Friday, July 29, 2005

Interview with John Nussbaum

This is the full text of my interview of John Nussbaum, a candidate for Secretary of the State. The interview took place on Friday, July 29th, between 12 and 4pm. It is long (almost 3,000 words) but I encourage everyone with an interest in the race to read it. There will be a question and answer session with Mr. Nussbaum on Monday, August 1, from 5:30-6:30pm.

A lot of people don’t know who you are, yet. Tell us a little about yourself, and why you’re running for Secretary of the State.

First of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk on your site about my campaign for Secretary of the State. You are providing a valuable service to voters by allowing an early and in depth discussion and forum of the issues.

The reason I am running for Secretary of the State is to provide real leadership on issues that I believe are critical not only to our democracy in Connecticut but to our economic future.

I am not someone who has made a career of politics. I grew up in Darien where I went to public schools until 8th grade, then attended a private school, Hotchkiss, in Lakeville. I graduated with a degree in public communications in 1981 from the Boston University School of Public Communications. I am a small businessman who early on sold municipal bonds and worked in the advertising business before I settled on the real estate business which I have essentially been involved with for close to 20 years, most of that period as a commercial real estate broker and now with my own small company that does both investing and consulting. I should also mention that I have never done any business with any state agency or local municipality, or received any fees or revenue derived from any local or state tax dollar. I am 100% financially independent of the political system.

I have also been a very active and committed Democrat, having participated in and worked on multiple local, state-wide and national races. If you to my biography page on my website there is a lot of biography. In short, I am a very committed democrat determined to provide real political leadership to the citizens of Connecticut.

From your point of view as a businessman, what sorts of things can state government, the Secretary of the State’s office especially, do to promote economic development in our state?

Well, let me just start by talking about our state government. We have known for a long time here in CT that our economic future is dependent on the jobs fueled by small businesses. This is a radical change compared to our parent's generation which was carried by the defense and insurance industries in most of Connecticut. Unfortunately the policies and actions of our state government have been irresponsibly slow in their response to this change. We had a governor who for ten years thought economic development was putting a casino in Bridgeport, buying a football team, starving Metro-North, spending 100's of millions of dollars on a convention center. As far as I am concerned, the bonding money that gushes out of our state government rarely hits the target and creates jobs. Why? How many of the people making these decisions have ever had to make a living in Connecticut, outside of government? Most of them are smart, public service oriented people but they have no real, hands-on, experience with Connecticut's economy. All one needs to do is look at their biographies to understand that. As far as I am concerned there is no sense in the capitol of what a million dollars could really do to create jobs if it was spent correctly and no sense at all of the potential impact on job creation if a $100 million dollars was spent correctly. If they had that sense, they would be focused like a laser on our higher educational system that will train tomorrow's workers; our transportation infrastructure which, in and of itself, will govern the future of our economy and quality of life; and push all economic development back into our cities which will always need to be the commercial centers of Connecticut. And they would be ruthless with our precious bonding money. Unfortunately, we are completely dependent on the leadership at the state government level to have this wisdom because we cannot possibly expect 169 local municipalities to have the resources and coordinate this mission.

That said, the Secretary of the State's office is one of the first stops any new company, partnership, etc. makes in the formation of a new business business. Susan Bysiewicz gets this and has made an excellent start on making that office a real support service for small businesses. I intend to take those services and, specifically, the technology in that office to a much higher level. The Secretary of the State's office has to be both business friendly and user friendly. That office should always be an asset to small businesses, the legal community, etc. that help create the jobs. I will be particularly focused on the online technology available in the commercial recording division.

And I promise you that as one of six constitutional officers with a tremendous political platform that I will weigh in on what I believe is real economic development for the State of Connecticut and the right ideas on how our state government can help create jobs and higher wages, regardless of whether these issues directly relate to the Secretary of the State's office. I believe that is my responsibility as a political leader.

According to your position statement on campaign finance reform, you support the public financing of statewide campaigns. The public is split on the idea, according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll. Why do you think this is the best way to go, and how would you convince reluctant fiscal conservatives?

I think it is clearly in the public's self-interest to finance political campaigns themselves. What I would ask fiscal conservatives to do is look at the money any large organization, public or private, spends on recruiting their key officers...the head-hunting fees, human resources, costs, etc. and compare it to how much it would cost CT to publicly finance the campaigns, as a start, of our candidates for the six constitutional offices. Spending, for example, $4-8 million dollars every four years to, essentially, hire a new governor who will be responsible for about $60 billion dollars of state spending, 50,000 state employees, billions in bonding money is reasonable. I would also ask them if they had to go out and hire someone to run their company, would they allow their competitors to finance this search. That is essentially what we allow with political contributions these days. We allow people whose principle motivation is to do business with our state government to contribute.

However, the real solution to campaign finance reform is free media. Statewide candidates spend at least 2/3rds of the money they raise on a handful of television stations in Connecticut. I believe the public owns this medium and we shouldn't have to pay for the right to learn more about our candidates for government. I believe that the same solution arrived at to qualify for public financing should someday qualify a candidate for media vouchers that they could take to a Connecticut television station. Clearly, this is the most equitable solution to the taxpayer.

Do you believe Susan Bysiewicz has done enough as Secretary of the State to prepare us for the upcoming replacement of our old voting machines? Why do you support optical scan technology instead of computerized voting machines that print a paper receipt?

My approach to this issue was to first understand our current system, then explore all of our options and come to my own independent conclusion on the best technology available to replace our mechanical lever machines that would bring us into compliance with the Help America Vote Act. It was important to me to keep 4 goals in mind:

1. Increase Voter Confidence
2. Increase Voter Participation
3. Make sure no voter is disenfranchised
4. Make sure we come up with the most economical solution for our 169 towns and munipalities.

The main issue I have with the Secretary of the State's office is that I don't believe we are, in fact, exploring all of our options. My understanding is that The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) essentially says that we need to have one machine per polling place and all of our machines need to meet the standard requiring a paper trail in time for the first federal election in 2006. It specifically says we need these machines by January 1, 2006 however our first federal election, a primary, would not be held until August 8th, so I think there is some confusion about the timeline on when these machines need to actually be in place that needs to be straightened out. The bottom line is that the office has put out a proposal for bids for Direct Recording Electronic machines. The Secretary of the States office has said that vendors of optical scan machines were free to bid on that proposal. However, I will tell you that if we have not received any bids on optical scan machines that is a flawed RFP. After all, it is not hard to measure the success of an RFP, just count the number of bids. It is my understanding that we have received bids for only DRE machines which means the clock is running out on our ability to explore both technologies. The public has never been given the opportunity to test optical scanning technology and there has never been any comparative research on DRE machines versus optical scan machines in CT. This would never happen with the traditional introduction of a new product in the consumer marketplace. Anyway, my main point, and I have a tremendous amount of experience with making these types of decisions, is that this issue has not been thought through. The registrars, town clerks and municipal officials have not been fully informed of their options and, more importantly, consulted. If they were, the Secretary of the State's office would hear loud and clear that we need to look at optical scanners. I couldn't even imagine trying to make a decision like this without getting these people on board first. These are the people that will have both the economic responsibility and legal responsibility for making this all work for the CT voter.

Back to my conclusion: The error rate is statistically no different between the two technologies so we need to look at the benfits of one versus the other. The benefits of optical scanning are: We can process voters more quickly thru the polling place. It is an easier technology to understand for all generations of voters. There is more flexibility in setting up the ballot for in polling places with multiple districts. And it is a lot cheaper. It will take at least two, maybe three DRE machines, to replace each mechanical lever machine. In CT, state statute says we need one mechanical lever machine for every 900 voters. A DRE machine may only be able to process 200 voters on election day, so the acquisition costs are significantly different. And the on-going, what I call operating costs including the storage, service, maintenance, all the people necessary to hire, poll workers, machine tenders, moderators, etc. is going to be significantly higher. We are going to have find and train a whole new group of people whereas I believe we could easily retrain our existing personnel to operate optical scanners. Finally, Optical scanners are tabulating machines. If there is any question about the results, you have the hard evidence of the paper ballot filled out by voters themselves that can be recounted, either by hand or by a new scanner. I think this is a lot more secure than having to worry about recounting paper receipts generated by an electronic machine. The electronic machines are not just tabulating machines. They record your ballot, count your ballot and generate the paper receipt for the recount. I would rather have a recount of the paper ballots filled out by the voter versus a recount of the paper receipts generated by a DRE computer.machines which computer scientists, universally, are telling us will never be completely secure.

Whatever machine or technology we use I want a uniform system to monitor, train workers, maintain, service and store. One technology and one system will be far more economical to the towns and state to implement and maintain. Creating a system with different technologies to be serviced and maintained, to be trained on and certified, will reduce our ability to keep costs down. The frustrating part is that while this proposal was issued, a machine was federally certified that would allow a disabled person to make up a paper ballot that could be scanned. So if the Secretary of the State's office certified that machine we could, in fact have a uniform system.

We need to remember that the Secretary of the State is not just the chief elections officer but is also, in essence, the chief consultant and advisor to town and cities on how to deal with these election issues. One of the main reasons I am so focused on this issue is that
we have $33 million dollars, thanks to Senator Dodd, to fund this transition and our success or failure with this decision will have a big impact on local budgets.

According to your biography on your site, you have run for statewide office before (governor in 1998 and 2002), but were unsuccessful. There are five other Democrats in the race for Secretary of the State as of now. Also, a July 8th report by the Hartford Courant stated that you have fallen behind current leader Rep. Andrew Flesichmann in fundraising. How do you plan to be successful this time around, especially considering the size of the field and your current fundraising disadvantage?

True, I am the most experienced statewide candidate in this race. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of people willing to take on John Rowland in '98 & '02 so I am encouraged to see that there finally is a strong field of gubernatorial candidates committed to the same issues I care so passionately about for CT. The Democratic Party in '98 and '02 came to a different conclusion on who the best candidate would be versus Rowland and I respected their decision and did everything I could to help both tickets win. Running for Secretary of the State in 2006 is simply a continuation of my commitment to try to provide real political leadership, not just to Connecticut but to the Democratic Party. I cannot think of a more exciting time to be Secretary of the State. We have a tremendous opportunity to improve our voting systems for generations of voters and I believe I am uniquely qualified in this field to make this happen successfully as well as be part of the team that helps create jobs in Connecticut. And as one who was kept off the ballot in '98 and '02, I would expect you to understand that I have a particular interest in the election duties of that office.

If I learned anything in '98 and '02 it was that it is extremely important to first build the political momentum, starting at the local level by going out to the town committees in your party and then developing a real statewide base of support and organization. My priority this time is to get out to all 169 towns in Connecticut. I have been to 76 towns since February and am well on my way to accomplishing this goal by the time we reach the convention. I can assure you now that I will be on the ballot. I have every confidence that the voter this time, finally, will determine the right outcome. My second priority is to firmly establish my agenda and ideas for the Secretary of the State's office. We are off to a great start and I am looking forward to continuing this discussion of ideas and a plan of action for the Secretary of the State's office. I think my message is clearly starting to resonate within my party and even starting to slowly attract the general publics' attention. Hey, there are a lot of people out there just as disgusted as I was that are looking for real leadership and new blood in Connecticut politics. I clearly represent that to a lot of people.

Anyway, we are now starting to do the necessary fundraising and focusing on meet & greet small fundraisers to, again, build our statewide organization. If anyone reading is interested in helping, e-mail me directly at While our priorities this year may be different from the other candidates in the field, I can also assure you, upfront, that we will both raise and have the necessary resources to get our message out.

It is my belief that early organization, strong ideas, and hard work are going to be the determining factors in this race. Not money. Therefore, we are focused on running our own campaign, on our own timeline, and with our own strategy and objectives in mind.

Thank you, Genghis Conn!!


Great Santini said...

Very interesting interview. I thought his answers were very good and very reasoned. I could vote for this guy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Santini. I just wish his answers were less like a college lecture and more like a real person talking to me. I wonder if Nussbaum really answered these questions or did he cut and paste from prewritten position papers. My concern is does he have the money to compete with the other candidates? From what the Courent has written it doesn't aaprear to be the case. Why is it that the smartess guy in the room always thinks they do not have to fund raise like everyone else? Or is he like Blondin and is going to drop 100,000 of his own money into the pot?

Abigail in CT