Sebastian N. Giuliano says that the State Elections Enforcement Commission has compromised its independence by rescinding its selection of him as executive director and general counsel in the face of what he called legislative bullying.
“If you cave into political pressure, how do you claim you are an independent, non-partisan watchdog agency if are a watchdog only to the extent the majority in the legislature lets you?” Giuliano said today.
But legislators said the commission never should have named anyone so recently active in partisan politics. Giuliano, a recently defeated Republican mayor of Middletown, would have been the first elected official to run the agency.
“I think if anything what they have done is preserve their independence,” said Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, a co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee.
The commission announced his selection Jan. 12, but it declined to go ahead a week later with his formal appointment after Slossberg and her co-chairman, Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wetherfield, objected.
On the day it was scheduled to formally appoint Giuliano, the commission’s chairman, Stephen F. Cashman, said only that the panel was unprepared to go ahead with the appointment. He declined further comment.
Today, Cashman declined to comment on Giuliano’s remarks or even confirm his assertion that the commission has decided to open a new search for an executive director.
“At this point, I am not going to have any comment on Mr. Giuliano’s remarks or anything else until such time we make some further decisions,” Cashman said.
Giuliano said today he was told Friday by Cashman that the job will be re-posted.
The Courant reported Giuliano’s statement Monday night.
Giuliano made clear he will not quietly withdraw.
He accused Cashman and the other commissioners of bowing to pressure by Slossberg and Morin.
“The commission should have said, ‘This is most inappropriate. We are a watchdog over your elections, and you are trying to strong arm us,’ ” Giuliano said.
Cashman should have “show then them the door” and reported their interference to the Office of State Ethics.
“I don’t know that this damage is not irreparable,” he said.
Asked if he had any recourse, Guiliano said, “I am not taking any possibilities off the table.”
Slossberg and Morin said today they would have been negligent had they not publicly objected to the choice of a partisan politician to oversee the enforcement of elections law.
As co-chairs of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Commission, they wrote to the commission, saying that it should have applied the same standard to a new director that state law requires of commissioners: They must be clear of partisan politics for three years.
No such legal requirement applies to the position of executive director and general counsel, but Slossberg and Morin said today that using that standard was common sense.
Slossberg said the commission did not bow to pressure; it acted to correct a mistake that compromised its appearance of impartiality.
“They’ve shown their independence is important,” Slossberg said. “When they made this choice, they weren’t thinking about that.”
The agency’s independence clearly would have suffered by appointing someone who was a candidate for re-election less than three months ago, Morin said.
“Gayle and I did what we thought was best to keep SEEC independent and not even with an appearance of partisanship in the leadership,” Morin said.
Giuliano, who also was accused by Wesleyan students of trying to discourage student turnout on election day, said he thought that he and the commission could have weathered the criticism and concerns about a former elected official running the agency so soon after leaving office.
“I think it could have worked had the chairman and the commission taken a principled stand,” Giuliano said. “I’m sure they were taken a little aback, and they got bullied by the Democratic representatives.”
“I guess he certainly has a right to his opinions. I certainly don’t agree with him,” Morin said. “He is personalizing it, and I absolutely am not.”