BRISTOL - The Bristol Chamber of Commerce welcomed local House and Senate candidates to Saint Paul Catholic High School Tuesday, offering them a chance to inform voters about where they stand on the issues and explain their plans to improve the state.
A few dozen residents sat intently in the auditorium as they weighed the candidates’ words and considered who would ultimately get their vote.
Candidates sat together on the stage as moderator Paul Lavoie, general manager of Carey Manufacturing and co-chairman of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce’s Regional Legislative Committee, allowed each to introduce themselves and then asked them a series of questions. Questions had been submitted by residents and selected by the Chamber’s Regional Legislative Committee.
Candidates at the forum included:
State Rep. Cara Pavalok-Damato, Republican incumbent for the 77th House District, which includes Bristol, and her Democratic challenger Kevin Fuller.
State Rep. Whit Betts, Republican incumbent for the 78th House District, which includes Bristol and Plymouth, and his Democratic challenger Allen Marko.
State Rep. Chris Ziogas, Democratic incumbent for the 79th House District, which includes Bristol, and his Republican challenger David Rackliffe.
State Sen. Henri Martin, Republican incumbent for the 31st Senate District, which includes Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth and Thomaston, and his Democratic challenger Chris Wright.
Jay Sattler, chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, welcomed the guests.
“The Bristol Chamber is very proud to host this event as we have done in the past,” he said. “This is a critical program that provides another platform to share your message before the vote two weeks from now.”
Kurt Barwis, co-chair of the Chamber’s Regional Legislative Committee, provided opening remarks.
“This is best chamber I’ve been involved in, especially this event,” said Barwis. “I came here not to just be part of the program but I also learn so much.”
Pavalock-Damato, who is also a family, bankruptcy and foreclosure defense attorney, said Democrats have run Connecticut for 38 years and created large deficits. She voted against the Hartford bailout and appointing judges that there was no courtroom for.
Pavalock said a sales tax should have been applied to sports betting but “the other 99 percent of the problem is spending.”
“To say we can’t cut spending is completely ridiculous,” she said.
Fuller said he was part of the Board of Education for 25 years before retiring in June. He said he has seen first-hand that students need more workforce training and development. He also supports raising the minimum wage and earned family leave.
Fuller said that both spending and revenues are a problem in Connecticut. He also said the state should have taxed sports betting.
“There should have been proactive talks with the Indians,” he said. “New Jersey raised $40 million in the first month alone. I’m not against tolls but I won’t support them unless we eliminate the gas tax.”
Betts said Democrats in the majority have brought higher taxes, businesses leaving the state and children moving to other states to find employment. He criticized the “empty magic busway” and said that there is strong opposition to tolls.
When asked about municipal funding he said that they should get what they are promised.
“Letting municipalities budget for one amount and changing that is totally unfair,” he said. “There are also too many unfunded mandates creating burdens on municipalities.”
Marko, a lawyer for 20 years and a history and civics teacher for 15 years in Watertown, said he has five grandchildren and that they are his motivation to ensure there are opportunities to live and work in Connecticut.
Marko agreed with Betts that it was “disgraceful” that the state took so long to decide on a budget last year.
“We need to look at the way funding is parsed out,” he added. “There are fortunate areas that don’t need as much municipal aid and less fortunate areas that do need it.”
Ziogas pointed out that he brought funding back to Bristol for the renovation of Memorial Boulevard School. He said he had learned the process in Hartford adding that “I’m nobody’s man but yours.”
Ziogas stressed that the budget process is “tight” and that last session was democrats and republicans versus Governor Malloy. He said he is confident that the state’s investments will pay off soon and that people will start to come back to Connecticut.
“There is a light ahead,” he said.
Ziogas said he supports training a skilled workforce for major employers looking to fill positions. He said he likes tolls because it “creates an avenue to grow the state” and “has a net cost to citizens of almost zero.”
Rackliffe said he remembered when Connecticut was the “gold standard” for quality of life and income. Now, he said, it is at the bottom of the barrel. He criticized his opponent for supporting tolls.
Rackliffe said his top priorities are providing fiscal stability, working across the aisle to make government more efficient and getting bonding back under control.
Rackliffe agreed with promoting training for technology jobs. He also said regulations should be reduced because they are “crippling small businesses.” He said he supports entrepreneurship and innovation.
Martin said Connecticut’s fiscal stability has deteriorated under democratic leadership. He said it is now the weakest economy in the country. He said he is fed up with “bad policies” like the Hartford bailout which put the state in a “downward spiral.”
Martin said he wants to stabilize state finances, match education with private sector needs and also create a climate that incentivizes business development.
“We should also review every government agency and have it justify its existence,” he said.
Wright said he is a moderate democrat who is not afraid to vote against his party. He said Martin voted with his party 99 percent of the time but that he will represent the people.
Wright said the deficit is a complicated issue that can’t be solved entirely with either taxes or spending cuts. He said he opposed the past two state tax increases, wants to grow manufacturing in the state and doesn’t support raising the income tax. He said he is not opposed to tolls but wants to decrease the gas tax.
“We need to straighten out our budget but we also need to make sure that our education system stays at the top five in the country,” he said. “We also can’t have a solid workforce if they don’t have access to healthcare.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.