Monday night, October 18, 2010 candidates from the 20th Senatorial District, including state representatives, met the voters at the New London Senior Center in a “debate” sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Children First of SE CT, and the League of Women Voters. Audience submitted questions were asked by Paul Choiniere, Editorial Page Editor of the New London DAY. Each candidate was given the opportunity to deliver an opening and closing statement.
Incumbents Senator Andrea Stillman (D) of Waterford (20th), and Representatives Elizabeth “Betsy” Ritter (D) of Waterford(38th ), Ed Jutila (D) of East Lyme(37th), and Ernie Hewitt (D(39th)) of New London briefly summarized their terms and committee assignments. Hewitt finished with “I enjoy what I am doing.”
Challengers Dan Docker (R) for Senate(20th) and Representative candidates Anthony “Tony” Siragusa(R) of Montville(38th), Holly Cheesman (R) of East Lyme(37th), and Andrew Lockwood (R) of New London (39th) decried the condition of the state’s finances and the perceived do nothing attitude of the current incumbents. Docker said the state was headed toward “social and economic ruin” and citizens were only responsible to “self, family, and God” for their actions. Lockwood noted that Hartford needed representative who would “just say NO.” Cheesman noted that the state has not created any new jobs in the recent past.
Question 1– What is your stand on legalizing Marijuana?
All candidates expressed support for the “medical use of Marijuana” but not for legalization. There was some talk about the difference between decriminalization and legalization. Hewitt noted concern for young people whose lives were ruined by conviction of possession of one “joint”.
Question2 – What are your specific ideas for reducing size of state budget (and for incumbents – Why didn’t you take action earlier to prevent this crisis?
Again, the responses were somewhat predictable. Stillman and Ritter agreed that this was the focus of the election. Ritter noted that”Slash and Burn” was an ineffective approach. Ritter and Jutila both discussed “results based accounting” and the need of executive branch support Hewitt pointed out that eighty (80) percent of budget was untouchable. The Challengers agreed that spending must be cut, and cut now. Cheesman stated that cuts would have to start with give backs from state employees.
Question 3 – Will Aid to Municipalities and Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Grants be adjusted or remain at the same level next year?
All candidates agreed with varying degrees of emphasis that “everything was on the table” for consideration but the impact on towns and cities of reducing municipal aid or the ECS grants However, Mr. Docker noted that he would rather that the local government receive citizen’s dollars than the “bags of money” that are sent to Hartford. Mr. Hewitt proposed cutting deputy commissioners rather than cutting municipal aid. Ms. Stillman noted that passing the deficit to the towns and cities was not a good idea.
Question 4 – (for incumbents) How could you vote for “unbalanced”budgets in the past few years?
Stillman, Ritter, Jutila, and Hewitt noted that the budget process is a series of negotiations, especially with the governor. The budgets appeared to be balanced when passed and were the best possible. They all expected next year’s budget negotiations to be very difficult. The Challengers noted that there were not significant spending cuts and someone needs to go to Hartford to cut spending.
Questions 5 & 6 –
These questions were specifically to Representative Ernie Hewitt and his opponent Andrew Lockwood - Should English be the official language of the State of Connecticut – Hewitt answered Yes.
For Lockwood – How will you help small business? Lock wood answered that tax dollars should stay in New London and not go to Hartford. Corporate taxes should be cut to permit more investment in the business, not the government.
Question 7 - What should the State be doing to help business?
Representative Jutila responded with the medical phrase “do no harm”. The Republican challengers generally stated that regulations should be reduced, taxes reduced and the market left to its devices. The incumbents pointed out the need to improve the infrastructure, reform education to insure a qualified work force, and lowering the costs of doing business in CT.
Question 8 – Why is it necessary to get local and state police concurrence to get a pistol permit in CT?
Both incumbents and challengers did not see much problems in the current requirements to receive a permit in CT. They called on their personal experience in answering this question and asked the questioner to see them off line for his/her specific problem. All said that it was worth looking at if there really was a problem.
Question 9 – Should the State have a Civil Service System like the federal government with a salary cap?
The candidates noted that many federal salaries were higher than the similar position in state government so that shifting to the federal system may not save any dollars. This question gave the candidates another chance to say the “everything is on the table” in search of cost savings and a balanced budget. Mr. Docker reemphasized his contention that “government does not create jobs.” He also decried the role of unions in “protecting state employees”
Incumbents noted the complexity of the problem facing state government and pointed out their experience would permit them to find solutions in a more effective manner and again noted that “everything is on the table.”
Challengers claimed that the incumbents had had their chance and not taken appropriate action. It was time for new blood to break up the status quo in Hartford.
Overall, it was a civil statement of the ideas of the various candidates on the few questions asked. No candidate was long on specifics due to the shorted period of each response. However, it was evident that this election does provide a choice for the electorate. The incumbent Democrats acknowledge the dire straits of the state’s economy and finances and promise fixes without major destruction by cutting with care and precision. The Republican challengers propose a whole sale change with immediate cuts in spending across the board without regard to the need or importance of a program or agency. Take your pick.