The Round Hill Association debate Tuesday night was standing room only with parking full and cars parked in the grass along Round Hill Road.
RHA president John Conte posed questions to the candidates, allowing no time for rebuttal.
Candidates for State Rep in the149th district were Democrat Rachel Khanna and Republican incumbent Kimberly Fiorello. The district includes parts of Greenwich and Stamford
For State Senate in the 36th district candidates were Democrat Trevor Crow and incumbent Republican Ryan Fazio. The 36th district includes Greenwich and portions of Stamford and New Canaan.
State Rep Fiorello said innovation to solve problems was impossible without a better economy. She referred reliance on “blunt and bloated” tools of government rather than tapping the “ingenuity and creativity of free people and free markets.”
“All the problems that bear so heavy on our souls as we look to the future – all of that is more possible if we have a booming economy in our state,” she said.
Ms Khanna, endorsed by the Sierra Club and the CT League of Conservation Voters, described climate change as the defining challenge of the era, and while legislation had been passed in the last session, more needed to be done.
“Unfortunately my opponent voted against every piece of legislation investing in climate change,” she said.
Senator Fazio said he co sponsored legislation called the Climate and Coastal Resiliency Bill that passed into law and directs CT DEEP to dedicate more resources to coastal resiliency.
He said he co sponsored legislation passed into law that allows Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford to expand capacity.
“It’s the reliable, clean baseload that provides about 40% of the state’s electricity.”
Ms Crow, a former competitive figure skater who has a degree from Harvard Business School and worked on Wall Street, has been a marriage and family therapist for the past 16 years.
She pointed out that CT had the worst air quality in the tri-state area, but that Senator Fazio voted against The Clean Air Act, against EV charging stations, and received a rating of 55% from the League of Conservation Voters.
GUN SAFETY LAWS
Candidates were asked where they stood on gun safety, and, specifically, the semi-automatic weapons ban?
“I would do everything in my power to strengthen gun laws,” Crow said, going on to ask if anyone in the audience thought people should own assault weapons.
A couple dozen people raised their hands.
“Crime is down across the board about 50%,” Crow said, to an incredulous response from some of the audience.
As a mental health worker, she said the wrong people possessed guns, and red flag laws could be strengthened by including mental health workers as mandated reporters.
Trevor Crow said people might not know that she served on the board of the Center for Family Justice. “I care very much about domestic violence, and protecting those who are under the stress of that.”
Ms Khanna, who is a longtime supporter of CAGV with an F from the NRA, said assault weapons are the weapon of choice for school shooters and didn’t belonging the hands of civilians.
“I support responsible gun ownership, funds to take illegal guns off the street, and common sense gun safety measures such as raising awareness of safe storage and red flag laws and limiting the age to purchase long guns to 21.”
Fazio emphasized his support for law enforcement and his endorsements from police organizations. He said CT had a 35% increase in homicides in the past two years.
“We have very strict gun laws in our state, that’s not going to change,” he said.
Fazio said recent legislation took away proactive policing policies including consent searches that took hundreds of illegal guns off the street.
He said when the Republican caucus repeatedly introduced legislation to restore proactive policing policies at the suggestion of law enforcement, they were continuously ignored.
He said the head of the Senate judiciary committee proposed a bill to remove SROs from schools. (The legislation would redirect schools towards hiring more counselors, social workers, and support personnel).
Fiorello also talked about supporting law enforcement, saying officers were working under duress.
“When I went to Bridgeport, the police officers are working on a task force to get illegal guns off our streets, which we don’t do under Democratic rules,” she said. “Criminals are so emboldened by the laws we’re passing.”
She listed the police accountability bill, automatic erasure (Clean Slate Bill) and the recreational marijuana bill that she said prevented police from “stopping vehicles that are so obviously are inhaling, smoking or ingesting marijuana.”
She also criticized the new Black and Latino Studies high school social studies course, with curriculum that came out of Hartford. It is an elective course for students,but schools are required to offer it.
“This curriculum includes six days of systemic racism study of Black Lives Matter,” Fiorello said. “This is the environment in which we’re trying to keep the public safe?”
Khanna, who is endorsed by Planned Parenthood and CT NOW, said as the parent of four daughters, the Supreme Court decision came as a blow. She said she would fight for women’s access to care.
“Fortunately, (Connecticut) passed the Reproductive Defense Act, which protected our right to abortion care as well as those coming from other states and providers in this state.”
“But my opponent voted against this, as well as a bill to prevent limited service pregnancy centers from disseminating deceptive information to prevent women from seeking abortion services,” Khanna added.
Fazio, who said abortion should be kept legal in Connecticut, explained why he voted against HB 5414, the Women’s Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, which expanded eligibility to perform abortion care to include advanced nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants.
“The concern was that by lowering the health and safety standards for surgical abortions we would put more women’s health at risk, especially poor women,” Fazio said.
Fazio said prior to the SCOTUS decision on Roe, he submitted legislation that would expand access to contraception, which he described as a “common sense bi-partisan solution.”
Fiorello, who like Khanna is the mother of four, said in two years in Hartford, she had not met a single Republican legislator who wanted to criminalize abortion in Connecticut.
She noted that some Democrats voted against HB 5414 on the grounds that access was not an issue, and the bill made abortion less safe.
Ms Crow said that if elected she would introduce a Constitutional amendment to codify abortion rights.
“Since 2014, Republicans have tried to introduce legislation to roll back Roe versus Wade 30 times,” she said.
She noted there were businesses opting not to expand in states with restrictive laws on abortion and elite athletes were deciding to attend colleges in Connecticut based on reproductive healthcare.
As for unplanned pregnancies, she said adoption was not an easy option.
“Every woman needs to have the ability to choose, and the government should never be in our doctor’s offices.”
BACK COUNTRY FIRE SAFETY
Rachel Khanna said progress was made when a State Rep from another district, Steve Meskers (D-150), secured $500,000 in state funding for the Round Hill Volunteer station.
“Their renovations are sorely needed,” Khanna said.
Crow said there should be investment in infrastructure and improving response times. She added that firefighters need better equipment, including washing machines for their clothes because they use carcinogenic chemicals in their work.
Fiorello said Greenwich sends more money to Hartford than it receives in return.
“They do not respect our dollar. Time and again they look to our region – Greenwich and Stamford are the two highest income tax payers to the state.”
“In good times they increase social projects, and in bad times they increase it even more. There is no check on the spending from the Democrat side, and that hurts all of us,” she said.
“In order to lift up all the people we are yearning to help, you have got to embrace free markets and free people solutions. They won’t come from continued bloated government programs.”
Fazio said Democrats in Hartford were fiscally irresponsible. He said he had introduced legislation for a $1.2 billion tax cut.
Ms Crow said there were 100,000 high paid but unfilled jobs in Connecticut.
“We need to teach people how to do these jobs,” she said. “My opponent voted against increasing community college and against technical schools.”
Crow said companies were drawn to CT because of its education system. “We cannot defund our education system.”
She said Senator Fazio talked about affordability, but voted against a historic tax cut that included a personal property tax for cars, gas tax holiday, and child tax credit.
Senator Fazio said CT’s economy was facing immense difficulty and that taxes were second highest in the country, with the cost of living rising “at breakneck speed.”
Khanna painted a brighter picture, describing a revival. She described four years of balanced budgets, and this year a historic $600 million tax cut.
She said the state’s Rainy Day Fund was at its legal maximum of $3.3 billion, the state’s ratings were upgraded to AA and A+, in the last four years CT had paid down nearly $6 billion in pension liabilities, business formation was up 40% since pre-Covid, and 14 Fortune 500 companies were headquartered in CT.
She promised to vote for repealing and decreasing the estate and gift taxes so ensure that residents stay in Connecticut.
“Our biggest challenge at the moment is finding enough workers to fill the 113,000 jobs currently open,” she said.
She noted Greenwich provided 15% of the state’s revenue and vowed she would advocate that the 149th district receive the funds it needs.
“In the recent budget there was $206 million for Westhill High School, which is part of our district, and $2 million for roads in Stamford and Greenwich, which my opponent voted against.”
Khanna said Ms Fiorello deserved no credit for the improvements.
“She’s voted against women’s rights, gun safety, the environment and funding for mental health.”
Khanna said Fiorello joined the Conservative caucus, “a splinter coalition of 15 members who vote no on everything. She’s failed to deliver for us.”
Fiorello said the question about Greenwich getting back its “fair share” was flawed.
“The true fight is to make sure they don’t take as much in the first place,” she said.
“These bills are complex. If you take the time to read them…They’re full of so much stuff,” she said. “You have a room full of people passing bills and they are not expert in any of these subjects. But they are so good at spending people’s money. …Are the programs good? Maybe. But there’s no accountability.”
“When you knock on doors, there is no one out there who senses a historic tax cut, because it is not a historic tax cut.”
“Our government is not constituted to solve all our problems, and you wouldn’t want that,” Fiorello said in closing.
She said she had relied on subject matter experts to inform her, and that she’d held 11 town hall meetings with experts.
She talked about “the politics and getting inside the scrum.”
Crow said her priorities included the environment, climate change, and investment in school infrastructure, noting the ceiling collapse at North Mianus School.
“We need them to be better maintained, and better stewardship,” she said. “We missed an opportunity with almost zero interest rates.”
“I will fight the gun lobby,” she added. “I do believe in SROs.”
Khanna described CT as a great place to live, raise a family and retire.
“Over 50,000 people moved here during the pandemic and are staying here. Our economy is turning around and fiscal responsibility has been restored for our state government thanks to the fiscal prudence and leadership of Governor Lamont.”
She vowed to partner with Governor Lamont to continue the progress on restoring economic vitality and to make balanced, no-tax-increase budgets the norm, not the exception.
Fazio talked about reducing taxes, reducing cost of living and supporting local businesses and local police.
He said he was surprised there had been no question about local control of zoning.
“The idea that we can be governed more effectively by Hartford is an offense to common sense, yet 8-30g stands. I was the only member of the state senate this year to submit legislation and increase local control of our towns’ planning & zoning. There are at least 10 different bills to further undermine local control including one to double the 8-30g requirements. …If (Democrats) have a veto proof super majority next year, that could pass into law.”
Indeed, while there was no question about zoning or 8-30g, nor was there mention that Greenwich’s housing authority, Greenwich Communities, is using 8-30g to sue the town’s P&Z commission who recently approved an application for senior affordable housing in Byram with a condition about roof geometry they didn’t like.
On Friday the GAR will hold a candidate forum to focus on real estate, land use and the state economy.
There will be no LWV debate this year because Republicans declined their invitation, saying that organization was biased.