After serving five terms in the state House of Representatives, West Hartford Democrat Andrew Fleischmann wants the voters of the state of Connecticut to promote him to Secretary of State.Fleischmann joins five other Democrats – Hartford legislator Evelyn Mantilla, ex-Litchfield selectman Audrey Blondin, former Old Saybrook state rep Robert Landino, real estate investor John Nussbaum, Jr., and La Voz Hispana newspaper editor Norma Rodriguez-Reyes – jockeying for a chance to run in November 2006. In a jacket and tie, with an American flag pin on his right lapel, Fleischmann strolled into Cosi in West Hartford center to meet with ctnewsjunkie.com. He was friendly, even as he weaved through some tough questions.
Why did you decide to throw your hat in the ring?As you may be aware, I have been working on democracy issues since I first arrived in the General Assembly 11 years ago: increasing voter registration and participation, insuring fair elections and most of all, campaign finance reform.When Secretary of State Bysiewicz decided to run for governor, seeking to become the next Secretary of State seemed a very natural step for me, part of a natural progression.The election is 16 months from now. Do you think that the candidacy is too long? Do you think it induces voter fatigue?I would have preferred to begin the campaign later, but there were already four declared candidates for the office at the point when I declared. I didn’t feel it would be prudent to wait much longer. I do think it is unfortunate the cycles are becoming longer, but I don’t think it is any excuse for voter apathy. The citizens run this democracy, it is every citizen’s responsibility to stay attuned.How do you rate your chances?I’m feeling very good about my chances. All of the elements of a winning campaign are coming together for me. When I go out to speak at town committees or other organizations, I get bunches of people to sign up. I am the only candidate who has already gotten endorsements from labor unions. I was the top fundraiser with over $100,000 in. I have friends volunteering to coordinate their towns and regions. I see all key elements of grassroots campaign coming together and that gives me confidence.Would you as Secretary of State campaign to make the election season shorter?I am open to that concept. I am not sure how you achieve that in a country where you have free speech. I do think that a public financing system for elections may help shorten the cycle because it would become possible to set up dates for when the candidates seek to qualify.What about a poll tax in like in Australia where if you don’t vote, you get fined?That type of approach would meet with incredible resistance from Americans.What do you think of it?It sounds coercive to me. It is a right and a responsibility to me, but you don’t insure people acting responsibly simply by setting penalties.Then why do we give out traffic tickets?Your highways aren’t democracy. I’m talking about inculcating good citizenship, and that starts when people are young and giving them a sense of responsibility.How do you plan to differentiate between centrist Democrats and on the ground Democrats who want to get rid of guys like Lieberman?I think that progressive Democrats are deeply committed to reinvigorating this democracy. That is the heart and soul of my campaign and why I am in this race. Most progressive Democrats who I have run into recognize that and you can hear it when you hear candidates on the stump in this race. There is a wide array of issues. I chose to focus on these questions of participations. How much have you raised and how much do you think you need to raise?I think by August of next year a candidate will need to have on the order of a half million if there is a primary.A half million to win the primary?I think that is the right order of magnitude to be talking about.On your website, you point out three areas you seek to focus on – voter education, campaign finance reform and a voter-verified paper trail. In regards to voter education, how would you engage young people in the electoral process? Well, in elementary schools all fourth and fifth graders have to study American History and Government. I feel strongly that programs in Participatory Democracy need to be part of that curriculum, so that you have children running for House and Senate and Executive branches and setting up a mini government and passing laws. Children who participate in systems like those tend to have a better understanding of how governments work that their parents do.You can go through a mock process, but how do you make one that works and impacts reality? Student government in high schools are generally ineffective and mean little to the running of the schools, as opposed to giving them a voting seat on the Board of Education.For elementary students, it makes sense you would limit the reach of their powers. Your point about high schools is well taken. There is a program run by a First Amendment center that aims to empower high school students and parents about high school government. It aims to increase their awareness of their First Amendment rights and the degree to which those rights empower them in their schools. I think programs like that are great.Would you be interested in creating a mandatory high school newspaper law?One of things I have learned as chair of the Education Committee is that Connecticut’s tradition of local control of education is a long-standing and powerful one. I tend to be cautious about requirements. I tend to look for ways to incentivize and support things that we want. I think it would be great that we could have more state support for school papers.But you want to legislate curriculum for elementary schools? Starting with teenagers is too late. Most people I know who are politically active learned about it in elementary schools because their parents were active.What about giving 16-year-olds the right to vote?I think it is an interesting idea, and you know I would be open to hearing the arguments for it. I think that changing the voting age without doing more to raise awareness about the importance of democracy would be a mistake. If you change voting age without improving education, you may worsen the trends where young voters are least likely to participate. If we commit to a strong education agenda, I think dropping the voting age becomes a possibility.What criticisms would you offer of Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz?I think Susan has been a very hard working Secretary of State. I am not prepared to criticize her.Not one eensy-weensy-teensy little thing she has done you don’t like?I am reluctant to blame her for problems that are out there. The office of Secretary of State is not a perfect operation, like any good operation there are problems.What is one?A backlog has developed at the Commercial Recording Division. I think ideally there should be no backlog, and as Secretary of State, I would work to end that. Business people should be able to quickly get their corporations papers filed or amended without paying extra fees.In regards to campaign finance reform, what proposal do you put on the table?As you may be aware in 1999 and again in 2000 I was put in charge of collecting support for public financing bills that put public support forward. Gov. Rowland vetoed the bill, it would have established full public financing for statewide offices. I support full public financing for the House and Senate. I think we can get one through both chambers now and I strongly support that.What happened in this last session – the legislature had one and couldn’t get it through?The House and Senate and Governor’s office could not come to agreement before the closing of the session. It was extremely unfortunate, but I am hoping we will be able to pass a bill soon. I hope to pass a public financing measure as soon as possible.I’m confused. When the Legislature wants something done it gets done. It can happen, why doesn’t anyone want it to happen?I disagree with your premise. There are a lot of legislators who genuinely wish to pass a bill. There are some players who don’t want to pass a bill, most notably House and Senate Republicans. Gov. Rell put them at the table and their stances were purely rhetorical. It is hard when people are at the table who don’t want it to happen. I am cautiously optimistic that sometime in the next year that we will pass a bill in both chambers in concurrence.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 like the idea of staggered biennial terms. With regard to redistricting, I think we have to aim for a much more fundamental reform, which is to have a non-partisan process that isn’t drawing districts to protect incumbents.Are you going to hold your candidacy to self-imposed financing restrictions?In this election, I will follow all the campaign finances laws and rules that are in place. It is my hope that when I am seeking re-election in 2010, I will be a candidate participating in a public financing system.What would you envision as the ultimate vote counting process?I think we should be moving to a system where all voting machines have not only a voter verified paper trail, but open source codes, where there are random audits of machines across the state, and where in a recount it is possible to easily and quickly recount the votes using the paper trail. What do you think of returning to paper ballots?I think the new machines that have open source code and voter verifiable paper trail offer you the best of both worlds. For people who have difficulty with access to machines, they are easily accessible, that is required under the Help Americans Vote Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Such machines also address concerns that you express. They leave you with source documents that are easily recounted.How would you repair our voting system, and moreover, how would you instill confidence in the system?It’s a complicated problem and there is no single answer. I think that those of us who are concerned about the rampant distrust about election processes and cynicism about government have to commit to a broad reform agenda. We should not have voting machines anywhere in this country that lack voter verifiable paper trial and open source codes. We should not have anywhere in this country a system in which there are not standards for how many voting machines you have per amount of population. We need to have fair equitable standards for all of these things in Connecticut and nationally. Secretary of State Blackwell in Ohio should not have the power to set up a system where there are far more voting machines in suburban Republican districts than in urban Democratic districts. That is just plain wrong and that is not permissible. Those long, long lines of voters that we saw in Cleveland and other cities represented a means for turning back countless voters. I was just outraged.On March 30, 2005, you voted against the abolition of the death penalty after years of supporting the abolition of the death penalty – why did you switch your vote?My position has always been the same. I have always supported a moratorium on the death penalty and a full study of how ethnicity, race, gender and geography may be affecting its imposition in Connecticut. I have always supported a moratorium and study. I’ve never supported abolition. With Michael Ross on death row, I wasn’t about to change my position. I do think that we should establish a moratorium effective immediately.Do you think Michael Ross should have been executed? Yes.Why? What gives you the right to say that someone should die?Mr. Ross and his attorneys pursued all the avenues available to them under our legal system in the end the prosecution and the defense agreed on the penalty. As Secretary of State, I will not have any say on that issue. If you are not happy with my stance, you should be happy that my position will not have any say on that issue.Should the state have the power of life and death over an individual?One of the reasons I want the moratorium and study, for me personally, this has always been a tough issue. I would like to see breakdown of the information. How has geography affected the likelihood that someone will be prosecuted? Gender? Race? Personally, it will be much easier for me to come to a comfortable position on this issue when we have ceased imposition of the penalty and have a full study.Suppose you lose in the primary, what would be next for Andrew Fleischmann?Call me Andy. I don’t know. I tend to focus on winning. It is a big state and a big world, there is plenty to do outside of politics and government that doesn’t involve politics and government, but I am working hard to win.If you lost primary, would you run for state representative again?That option would be closed to me, at least for that cycle. You can only seek one office at a time. There would already be a Democratic candidate, and I would be supportive of that candidate.I have no other questions, anything else you want to say? I guess we traveled across a wide array of topics here. I’d like to come back to the fact that for the office of Secretary of State, we have major issues facing us. I’d like to see the next Secretary of State be someone who has been involved in those issues voter registration, voter participation, voting technology and campaign finance reform. I have been deeply immersed in all of those issues since 1995. I very much want to bring that experience to that.