scandal to slap us in the face before we can at least begin to talk about it.Congressman John Larson, in an interview on ctnewsjunkie.com, suggested that the state should redistrict, cut the bicameral legislature to 150 seats (120 in the house and 30 in the senate), and create staggered four-year terms, thereby sending 75 candidates up for election biannually, making it easier to fund. What do you think of his proposal?I love that proposal. I think that four-year terms is something we have talked about for a long time. What is most attractive is the actual staggering of the terms.Why?There is so much better a chance of turning the whole thing over. We are constantly running for reelection, and yet every two years, the makeup of the legislature doesn’t really change.Are you going to hold your candidacy to self-imposed financing restrictions?I am going to hold it to restrictions there now. I have to remain competitive. I have to play by the rules we have right now.What would you envision as the ultimate vote counting process?We are all talking about HAVA and the switch to electronic voting systems. The number one priority I support is voter verified paper trail. Voter verified paper trail has to fulfill three different things, to allow individuals with disability to confirm their vote; number two, to allow for a recount outside of memory of computers and number three, I want to be able to audit whatever machines we are using on a regular basis. One of the ways is a paper trail. A lot of the talk in the forums where we are presenting our candidacies, people ask which specific machines are we going to go to with, who is it going to be manufactured by. Although I am well versed in how it has come about, I am much more interested in defining the criteria in minute detail for voter verified paper trail. We need to have a defined and clear plan as to what that is before we go out and look at machines. One of areas that is critical is making sure that there is access to source code. It is as big and important in my world as paper trail.Many people, like Bev Harris and Black Box Voting, have criticized electronic voting software because of its proprietary nature. Current Connecticut state statutes make no mention of the fact that the software code that counts our votes is not owned by the state. Citizens have no legal right to examine the code that counts our votes. Do you think this is a problem, and if so, how do you propose fixing it?I think it is very big problem and the one way to fix it is by either implementing a statute, which is a more secure way to do it, or by administrative regulation. It is really easy to get by people who don’t understand it, because people are not computer programmers. It is tough to make a comparison as to who owns a line of code and who owns something that is copyrighted and written in a book.What do you think of returning to paper ballots?I think it would be way to cumbersome. I think we can marry paper and technology in a way that more people would be able to participate.In regards to the voting itself, many Americans consider the process broken, with the fraud in Florida in 2000, well documented by journalists like Greg Palast. How would you repair it, and moreover, how would you instill confidence in the system? I think it is a very scary thing. Again, we go back to the fact we have to start talking about the things that matter on a day-to-day basis in their lives. We have got to establish a voting system that is not so much in the hands of operations that have been around for decades, but in the hands of more young people. One of the examples, I am always worried about the level of training and information we give our poll workers, whether it the ones who have been working for years or years, or new ones. We see people getting turned away from their right to vote. We need to educate the people who run the street level operations of the polls.I have a bill this year, and it passed as apart of a larger piece of legislation, to increase the availability and quality of information provided to all registrars and poll workers. The number of voters we physically took to the polls who were turned away who were not informed of right to provisional ballot that we actually had to take back to the polls and fight for it.How do you instill pride in the voting process?You have to make it make a difference, again bring it back to everyday issues of that individual. If I understand more clearly that my vote helped elect someone who has made it possible for more individuals to have access to quality health care, then I can make that connection that my vote matters and be proud of it.What are you going to do for small businesses?The Secretary of State has the commercial recording division, the Secretary of State acts as chief business registrar. All corporations, LLC, and businesses with the exception of sole proprietorship, have to register officers, and all info with Secretary of State, they have responsibility to make that info available.You now have access to all matter of small business in Connecticut, you have the best resources there to both bring them together and Susan does some of that by holding small business fairs. But you also have the power to provide the public information so that people can research it better, and that is one of the areas technology comes in. You do have an opportunity to provide a service in the way of information. The more you make it accessible, the more we will help them to succeed.If you lost primary, would you run for state representative again?By time primary comes along, I will know exactly what I will do. I can’t define it now. I do think I have a strong responsibility once my seat becomes open to help qualified candidates run for it.