Large crowd on hand for Fairfield LWV candidates forum
FAIRFIELD — Candidates for state office fielded questions ranging from tolls to pensions to reproductive rights at a forum Wednesday.
There was standing room only at the event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Under the format used, each candidate had a total of seven minutes for their answers, so how many questions they were able to answer depended on the length of their responses.
Democratic candidate for the state Senate in the 28th District, Michelle Lapine McCabe, came ou tin support of not only highway tolls to help ease Connecticut’s fiscal burdens, but also legalizing recreational marijuana.
“I am in favor of tolls because I feel it should not be entirely on Connecticut residents to bear the costs,” McCabe said. “I think we need to look at revenue stream” including allowing the use of recreational pot.
State Sen. Tony Hwang, the incumbent Republican, didn’t go as far.
Hwang said he supports the “idea” of a transportation lock box, to fund infrastructure improvements, but with a caveat. “There’s a loophole that before the money goes into the lock box, it can be swept into the general fund,” Hwang said. “We have to look at the language and intent.”
There is a question on the ballot regarding the establishment of a transportation lock box.
“At the end of the day, I think we have to prioritize our projects,” Hwang said, to get handle on state finances, and improve infrastructure. “Prioritization is critical to how we have to proceed.”
McCabe said to solve the problem, everyone needs to be talking to each other. “How is it that Fairfield County representatives and senators hear aren’t caucusing together,” he said. “In one way, it’s a breakdown in how we’re interacting with each other.”
Hwang, however, said the polarization is between political parties in the state, but rather by region, and a lack of understanding of another region’s needs.
Both agreed a $15 minimum wage is not a living wage, but differed on whether the state should bump up its minimum wage.
“The $15 minimum wage is not a liveable wage in this state,” Hwang said. “That being said, we need to focus on educational skills ... I want everyone to reach their optimal abilities, but education has to be the impetus.”
“I absolutely support raising the minimum wage,” McCabe said, but added it might be that the increase needs to be done in shifts. She said small businesses invest their time and energy into hiring someone, who then leaves for better jobs wages. “In addition to raising the minimum wage, we have to make sure these jobs are jobs that can grow into something more.”
Fairfield has three state House districts — the 132, 133, and the 134, which includes part of Trumbull.
Incumbent state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-132, the question of increasing the minimum wage “is a conflict for me.” She and her husband own a small heating business. On the one hand, she said, you want people to receive a fair, but on the other hand, $15 an hour in Connecticut won’t achieve that.
“When people argue that $15 is not enough to raise a family on, I agree, it’s not,” Kupchick said. “It’s supposed to be a training wage,” she said, helping teens to learn about work ethic and responsibility. “I never imagine people believe they should be living on the wage they started out on.”
Raising the minimum wage will result in lost jobs, Kupchick said. She said when it happened in New City, people were replaced with kiosks at McDonalds.
“I do support raising the minimum wage,” her Democratic opponent, Caitlin Clarkson Pereira said, adding that she wished it had been brought up in the last legislative session at least for a discussion.
“We know that’s not a living wage, so how come we’re not having a conversation about what is a living wage,” Pereira said. She said while appearance of kiosks is happening, “that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone on the back end, making sure that kiosk is working properly.
Pereira also said the minimum wage didn’t need to be raised to $15 all at once, but could be done in increments.
The two also differed sharply on the National Popular Vote Compact, an agreement between some states and the District of Columbia to award all their respective electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the overall populat vote in the 50 states and D.C.
“I believe Connecticut should absolutely vote to be part of the National Popular Vote Compact,” Pereira said. She said the Electoral College “was put into place to make sure something didn’t happen, like we allowed to happen.” Pereira said we looked to Electoral College to make a wise decision, and they didn’t.
Pereira said you often hear people say their vote doesn’t matter. “The only way to make it fair is to say it’s based on the popular vote,” she said. “Nobody’s vote should count more.”
Kupchick said she vote “no” when the proposal came up in the state legislature. “I think it’s unconstitutional,” Kupchick said, citing Article 1 which doesn’t allow any state to enter into any agreement or compact with another state without the agreement of Congress.
The current set-up, Kupchick said, “forces presidential candidates to pay attention to smaller states.”
In the 133rd District, both incumbent state Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey and her Republican challenger, Sally Connolly, said they support fully funding teacher pension funds
“Yes, I absolutely will,” Vahey said. “We’ve heard from a gubernatorial candidate who’s talked about not fully funding it. That’s how we go into this problem in the first place.”
Vahey said there are a number of alternative solutions a special commission is looking at, including transferring some state property. “Another is using lottery proceeds,” she said. “I think we have to look at all viable options, including our discount rate.”
“We are certainly in agreement on this,” Connolly said, noting education was the catalyst for her involvement in politics in the first place. “Funding our pension is a huge priority. It’s been frustrating looking over the finances over the last couple of years, and all the waste at the state level”
She agreed that the state should look at state property transfers, and lottery funds, as some of the options available.
With some worried about what a Conservative agenda means for abortion rights, the candidates were asked about their support for Connecticut’s abortion laws.
“I think that this is a very complicated issue,” Connolly said. “I think we’ve made it a very black and white issue over the years.” She said everyone is given free will to make choices, and that she does not think abortion rights are something that is up for a change right now. “I wouldn’t change any laws currently on the book,” Connolly said. “I do think we should do more to actually support people who go into clinics.”
She recalled a college roommate who she said was devastated after she felt pressured to have an abortion. “I don’t think we give enough options to make other choices,” Connolly said. “We don’t empower women to make other choices.”
Her opponent was unequivocal.
“I would not change that law,” Vahey said, “and I absolutely believe we need to assure equal access for all women” across the economic spectrum.
Asked for solutions to traffic and transportion in the Interstate 95 corridor, state Rep. Laura Devlin, R-134, said one thing she is not in favor of is tolls. She said tolls would jeopardize millions in federal funding, and most of the tolls would be collected from Fairfield County residents.
“We need to prioritize projects,” Devlin said, criticizing a busway “to nowhere” in the New Britain area, and the new rail line from New Haven to Springfield, MA. The rail line, she said, meant building new train stations. “That is like remodeling your bathroom when your foundation is crumbling,” Devlin said. “There are projects that can be removed.”
Her Democratic challenger Ashley Guadiano said this is an issue where there isn’t a one size fits all solution. Fixing the problem will come from the “cumulative effort of doing a lot of hard work and bipartisan conversations.”
Guadiano said the first thing that needs to be done is establishing a transportation lock box. “I would urge people to vote ‘yes’ for that,” she said. “I do think we need to look closely at our project list, and prioritize those dealing with safety and economic growth.”
She said the subject of tolls shouldn’t be politicized. “We can’t take things off the table just because they’re politically unfavorable,” Gaudiano said. “We need to put the state first and re-election campaigns second.”
Both said they support the state’s strict gun laws, when asked if they support open carry in Connecticut.
“The focus should be to continue to strengthen laws we have,” Gaudiano said, while balancing that with Second Amendment rights and “making sure we are taking care of the greater public good.”
Gaudiano said she supports stronger laws regarding gun storage.
“I have voted for every piece of gun legislation,” Devlin said, and was a co-sponsor of the bill banning bump stocks. She said if open carry is to be allowed, the police should be able to at least ask to see a gun carry permit.
With open carry at least you need to be able to show your permit.
Although they were not given time to answer questions, the candidates for Probate Judge, Democrat Kate Neary Maxham and Republican Bryan LeClerc, had two minutes to promote their candidacy.
LeClerc said he practices law everday with compassion and the values of an Eagle Scout. He said he was entrusted with difficult probate cases by the late Judge Daniel Caruso, and said he would be able to serve for three full terms, providing the court with stability.
The staff attorney for the Probate Court for 20 years, Maxham said this is a very specialized area of law, and not many lawyers know much about it. However, she said, she is someone who many attorneys in the state turn to when they have probate questions. She said she has been doing the practical application and real world work for two decades in the Probate Court.