FAIRFIELD — State Sen. Tony Hwang, a Republican, is facing a challenge to his role in Hartford this year from a Democratic newcomer, Michelle Lapine McCabe.

The Senate district includes Fairfield, Westport, Easton, Weston and Newtown, and Hwang was first elected to the post in 2015, after serving as the state representative for the 134th House district.

Both candidates said dealing with the state’s fiscal situation is a matter for priorities.

For Hwang, who said the state is in “economic turmoil,” fiscal accountability must be brought to the forefront. “We must make economic decisions that are sustainable for the long-term and address tough issues like pension reform, a costly 10-year binding labor agreement and economic revitalization,” Hwang said. “And we must prioritize government spending in such a way that doesn’t spend more than we make, but that also protects critical services like education, public safety and infrastructure and transportation.”

He said the budget must reflect care for the state’s most vulnerable residents and communities. “As a state senator, I’ve been involved with two budgets where we made the difficult decisions that enabled us to safeguard vital services,” Hwang said. “I know from experience that bipartisan compromises in Hartford are both required and possible to right Connecticut’s financial ship.”

Addressing the unfunded pension liability is McCabe’s top priority. “To accomplish this we must fully vet, then implement, the asset contribution proposal devised by the Connecticut Pension Sustainability Commission,” McCabe said. “As explained in the recent Forbes article on the commission, the state owns assets such as office buildings and parking lots to the tune of nearly 7,000 properties and potentially worth billions.”

Those assets, she said, would be transferred in lieu of cash to the pension funds to help pay down the pension liabilities. “I would support the process outlined by the commission: identify the most promising assets, value them, and the establish the organizational structure to manage the assets for the pension fund,” McCabe said. “Not only do we have an opportunity to fix our pension problem, but we will also open up these properties to new use, and create jobs in the process.”

McCabe said to create jobs, the state must create a more business-friendly environment to make it easier for businesses to grow.

Gun laws are often a flashpoint in politics, and Connecticut is home to its own deadly school shooting, a school shooting that happened in the 28th district.

“While Connecticut’s gun laws serve as a national model, we need to respond to new technology,” McCabe said, “close loopholes for licensing and permitting, and address the fact that mental health investment is a key component to a safe society.” She said the state needs to adopt incentives for safe gun storage in private homes to keep guns away from children or unlicensed adults, and strict regulations on “ghost” guns and 3-D printed guns.

Hwang said in 2013, while a state representative, he voted to enact one of the strictest guns laws in the country. “And we still have some of the nation’s toughest laws, second only to California,” Hwang said. “Connecticut requires training, background checks and permit requirements, in addition to banning certain semi-automatic firearms.”

He said he is supportive of laws and law enforcement and co-sponsored legislation to ban bump stocks and ghost guns. “But I also know we can do more,” Hwang said. “That’s why I’ve been working with our police chiefs and our federal delegation on other important gun-related issues like stricter reciprocity of guns rights with other states.” A supporter of universal background checks, Hwang said he has never accepted any donations from the NRA.

Connecticut has made some strides in addressing the opioid crisis, Hwang said.

Less than five years ago, only paramedic-trained personnel could carry and administer the life-saving medication, Narcan,” he said. “By working with the commission of public health, in less than three months and without having to change legislation, I was able to lead the policy change that allows police officers and other first responders to carry Narcan with proper training.”

Hwang said he has participated in community forums throughout the district to get a better understanding of this “critical” public health crisis. “But we need to do more,” he said. “We need to treat opioid addiction as an illness and work diligently to both combat the social stigma surrounding it and ensure health insurance parity so that everyone who needs help can get it.”

McCabe said there is much more to be done. Among those needed actions, she said, are increasing the number of beds for people in treatment, balancing the over-prescription of opioids with allowing specialists to properly address those suffering from chronic pain and “make naltrexone, which reduces cravings, readily available at ERs and other locations that treat victims of overdose so that they can increase their likelihood of sobriety, and make mental health services readily available and normalized for all residents, young and old, to identify and address issues that lead to addiction.”

With a President who uses Twitter as a primary means of communicating with the public, social media has become more than just a way to keep track of family and friends. Fake accounts, “bots” and threatening posts are now everyday occurrences., and the courts ruled the President can’t block Twitter followers.

How do local politicians view social media?

“I do not believe that public officials including candidates can block people from their social media accounts,” McCabe said. “Our job is to communicate our views to the public and we don’t have the right to pick and choose who accesses our public accounts and who is allowed to share their views.”

Negative feedback, McCabe said, is a valuable tool. “We don’t learn anything by being surrounded by people who only agree with us,” she said. While she hasn’t blocked anyone, she said she believes the same protections regarding hate speech, abusive language, and threats should apply in terms of deleting comments.

Hwang said no one is blocked from his legislative access and he welcomes every individual to call his office or reach out through email or his legislative website or social media.

“However, my personal and campaign-related pages are mine alone and in those platforms, I choose not to engage with the hateful and vitriolic words that have come to dominate our online social discourse,” Hwang said. “Cyberbullying is one of the worst epidemics we face as a society and social media has unfortunately become a platform for disseminating messages of anger and intolerance.”

On those pages, Hwang said, he does block “unrelenting derogatory viewpoints from both parties.” He said he has always run positive campaigns and welcomes face-to-face conversations with any constituent.

A native of Taiwan, Hwang said his personal story as an immigrant informs his motivation and commitment. Before his election to the General Assembly in 2009, Hwang was a member of the Representative Town Meeting.

Hwang said one word explains why he is the best candidate for the seat — accomplishments. “I am a legislator who cares deeply about my community, and as such have demonstrated my commitment through my presence, my participation, and my record of supporting and passing legislation that is both fiscally accountable and socially responsible,” he said, citing those he said he is most proud of including increasing penalties for threats against schools, full budgetary restoration to Medicare funding, and the Long Island Sound Inventory Blue Plan.

“I have the experience and the commitment necessary to help make the changes our state so desperately needs,” Hwang said.

McCabe said her experience and approach to governing is what the times demand. After three years working on policy briefs and recommendations at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, McCabe is currently the director of the Center for Food Equity and Economic Development.

“We need elected officials more focused on solving problems creatively rather than on winning elections,” McCabe said. “I have a proven track record for doing just that in my work as an advocate, policy analyst and nonprofit program director.” She said she will begin each legislative session gathering input from residents, business owners, unions, local officials and educators “not just to listen but to act once in Hartford.”

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