By Sarah Xu
See where Camillo and Bhargava stand on the issues that matter the most to you.
The Greenwich Free Press sat down with State Representative candidates Fred Camillo and Dita Bhargava and asked each of them the same set of questions on their experience and policy positions.
Why do you want to be a State Representative?
Camillo: I’ve been state representative for eight years already. I love my job and I love representing the district I grew up in. The job basically entail two major components: legislating and constituency. I like both of them and I take them both seriously but constituent service dominates my job. Even when I’m doing door to door I have to cut short and stop and go home because I get a list from people saying Fred, ‘Can you help me with this’ or “I’m having trouble with my insurance.”
Bhargava: I think Greenwich needs a new voice. I have spent 20 years of my life working in the financial sector. Last December, I decided to leave my industry of twenty years and engage in civic responsibility full-time through non-profit work.
When I was asked to run by the Democratic Town Committee, I gave it a lot of thought and realized that if I had a voice in policy, I could really move the needle forward. Are we better off eight years ago when Fred became a legislator or not? I don’t think we are. The people I’ve talked to when I go door to door don’t think we are. The exodus out of Connecticut shows people don’t think we are. I think when we keep on sending the same people up, and the world keeps changing around them they are so entrenched in the way things have been done that they don’t necessarily have foresight.
What experiences do you have that best equip you to be State Representative?
Camillo: I was born and raised here, so I know the community. Most people have known me for years. But also, professionally, I have a very diverse background. I was a small businessman, mortgage banker, a part-time realtor, briefly a high school history teacher, and I started a couple of recycling companies. I’ve served here and volunteered here my entire life. I’ve also served three and a half terms in the local legislature. I was the chairman of the parks and recreation board and the Republican Town Committee. I’ve also served on many boards and commissions, including the Greenwich Old-TImers Athletic Association.
Bhargava: Through several non-profit organizations, I have helped to aid underserved communities, raise awareness around cultural diversity and helped to empower women. Those are exactly the type of issues that I want to help move forward in the state government as well. I also have twenty years of financial sector experience as a trader and hedge-fund portfolio manager. I had to take in a lot of information and analyze it to calculate what the best investments would be. Since the biggest hurdle our state is facing is fiscal and economic, my financial background will serve me very well if I get elected.
What is the biggest problem Connecticut is facing?
Camillo: The way we structure budgets, the lack of planning. Last year Democrats actually put out a budget that wasn’t too bad, but they did raise taxes. I voted against it because there was no long-term structure, and that’s the problem. I’m also in favor of lowering taxes.
Our pensions are now the worst in the country. They’re underfunded. Republicans have been advocating and now people are starting to listen that new hires need to have defined contribution rather than defined benefit in their pensions. We can not count overtime in our pensions calculations either. If somebody knows they’re going to retire, they work overtime the last three years. These policies are really low-hanging fruit. I’m not even asking for old union agreements to be opened up because I don’t think you should go back on your word. However, going forward, we need to discuss and vote and debate on union contracts regarding pensions.
Bhargava: Fiscal and economic. Many issues fall under this heading. For example, funding for nonprofits has been cut. Business are finding it hard to be competitive. People are leaving because of high taxes.
How do you want to make Connecticut more business-friendly?
Camillo: We should have tax expenditures that incentivize businesses to come here. I’ve also been a proponent of the Kaliko clause. The Kaliko clause states that if a company that the government loaned money to does really well, they give some money back to the government. To be giving away money, and not getting anything in return, is not fair to the taxpayers.
We also need to make mass transit free and get people off the roads. To make it free, we still have to make money. That’s why I think a public private partnership is the way to go. I want to promote corporate sponsorship of rail cars.
Bhargava: I believe, because I’ve talked to executives across the board in big and small businesses, that businesses do not leave Connecticut because of high taxes. General Electric moved to Massachusetts, a state that also has high taxes, because they found that there is a much more business friendly ecosystem in Massachusetts. I think the government needs to form a very strong alliance between the government, businesses, and universities.
The government should know about new sectors and technologies that it can expand and invest in, and make sure a pipeline between Connecticut universities and Connecticut businesses is being created. Traditionally, we’ve been leaders in productivity and innovation but we’ve lost our way because we’ve concentrated only on the financial and defense sector, which have recently taken huge hits. Meanwhile other states were expanding into 21st century sectors like genomic sciences, media, and renewable energy. We should make sure that Connecticut universities are graduating students specifically for the industries that we want to invest in.
The biggest concern to me is that the biggest exodus out of Connecticut is from people aged 18-24.Those people are our future innovators and future tax base. I want to form a public-private partnership so that if a college graduate agrees to work in Connecticut for 5 years, their student loans are forgiven. Companies are having trouble finding young talent and if we make it affordable for companies to help pay towards student loans through tax credit entitlements, I feel that they will be on board with this.
On what issue do you differentiate the most from the other candidate?
Camillo: Bhargava was the first one I’d ever heard say that the Kaliko Clause was anti-business. The Kaliko clause happens to be very pro-business because it gives money to businesses. It is also pro-taxpayer and every person I have talked to likes it.
Bhargava: As a Democrat, I can guarantee you that I’ll be much more of a leader in passing legislation. We don’t have a strong voice because we get shut out of the door in a democratic majority caucus. Also, the issues in which Fred has been able get things done are not the issues I want to focus on.
My focus is much more fiscal and I don’t think he has made much headway on fiscal or pro-business issues. He talks about corporate sponsorship for railcars, but I think that’s a bandage solution. We should be creating an infrastructure bank that can help fund a lot of the infrastructure and transportation projects. I want to focus on clearing up congestion on the I-95 by getting the trucks off the road by getting more cargo on the trains. Also, if we can make our North trains fast, affordable, and reliable, more people will get on the trains and off the highway.
What’s an overlooked issue in Connecticut?
Camillo: I think that the fact that Yankee Institute did a study and found that 38 people leave Connecticut every day. They figured that out from the IRS, which measures immigration through tax returns. Many of the wealthy people that left said that it was because of all the fees and taxes that are high and unique to Connecticut. I would like to look at all the fees and taxes that are unique to Connecticut, and reduce or eliminate them as much as I can. Also, 24 to 34 year olds have been moving out of Connecticut at faster rates than other states. So in 2011 I put into the jobs bill something called Learn Here Live Here. What Learn Here Live Here does is if you graduate from a university in Connecticut and stay here, we’ll exempt your state income tax for up to ten years.
Bhargava: One issue that is overlooked is opioid and heroin addiction. Connecticut was #3 in terms of deaths related to opioid and heroin overdose. I think we need to put a lot of time and effort into how we train our police officers to find the source of where this heroin is coming from and prevent this stuff from coming into the state. Also, the recovery centers aren’t regulated and there should be government regulation around the centers.
Where do you stand on the following issues?
Camillo: We passed two of the biggest tax increases in our history, in 2011 and 2015. We made these taxes retroactive. Companies asked us, including GE, please don’t do this to us again but these tax increases were passed anyway. We should be more business friendly by being less quick to tax businesses. In a perfect world, I would say we should make our taxes the lowest in the region because we have so much going on for us: proximity to New York and to Boston, educated citizenry, beautiful landscape and countryside, and a shoreline. We’re geographically located in a great spot. Also, tax revenue will increase when we lower taxes, because more people will stay in Connecticut.
Bhargava: We can not raise taxes any more. I want to address the death tax. People who have lived here their entire lives have found that they have to leave because the death tax is too high. I also think that creating a business-friendly ecosystem will bring more tax revenue.
Camillo: I think Judge Maukawsher’s ruling on education funding overstepped his bounds because education policy is a legislative function, not a judicial one. The judicial branch is for interpreting laws, not making them. And, in the end, I am not for taking the tax dollars from towns like Greenwich and giving them to towns like Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford. It’s not fair to people here and it doesn’t solve the problem. The problem should be solved by economic development. You’re not going to attract great teachers in bad areas. Going back to state handouts is a band-aid approach. We need to incentivize people to go into empty buildings and clean them up, so that people settle there and there is increased tax revenue.
Bhargava: Judge Maukawsher’s ruling, if nothing else, shed light on the disparities in education in Connecticut. That goes to the heart of what I’m passionate about. We’re failing some of the students in our state and those students are our future. It’s not just about how money is being distributed. It’s also about how our standards are being met. How are our teachers being tested? How are our students being tested? How is our money going to special needs, such as students who do not speak English at home? I’m happy about the ruling and would like to see from the ruling a reorganization of how our student’s needs are being met. It’s very important that our funding is used effectively.
Camillo: I introduced the first animal protection bill in the nation. My goal is for all 50 states to have it. It’s much harder to kill an animal now. In the future, I would love to see people who torture an animal get the same penalty as they would if they tortured a person. I’m not equating an animal with a person. But statistics show that mass murderers often start off hurting animals. And animals have feelings, there’s no denying that.
Bhargava: I love animals. I’m vegetarian and I have been my entire life. I’m passionate about preventing animal cruelty. But my focus is first going to people, then animals
Camillo: I always try to stay away from identity politics. Affirmative Action ended up hurting the white working class kid because he wasn’t a minority. Having affirmative action be based on income makes more sense to me, but that still pits groups against each other.
I’m not a big proponent of legislation that promotes one group when it could end up hurting others.
Bhargava: I think it was Obama that said that empowering women is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. When women succeed, nations are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do. One of the bills I went to public speak on was paid family leave. Women still do not feel they can stay in the workforce and that they are not overburdened. Solving the problem is not only about education women it’s about educating men.
Camillo: I’m very environmentally conscious. I served on the environmental committee in the State House of Representatives and I’m on the Greenwich Recycling Advisory Board. Regarding climate change, I’ve seen evidence for both sides. There were emails that were released that made it seem like scientists had manipulated evidence to prove climate change. But in the end, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Bhargava: I believe in following science and when 99% of scientists believe in man-made climate change, there’s no reason to not believe in it. I’m proud that Connecticut has had the first green bank which helps funds projects for alternative energy sources. I would to see more initiatives and more investments in environmental protection and renewable energy.
Camillo: Governor Malloy has the Second Chance Society. I like that system. However, they started giving early release for good behavior. Unfortunately, some hardcore criminals were released and there have been serious consequences.
Bhargava: In terms of Governor Malloy’s Second Chance Society, I praise him for those policies. He’s been able to get kids out who shouldn’t be there.
Camillo: I’ve released and got laws passed that have been endorsed by public safety organizations. I was the co-introducer of a distracted driving law. I think that our distracted driving penalties need to be on par with penalties in New York.
Bhargava: I want to see more gun control legislation. I don’t think there should be open carry should be allowed. I respect the second amendment, but guns should be locked up at home and only used for hunting or other recreational activities.
Who are you voting for?
Camillo: I endorsed John Kasich. That didn’t work out. So I’m left with two choices. One of those choices is a person who I think abused her public positions.
I’m not a big Donald Trump fan, but I like the fact that he’s at least talking about things like trade balances. I like the fact that he wants to support a conservative judge. This is the one election in my lifetime where I wish there were other people running. But I will vote for Donald trump.
Bhargava: I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. I originally didn’t want to tie national politics to this election. I wanted to focus on the issues in our town. But after the Access Hollywood tape, that changed. Even if you don’t like his predatory comments, it’s important to understand he’s still a package. And if you take that package and put in the oval office, that’s what he represents. You’re still condoning that lews behavior by voting for him.
What is your vision for Connecticut?
Camillo: A more pro-business place to be, a place where seniors don’t have to make a choice and don’t have to leave because they can’t afford it, a place of increased economic development
Bhargava: When I came here to Connecticut I thought it was the best place to live and raise a family. I still love living here and can’t think of any other place I would want to move. But along the way we’ve lost our path to prosperity. In any decision, and I know because I was an investor, the rule of thumb is to have a diverse portfolio. I think you need diversity at all levels and I want to see the CT legislature be much more diverse. I add to that diversity because I come from the private sector, I’m Indian American, and I have a combination of diverse backgrounds in terms of where I was socio-economically, what I was able to accomplish since then, and the experiences I’ve gained throughout my life. I also will add a diverse element to a legislature that is all Republican when representing Greenwich.
See also: Dita Bhargava: The New Connecticut