Sales executive, veteran lawmaker vie for GOP secretary of the state nomination

The contest for the Republican nomination for secretary of the state pits Terrie Wood of Darien, a veteran member of the state House of Representatives, against Dominic Rapini of Branford, a longtime business-to-business sales executive for Apple.

Both said their campaigns were in a good place heading into the final weekend before the primary. Both have ideas on how to improve state elections and the mixed relationships the secretary of the state’s office has had with local officials who carry out the balloting.

Both want to make the registration of businesses — another job of the secretary of the state — easier and more-transparent.

Rapini and Wood have different skill sets, but each claims to be a good listener who wants to somehow change what has become a chaotic Election Day registration process, while updating the optical computer scanners that are now more than a dozen years old.

Their politics are not so similar.

Rapini is a conservative former chairman of a group that filed dozens of election-fraud claims after the state’s 2020 election all of them rejected by state regulators. He won the endorsement of the GOP State Convention in May, putting him at the top of the primary ballot on Tuesday, next to Themis Klarides, the endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate — not an ally of Rapini’s.

Wood, an early supporter of Klarides, has won the former House minority leader’s endorsement, and hopes her personal relationships with lawmakers from throughout the state over the last 14 years will combine with her extensive campaigning to give her the edge over Rapini. Still, Wood will be down below Klarides on the ballot, on the third line.

Rapini entered the race months before Wood and was awarded his public financing grant on June 1. Wood, who along with Brock Weber won enough convention support in May to force a primary, didn’t get her Citizens’ Election Program grant until July 20.

Weber, a top aide for New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, has since dropped out of the race and the State Elections Enforcement Commission has begun a probe into possible finance irregularities in his campaign.

Rapini: ‘Early voting is not right for CT’

During an interview Thursday in a popular West Haven diner, Rapini, in a white monogrammed shirt and a gold tie, said if he wins the primary and November election, following the retirement of Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, he wants to create an easy-to-use, online application process for absentee/mail-in ballots.

A senior account manager in Apple’s consumer electronics unit, he also wants to make it easier for businesses to communicate with each other to foster potential synergistic relationships.

“I tell everybody that there are a lot of opportunities to take our elections to the next level,” Rapini said. “Our election officials are amazing. I love the security of our decentralized system: Our very dumb machines that just are like calculators and based on paper. We always have an audit trail. I love that.”

A former high school and college football player and coach, Rapini wants to use his communication skills to explore innovative ways to encourage voting, including online mail-in applications, and would like video surveillance on the election drop boxes located in cities and towns.

But both Rapini and Wood stress the need to require photo ID, beyond the current utility bills or affidavits that voters can sign to testify to their address. “It’s very simple stuff that you can type in, because I have to make sure senior citizens can do it, too,” Rapini said, sipping on a mid-morning ginger ale.

Rapini said an easy-to-navigate business database could allow existing companies, as well as those considering moving to Connecticut, to communicate with others that are similar or related.

Rapini opposes the proposed amendment to the state Constitution to allow early voting, which will be on the statewide ballot in the fall. Wood, a moderate member of the House of Representatives, supported the legislation.

“I advise voters that early voting is not right for Connecticut,” Rapini said. “Where you do see it around the country, it’s done with full-time election officials and county government. So they have centralized voting. I do not advocate that for Connecticut.” Plus, it could put an unexpected cost of $15 million or more on towns and cities, he estimated.

Wood: ‘I push back on the narrative’

During a Friday interview, Wood sat in a sunny brick plaza near a popular bakery off the Post Road in Darien, talking about the good times she has had during seven two-year terms in the House, where she earned a reputation for being one of the more bipartisan state representatives.

“It’s been a joy and a great experience, but I have also seen how one-party rule has not been good for the state of Connecticut,” Wood said. “We need more balance, we need to have more conversations. We need to have more bipartisan work and that’s what I have always represented. What I am hearing from people around the state is that they are frustrated, overtaxed.”

Wood, with a dozen years in the non-profit world before winning election to the General Assembly, agrees on the need to create a more user-friendly website for businesses, and to have live people, not answering machines, always picking up the telephone at the secretary of the state’s office.

“With almost 14 years in the legislature, I bring experience to the job,” Wood said during a half-hour interview before spending the rest of the day on social media campaign chores before the weekend blitz around the state in the final days until Tuesday.

“I’m a listener and I’m proud of that,” Wood said before ducking into the nearby bakery for a couple of sour dough loaves for the weekend. “I think good leadership is about listening. I have the relevant experience in policy and also I have proven electability over seven elections, broad support obviously from Republicans, but also Democrats and the unaffiliated, because they know I tell the truth.”

Wood believes the election system has gotten a little over-complicated. “I push back on the narrative that there are barriers to voting,” Wood said. “I think that’s a false narrative put out by the left to create a system where almost everything goes. Thirty seven states have voter ID. We don’t require one. To get almost every service now you have to have a photo ID. You’re not getting on an airline unless you have a photo ID. It gives a little more confidence and tighter control on who’s voting.”

If either Wood or Rapini wins the primary and then the general election, they’ll become the first Republican secretary of the state since Pauline Kezer, who served one four-year term following her election in 1990.

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT