Election 2018: Longtime politician Toni Boucher wants to return state to former economic glory
WESTPORT — A fixture of Connecticut politics for the past 30 years, State Senator Toni Boucher faces the most aggressive challenge of her career in 22-year-old Democrat Will Haskell, but argues her experience in government and business is what’s needed to return the state to its supposed former economic glory.
After speaking up at a Board of Education meeting in Wilton, where Boucher lives and raised her three children, she was asked to fill a Republican position on the board and only then registered with the party that launched her political career.
From the education board, Boucher served as a Wilton Selectwoman. In the mid 90’s, Boucher was elected to represent the 143rd house district, where she served for 12 years until 2008, when she won the position to represent the 26th district, which includes parts of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. A formidable incumbent, Boucher often wins by wide margins and in the 2016 election defeated her Democratic opponent by nearly 12,000 votes.
In this season of rising anti-Trump sentiment in the district, however, Boucher doesn’t expect the same numbers and is pleading with voters to lean on her experience and return her to office.
“Right now you need someone with experience that’s proven they can get things done, work across the aisle and delve into the problems of the state. I’m a businesswoman and I know what businesses need. I know local and state government very deeply, and I think it’s going to take all of those skill sets to solve Connecticut’s problems,” Boucher said.
Central to Boucher’s agenda is the desire to restore Connecticut to a mecca of suburban bliss. “It was the envy of the country. Now it is not, it is on hard times and we want to return it. That’s my vision: to return it to a low-cost state with the best education in America and the best quality of life,” Boucher said of the state.
A traditional fiscal conservative, Boucher currently works for an institutional investment firm and was formerly employed by large companies, such as General Electric, and also founded a mainframe software maintenance company.
To entice business and manage the state’s fiscal crisis, Boucher says the state must craft a reduced budget with cuts coming primarily from government departments and the high-fixed-cost of state employees. Stronger oversight of government departments will improve management and reduce waste and duplication and result in cost-savings, Boucher says.
Boucher hopes to renegotiate state employee contracts to benchmark their health care plan to that of municipal teachers or firefighters who pay higher co-pays and pension plan contributions than state employees.
She wants to phase out the income tax and many business taxes and bemoans the alleged anti-business attitude of many state politicians. “I’ve had to debate that profit is a good thing for business, that they’re not awful profiteers...that negative business attitude has got to change for us to move forward and give faith and confidence to businesses that this is a place they can thrive,” Boucher said.
In the style of old-school Connecticut Republicans, Boucher says she is socially progressive on social issues. She supports a women’s right to choose and refers to her upbringing in the Naugatuck Valley as the child of poor Italian immigrants when describing her support for quality public education in the state. Before entering the statehouse Boucher served on the State Board of Education and currently Co-Chairs the Senate Education Committee.
Boucher has bucked her party in her support of climate change legislation and the Citizens’ Election Program, which provides public financing to qualified candidates. Despite her opponent’s attempt to make her appear soft on guns, Boucher voted for the post-Sandy Hook comprehensive gun control bill and the ban on bump stocks and says she would vote for stricter gun regulation.
Boucher makes no pains to hide that she keeps a distance from gun legislation, however. “This is not my issue. I don’t plan to be spearheading this because my area of expertise and interest is in education and transportation and tax policy,” Boucher said.
She opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana and tolls and has been called out by her opponent for voting against civil unions over a decade ago, though she argues her gay constituents asked her not to support the bill because civil unions are not equal to marriage.
Unlike her opponent, Boucher speaks frequently about how she views lawmaking as only one part of the job and cites backroom deals she’s made to help residents and organizations in her district gain government funds, such as the time she convinced the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEP) to give the New Canaan Nature Center funding for a renovation project.
“I made a home-cooked Italian meal, fed the entire staff at the DEP in that division, and they unlocked the funds the next day,” Boucher said.
While Boucher views her work as distinctly local, the shadow of President Trump and his leadership of her party has dogged her throughout the election though she’s condemned Trump’s handling of Charlottesville, immigrant family separations, and the Helsinki conferences.
“I’m deeply disappointed in the language that’s being used. I think you have this great opportunity as the leader of one of the strongest countries in the world to use your words to unite people, not divide people, to bring people up, not bring them down, and I’ve tried to do that,” Boucher said.
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