Former Massachusetts governor and one-time presidential candidate Michael Dukakis visited the state Capitol on Monday to lobby Connecticut lawmakers on National Popular Vote legislation.
Dukakis traveled from Brookline, Mass. to Hartford on Monday by Greyhound bus to speak with several lawmakers in the House and the Senate who are on the fence about whether Connecticut should join the National Popular Vote compact.
“The winner of the popular vote for the presidency ought to become the president of the United States,” Dukakis said in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building Monday. “The best way to do it is this way rather than going through a long constitutional process.”
The National Popular Vote interstate compact is not a new concept to the Connecticut General Assembly. The concept is proposed on a nearly annual basis. If passed, Connecticut would join eight other states and the District of Columbia in the agreement. The compact would become effective if enough states joined so that 270 electoral votes, or enough votes to win the election, went to the winner of the popular vote. Currently, the compact includes about 132 electoral votes.
Dukakis met with Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate along with rank-and-file lawmakers on Monday.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he had a “great” meeting with Dukakis, but isn’t necessarily off the fence just yet.
“I let him know that I have some reservations, including the potential for state-by-state lawsuits and the practical logistics if a national recount is needed,” Sharkey said. “We agreed that further research on some of the points that came up is needed. At this point we’ll see what the Senate does and run the bill if it has the support of our caucus.”
Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, said he too met with Dukakis.
“I agree the Electoral College needs to be abolished,” Alexander said. “I just don’t know if this is the way to do it.”
But Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said he supports the measure.
“I strongly support the bill and hope that we can find the necessary support to pass it,” Williams said.
Supporters of the legislation argue it would make Connecticut more competitive in presidential elections, like the last one in which it was largely ignored by the candidates until they needed money for their campaigns.
“It would force all candidates to have to run everywhere, in a much different way than they do today,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said in February during a public hearing on the bill.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said that when campaigns focus their resources and energies on a few battleground states, administrations tend to focus their efforts and resources on those states as well.
But opponents like Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, still believe Connecticut would miss out on presidential visits with a National Popular Vote because it only has about 2.8 million voters.
“If you look at running a general election campaign based on population — where the vote is — Connecticut is a loser,” he said, adding that New York would be the state in the region that would get the most attention based on its concentrated population.
The New York TV market is going to have a bonanza . . . all you’re doing is shifting one way of focusing efforts to another way of focusing efforts but now it’s all in large population centers,” McLachlan said in February during a public hearing.
The issue has been up for discussion in recent years because of the 2000 election, which saw the Bush-Cheney campaign win the White House with a 271-266 electoral vote advantage despite polling 540,520 fewer popular votes than Gore-Lieberman.
Dukakis and Barry Fadem, president of the National Popular Vote coalition, are optimistic this will be the year Connecticut joins the compact.
While he was in Hartford, Dukakis also met with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who presides over the Senate. Wyman could be asked to cast a vote if there was a tie among the 36 Senators. But supporters don’t believe it will come down to Wyman.