Candidates toe party lines at Westport debate
WESTPORT — The partisan divide characteristic of today’s political climate was on view Monday in front of a packed crowd at Westport’s League of Women Voters candidate debate.
The closely watched race between incumbent Republican Senator Toni Boucher and her upstart Democratic challenger Will Haskell especially showed the divergent worldview between the two parties.
“Our businesses tell me it has become structurally unaffordable to grow their businesses here,” Boucher said at the debate, arguing high taxes and anti-business legislation have forced companies, such as General Electric, to leave the state and 26th District, which includes parts of Westport, Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, and Wilton.
Haskell disagreed. “I don’t think taxes play as large a role as she does,” Haskell said, contending instead that GE left because of Connecticut’s lack of a young, diverse, and tech-savvy workforce and the state’s crumbling infrastructure that makes it difficult for employees to get to work.
The pair’s opposing economic philosophies clashed again when the debate moderator read Haskell the question Boucher submitted for him to answer.
“Connecticut’s job market is one of the worst in the country and the state has yet to recover the jobs lost in the great recession of 2008,” moderator Carol Reimers read from Boucher’s question, which asked how a $15 minimum wage would help improve the state’s economy.
“Crippling inequality in this state drags us back, and it’s time to enable more consumers and more employees to become contributing members of society,” Haskell said, endorsing a $15 minimum wage.
In the race for the 28th Senate District to represent Fairfield and parts of Westport, Democratic challenger Michelle McCabe differed in views from incumbent Republican Tony Hwang, notably when it came to the question of gun regulation.
“I have been a strong supporter of gun control in our community and I think that issue has been so emotional that I would hope people look at the facts and not simply lead to the emotion. Emotion is what will divide us. We need to be united in addressing this very important issue of public safety, but we need to look at the facts and represent the will of the people,” Hwang said.
McCabe criticized Hwang for voting to lift the ban on concealed weapons in state parks and said if elected, she will vote to give police the power to ask people whether they have a gun permit and will fight “tooth and nail” for increased gun regulation.
The race to represent Westport in the 136th State House District pits Democratic experience in the form of lifelong Westporter and four-term state representative Jonathan Steinberg versus an insurgent Republican, Greg Kraut, who moved to town in 2016 and was elected to Westport’s Representative Town Meeting last year.
“I learned early on in business that time doesn’t always equal effectiveness,” Kraut, a real estate developer, said, adding his plan to lower taxes and government spending will help reverse the trend in Connecticut of decreased home values, the departure of major businesses, and longer train commutes to New York City.
Steinberg said Kraut has missed almost half of the Representative Town Committee finance subcommittee meetings in the 11 months since Kraut was elected. According to documents provided by the office of the Westport Town Clerk, Kraut has missed four out of the 11 finance subcommittee meetings since December and has missed no meetings of the full RTM.
Steinberg also touted his own record in Hartford.
“I’ve developed relationships across the aisle. I have assumed leadership positions that are growing period to period that put me in a position to help Westport and help the state,” said Steinberg, who heads the house Pension Sustainability Commission and Moderates Caucus.
Republican Gail Lavielle represents parts of Westport, Norwalk, and Wilton in the 143rd District and while she and her Democratic opponent Stephanie Thomas shared a collegial demeanor, their differences were apparent, particularly on social policies, such as affordable housing.
“In the cities there is quite a lot of affordable housing, and in Norwalk, which is very close to us and I represent part of it, there is so much affordable housing that they can’t fill all of it,” Lavielle said, adding the state’s affordable housing law 8-30g has good intentions but bad consequences for communities who want a say in the character and location of affordable housing in their town.
“I think 8-30g is overstepping a bit, but we can’t be naive, these laws came into effect because of classism and racism, so we have to straddle that fine line between not in my backyard and making sure affordable housing is in keeping with the character of the town,” Thomas said of her stance on affordable housing.
In a section of rapid-fire questions in which debaters were asked to hold up a “Yes” or “No” placard, the candidates fell along party lines on the question of whether they would support tolls and the legalization of recreational marijuana, with the Democrats holding a “Yes” for each and the Republicans a “No.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Greg Kraut missed almost half of his Westport Representative Town Meeting subcommittee meetings over the past year. According to documents provided by the office of the Westport Town Clerk, Kraut has missed four out of the 11 Representative Town Committee finance subcommittee meetings since December and has missed no meetings of the full RTM.
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