Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said Wednesday that her potential run for the state Senate in a district where she doesn’t live is a matter of serendipity: a political vacancy arising in Bristol as she and her husband were hunting there for an antique home.
Bysiewicz, a long-time resident of Middletown, confirmed her serious interest in seeking a Democratic nomination that became vacant Monday with the surprise announcement by David A. Roche that he was quitting the 31st Senate District race for personal reasons.
“Months ago, we checked out streets and neighborhoods in Bristol with friends,” Bysiewicz said. “Fast forward to Monday morning, when Dave Roche put out something about not running. My friends in Bristol politics asked, ‘If you are still interested in coming to Bristol, is this something you would be interested in?’ ”
As The Mirror reported Tuesday, Bysiewicz immediately started making phone calls to gauge the support she might find for a political comeback in the General Assembly, where she began her career in 1989 as a member of the House representing Middletown.
“I did reach out to the folks who are decision-makers in the five towns” in the 31st District, she said. “I was very encouraged to get a positive response. I am considering it. I will make a decision shortly. This is something that will come about very quickly.”
Dean Kilbourne, the Democratic chairman of Bristol, the largest community in the district, said he welcomed her candidacy.
“I’m excited about the idea of Susan being the candidate. I know she’s talked with not only me, but all of the chairs of the towns that are part of the 31st District,” he said. “I think she’s got very encouraging support.”
Bysiewicz is a former five-term member of the House and three-term secretary of the state whose political career slid off the rails in 2010 when she explored a run for governor, only to settle on a campaign for attorney general. After litigation that reached the state Supreme Court, she was disqualified as not meeting a statutory requirement for 10 years of active legal practice.
Understandably, Bysiewicz is taking a conservative view of what are the legal requirements to seek the nomination in a district where she does not currently reside. The state Constitution does not require residency to run, only to serve once elected.
But the General Assembly has broadened the residency requirements, most recently in 2013 when it passed a law that says a political party can only endorse a candidate who is a registered voter in the district:
“In the case of an endorsement of a candidate for a municipal office of state senator or state representative, such endorsement may be made of a candidate whose name appears upon the last-completed enrollment list of such party within the municipality or political subdivision within which such candidate is to run for nomination.”
Bysiewicz said she interprets that to mean she must live in the 31st District to accept the Democratic endorsement.
The Secretary of the State’s office, however, said there may be more leeway in the case of a nomination that becomes vacant. The residency law seems intended to apply to the regular timetable for endorsements, not vacancies, the office said.
“Clearly, there are some logistical issues,” Bysiewicz said.
No one has declared an intention to seek the nomination, said Lynne Steincamp, the co-chair of the Democratic Town Committee in Harwinton, one of the five communities in the district.
Steincamp was among the leaders Bysiewicz called, though Steincamp says Bysiewicz inquired generally about who might be interested in the vacancy and did not ask for support. She said Bysiewicz was popular in the district.
“I would like to see what shakes out,” she said. Bysiewicz would be a strong candidate, she said, “But we also need to see who else is there and interested. We have to wait and see what comes of all of this and make the best choice for the 31st. That’s really the bottom line.”
Rep. Chris Wright, D-Bristol, said he considered a run, but decided to pursue re-election for the House, rather than leave Democrats struggling to replace him. “I have an opponent,” he said. “I’d be worried that whoever took my spot would be at a disadvantage.”
Bysiewicz is likely to find skeptics that she already was house-hunting in Bristol. Her law firm opened an office for her in Glastonbury, convenient to Middletown. Her husband’s insurance agency is based in Manchester, next to Glastonbury.
But she said they were looking broadly for a new house as recent empty nesters. One of their three children is a college graduate. The other two are in college.
Her husband is now affiliated with a larger group of agents that has a statewide reach.
“My husband and I love antique homes. On Federal Hill [in Bristol] there are some beautiful antique homes,” she said, then laughed and added, “We’ve been looking for the past year. Heretofore, there was no rush.”