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    State
    Friday, August 12, 2022

    Governor appoints new secretary of the state

    Attorney Mark Kohler will fill Denise Merrill’s position as Connecticut’s secretary of the state, with the outgoing Democratic secretary announcing her resignation this week.

    Gov. Ned Lamont’s office announced the choice of Kohler, a Democrat and resident of North Haven, in a news release Thursday morning.

    Democrat Scott Bates of Stonington will continue in his position deputy secretary of the state. Bates had served as the Connecticut Port Authority board chairman from the authority's formation in 2014 to his abrupt resignation in 2019, just before the quasi-public agency overseeing a major redevelopment project at State Pier in New London became embroiled in scandal over skyrocketing spending and allegations of improprieties. His involvement with the port authority could have created a political opportunity for Republicans.

    The governor can fill the secretary of the state position if it is vacant when the General Assembly is not in session.

    “Kohler will begin serving effective July 11, 2022, and he will remain in the position until the newly elected Secretary of the State assumes office,” the news release reads.

    Kohler spent 30 years with the state Office of the Attorney General as an associate to the attorney general.

    “During his three decades with the office, he served within several of its divisions, most notably from 2011 to 2021 as the head of the Special Litigation Department, which is responsible for representing all state constitutional officers, the legislature, and the judiciary, with responsibilities over election matters, charities, gaming and federal Indian tribal issues,” the news release reads. “In this role, Kohler supervised all department litigation and agency counseling, and provided formal and informal opinions to state officials and agencies regarding a wide range of constitutional and statutory questions.”

    The governor appointed Kohler to be SOTS because of his experience, and because he is not interested in running for the office in November’s election, allowing his appointment to be “clear of politics,” Lamont’s office wrote.

    “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, also a Democrat, said in the news release. “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. I am confident that this will be a smooth transition, and that the staff of dedicated professionals that Secretary Merrill has led during her nearly 12 years in office are ready to continue carrying out the office’s duties on behalf of the people of Connecticut.”

    Merrill already had announced she would not be running for reelection. Her surprise resignation came so that she could spend more time caring for her husband, who is ill.

    “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 the news release. “I thank Governor Lamont for this tremendous honor, and I look forward to carrying out the work of the state.”

    Merrill issued a public statement late Thursday morning, saying she believes Kohler will fill her position "without skipping a beat."

    "I am very pleased with the Governor's decision to appoint Mark F. Kohler to fill the position until the newly elected Secretary of the State takes over in January," she said in her statement. "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. 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."

    Democrats Stephanie Thomas and Maritza Bond are running for the SOTS position, along with three Republicans, Dominic Rapini, Brock Weber and Terrie Wood. Merrill recently endorsed Thomas.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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