Ever since high school, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 has admired Ella Grasso, Connecticut’s first female governor.
Bysiewicz wrote her Yale senior project on Grasso and, as a first-year law student at Duke University, published a biography of her. In 1998, Bysiewicz successfully ran for secretary of the state, a position Grasso also held. Ten years later, Bysiewicz announced she was exploring a run for governor, and her political career appeared to be closely paralleling that of Grasso.
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But yesterday Bysiewicz changed her political trajectory.
In her home city of Middletown, Conn., she announced she will run for state attorney general — not for governor, a position for which she had considered running since at least February 2009, when she formed an exploratory committee.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Bysiewicz said she had planned to run for governor until a “seismic shift in the political landscape” occurred. When Sen. Christopher Dodd decided not to run for his sixth term representing Connecticut and the state’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, announced his plan to run for the seat, Bysiewicz started considering a bid for attorney general, a job she had always eyed, she said.
Despite its divergence from her original plans, the opportunity to be attorney general, she said, is “just too good to pass up.”
Bysiewicz, who was born in New Haven and grew up in Middletown, decided to run for her first political office in 1992, five months after giving birth to her first child, a daughter, Ava.
She said she was eating breakfast one morning with her husband, David Donaldson, whom she met at Duke Law School, when he pointed out that the current state representative was retiring. “Why don’t you run for that,” Bysiewicz recalls her husband saying.
“We kept waiting for the perfect time to have kids and sort of looked at each other and said, ‘There is no perfect time to have kids. Let’s just do it,’ ” Donaldson recalled. “And it was kind of the same thing about politics.”
Bysiewicz, now a mother of three, was a state representative for six years before running for secretary of state, a position in which she worked to change Connecticut’s voting machines to scan ballots electronically.
ENTERING THE FRAY
Still, it has been more than a decade since Bysiewicz practiced law, and her opponent, George Jepsen — the former Democratic state senate majority leader and an attorney at Hartford-based Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy, L.L.C, — said she lacks the necessary experience for the role of attorney general.
But Bysiewicz says her political jobs have given her as much legal experience as Jepsen has; she cited the fact that she wrote legislation as a state representative and had to do legal work as the secretary of the state.
If elected, Bysiewicz, a Democrat, said yesterday that she would continue to pursue her predecessor’s agenda. Although she said she does not know what issues she would wrestle with as attorney general, she said she thinks one “major new issue” is Internet safety. The medium’s use by terrorists, human traffickers and “unscrupulous business people” is a potential threat to Connecticut citizens, Bysiewicz said.
In an interview Wednesday, Blumenthal declined to comment on Bysiewicz’s campaign.
A PLAN OF HER OWN
If Bysiewicz had entered the gubernatorial race, she would have been a frontrunner, said Director of the Quinnipiac University Poll Douglas Schwartz. A Nov. 10 Quinnipiac University Poll showed that Bysiewicz would be the strongest Democratic contender if she ran against current Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, who had dropped out of the race just a day before the poll.
“[Bysiewicz] and [Ned Lamont SOM ’80] were best known,” Schwartz said of the anticipated gubernatorial candidates. “That was a lot of the reason why she would come up on top on polls.”
And now, as a candidate for attorney general, Bysiewicz is in an even stronger position, Schwartz said, citing the fact that, currently, fewer people are running for attorney general than governor.
Jepsen said Bysiewicz’s run for attorney general could be a “stepping stone” for her to even higher political office. In contrast, Jepsen said he is running solely because he wants to do the job of attorney general.
Asked whether she would run for another office if she were to become attorney general, Bysiewicz declined to “speculate about the future,” but said she plans on “focusing all of her energies” on the job if she becomes attorney general.
But this is not to say that Bysiewicz has forgotten Ella Grasso.
“Maybe there was a reason I had the opportunity to meet Ella Grasso,” she said when interviewed in November. “You realize in life there’s a plan for all of us. You just don’t know that it is in advance.”
Indeed, at least for now, Bysiewicz’s plan will diverge from Grasso’s.