Sunset at the state Capitol
Sunset at the state Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut. Credit: File / CTNewsJunkie

Mark Kohler, a recently retired associate attorney general, will serve the remaining six months of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s term in office following her resignation Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont announced in a morning press release. 

Merrill, who was not seeking re-election, announced earlier this week she would step down at noon Thursday to spend time with her husband as he faces Parkinson’s disease and other health challenges. Because the legislature is not in session, it falls to the governor to name a temporary replacement.

Lamont defied speculation that he would appoint someone within the Secretary of the State’s Office and turned instead to Kohler, a North Haven attorney who retired this year after working for three decades in the Attorney General’s Office. Kohler will begin his tenure as the state’s top election official on July 11 and serve in that capacity until January when the next elected secretary of the state takes office. 

“Mark is incredibly well respected as a level-headed, tactful, and experienced attorney who has a considerable understanding of Connecticut state statutes, particularly those concerning the operations of our elections and government administration,” Lamont said. “The circumstances surrounding the need to fill this vacancy are very unfortunate, but I am pleased that Mark has agreed to step away briefly from his retirement and return to state service.”

Kohler said he was honored to return to state service. 

“I have the utmost respect, appreciation, and admiration for the work Denise Merrill accomplished in this role, and I look forward to working with her dedicated team of professionals to ensure that our elections are carried out in an accessible, fair, and transparent manner,” Kohler said in a statement.

In a statement Thursday morning, Merrill said she was pleased with Kohler’s appointment.

“I am quite familiar with Mark’s work and stellar career in the Attorney General’s office, as well as his commitment to public service,” Merrill said. “I have every confidence he will make sure that all the important functions of our office, as well as our upcoming elections are handled fairly and with integrity.”

During his time in the Attorney General’s Office, Kohler served for a decade as head of the special litigation department, which represents state officials, including constitutional officers like the secretary of the state, in lawsuits. He also spent time supervising the office’s utilities and finance departments. Prior to state service, Kohler was an attorney with Shipman & Goodwin. 

Attorney General William Tong applauded the appointment in a statement posted to his Twitter account.

“Mark Kohler is the absolute best choice to fill this role in this critical moment. He was one of the biggest brains in our office and knows our state’s election laws inside and out,” Tong wrote. “He is an unflappable manager who oversaw the deluge of litigation defending our election laws and executive orders during COVID-19.”

Lamont sought to appoint a temporary replacement who had no interest in running for the office for which a handful of Democratic and Republican candidates are currently campaigning. 

The governor took the same route in December when Comptroller Kevin Lembo stepped down due to his own health concerns. In that instance, Lamont appointed current Comptroller Natalie Braswell, who is not running to stay in the post.

At an unrelated event later in the day, Lamont told reporters Kohler was qualified and nonpartisan.

“People don’t know if he’s a Republican or a Democrat,” Lamont said. “I think he’s going to be a very strong interim secretary for us.”