On Thursday night the Greenwich League of Women Voters held a debate for local candidates.
Moderated by Kaye Maxwell, the debate was split into two parts, with the first half between incumbent State Senator in the 36th district, Democrat Alex Kasser, and her challenger, Republican Ryan Fazio.
Asked about the special transportation fund, Kasser said it is expected to become insolvent in 2022, two years earlier than expected.
She said she had fought for tolls, and noted every state on the east coast already has them except for Connecticut.
“The choice we have is not whether to pay for infrastructure or not – we cannot let it crumble,” she said. “We have to pay for infrastructure one way or another.”
She said with tolls, Connecticut would pay half price.
“Do we pay for infrastructure 100% with taxes, or do we pay half price by allowing out-of-state drivers to pay half the bill?”
Fazio disagreed, arguing Connecticut has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
“Connecticut spends the third most per capita of any state on transportation in the entire country. And that’s on top of the fact we already pay the second highest taxes of any state in the country,” he said.
He called for Connecticut to stop diverting funds from the transportation fund, change rules around construction, including project labor agreements, audit the Dept of Transportation, and prioritize I-95, the Merritt Parkway and Metro-North.
“This means no more upstate boondogles,” he said.
Kasser agreed it was unfortunate that infrastructure projects had been given out as political favors. She said they should be prioritized based on economic impact to the entire state.
She said tolls were never meant to be the entire solution, and that she had advocated for an infrastructure bank to multiply public funds with private financing, and that her bill SB 70 would have done that.
Fazio said the tolling bill in 2019 included political favors including a new train station for Bridgeport and exemptions for the Danbury delegation.
“The games are still being played,” he said. “The public trust is broken. We can’t tolerate any new taxes and fees on the working people of this state.”
“It’s very easy to say no to new ideas,” Kasser said. “It’s very easy to say no to everything. It’s a lot harder to come up with solutions that work.
Senator Kasser said the tolls bill was decimated because of fierce Republican opposition. “Every time we asked, ‘What’s your solution?’ they didn’t have a solution until, at the last moment they said, ‘Let’s drain the rainy day fund.’ If Republicans had been in charge, and drained the rainy day fund, the State would not have been able to withstand Covid.”
Fazio said tolls failed as a result of a grassroots effort among residents.
Asked how to reduce gun homicides, considering two thirds of them occur in the state’s three largest cities, Fazio described public safety as a civil rights issue.
“That’s why I’m opposed to the new radical policing bill passed in July by our state government just two weeks after it was reduced, with only one public hearing over Zoom, that’s already leading to a spike in gun violence,” Fazio said, adding that as nearby as Stamford, there has been an uptick in shootings since the bill passed.
“Due to this bill and and the backlash against proactive policing, we won’t be able to enforce those rules in order to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, repeat offenders and people who are a danger to themselves and others,” Fazio said.
Kasser said she had worked with CT Against Gun Violence (CAGV) and Moms Demand Action, and several important guns safety bills had been passed.
“We actually don’t know where my opponent stands because he’s never answered questions from CAGV and Moms Demand action,” she continued.
Fazio, who noted he was endorsed by both the Stamford and Greenwich Police unions, said the recently passed police accountability bill signaled a retreat from proactive policing and consent searches, and would result in more illegal guns on the street.
“It’s one thing to have strict gun laws, but you also have to enforce them, and that’s where good proactive policing comes into play,” he said.
On the topic of Eversource and the power supply, the moderator brought up Tropical Storm Isaias, which left residents in the 36th district without power for up to ten days during a heat wave. She said Eversource is accused of failing to respond, poor planning and poor communication, and asked the candidates what they would change.
Kasser said the Take Back Our Grid bill, passed on Oct 1 during special session, was a significant step forward and created performance based standards for both power and executive compensation.
Fazio said Eversource’s poor performance reflected a failure in state government oversight, resulting in the grid deteriorating over time.
“Eversource needs to have its monopoly limited,” he said. “It must not vertically integrate its monopoly into electricity generation.”
“Second, we need to bring in more clean energy that is affordable into the fold, including hydro electric power and importing nuclear power from eastern Connecticut and out of state,” Fazio said.
“By the way, that doesn’t mean we’re building a nuclear plant anywhere in the state of Connecticut,” he added.
Kasser agreed more competition was necessary, and pointed out that United Illumination had done a much better job during the storm than Eversource.
“We should not have a monopoly for our public utilities,” she said.
However, she said, “Nuclear and hydro power are not the answer.”
“Both of those are incredibly devastating to the environment, and to human health,” she continued. “We need more wind power, solar power and other types of renewable energy that are not damaging to the environment or human health.”
Asked what Connecticut departments or agencies they would eliminate to find savings, Fazio said the state should sell Dunkin Donuts Park and the Excel Center in Hartford, and shift some state social programs to non-profits where they would cost less.
Kasser said the public pension system should be revamped.
“That’s why I proposed, fought for and introduced legislation to create a shared risk program for public pensions that would reduce overall cost and ensure full payment of pensions going forward,” she said.
The moderator asked, should the Supreme Court dismantle the Affordable Care Act, how would Connecticut ensure that all its protections do not disappear for residents.
Kasser said if Americans with pre-existing conditions lose their eligibility for health insurance coverage, at least 100 million Americans will impacted, and premiums and prescription drug costs would increase for everyone else.
She said she was committed to achieving quality affordable health care, and in 2019 introduced a public option bill for small businesses, employers, employees, and people under 30.
“I would like to note that my opponent has written an article that says you do not have a basic right to health care, and he said the ACA should be eviscerated,” Kasser said.
Fazio said the federal and state health system, which has been controlled by Democrats for many years has totally failed both the middle class and working class.
He said the focus should be on the health care supply rather than insurance.
“The problem we have is clearly the cost,” he said. “That’s the access problem. There are ways to increase access and create health care jobs in our state – by changing regulations that restrict the actual production of health care – the amount of beds that hospitals or doctors can add.”
“Protections for pre-existing conditions are going to remain in law in the state government and federal government,” Fazio said.
“That is false,” Kasser replied.
“It doesn’t matter if the President writes an executive order. The Supreme Court will rule the law of the land. And when they decide on Nov 10 that the ACA does not require insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions, that right will be gone,” she said. “The ACA will be eviscerated. Your dream will come true apparently.”
“Health care will be unaffordable and people will be in dire straits. That is terrifying, it’s wrong, it’s inhumane, and I will be fighting against that,” she continued, going on to quote from Fazio’s article, saying, Health care is a right that only socialists allege exists and it is not a basic human right.’
“That’s not what the article says,” Fazio replied. “It says you have the right to access health care, and people have the right to produce healthcare, and by doing that we can increase accessibility and production of health care.”
He said the underlying problem is that under regulations and laws passed by Democratic State government result in a cost of $17,000 out of pocket cost to be insured for a single mother in Connecticut earning $70,000 a year.
“We need to increase supply and production of health care to reduce costs,” he said.
Toward the end of the debate the candidates were asked what permanent changes to voting laws they would support to make fair and simple process for all residents.
The candidates had a strong disagreement about early voting.
“This is a critical issue because voting rights are determined at the state level, by state legislatures, and voting rights have become an entirely partisan issue,” Kasser said, adding that Republicans sued CT Secretary of State Denise Merrill to prevent her from sending absentee ballots by mail.
Kasser said she had introduced legislation to allow early voting.
“We came very close in 2019 to allowing early voting, which requires a constitutional amendment,” she said. “Unfortunately, the measure failed because in the state senate Republican senators voted against it. That is why we have to go back to the drawing board.”
Fazio said he favored expanded absentee voting, but not early voting.
“Election day is still a sacred thing in this democracy, and having as many people vote safely on election day is a positive,” he said.
“We need moderate solutions, not extreme solutions,” Fazio continued. “I think expanded absentee voting is the answer, but early and universal voting by mail is too extreme, and reduces the security of the ballot box.”
Kasser said 42 states already have early voting. “Connecticut is an outlier. We are in the same category as Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina in terms of our restrictive voting rights.”
Kasser said she disagreed with the argument that there is voter fraud to protect against, and that a review of millions of votes cast in the past 25 years found 99.99999% of votes cast in Connecticut were valid.
She also said Fazio had opposed expanding the “excuse” of Covid-19 to request an absentee ballot.
“My opponent actually said, in the paper, when the issue of absentee ballots was still being debated this summer, that we should only allow absentee ballots in this pandemic for people with pre-existing and medical conditions,” Kasser said. “I would argue it is not the role of government to decide who should be safe or feel safe…Everybody has the right to vote the way they feel safe and have their vote counted.”
Fazio said, “My position was that they should have access to absentee voting if they have health concerns, and only they can verify that. That’s reasonable because for all the other exceptions, it’s the voter themself who has to verify.”
“The idea there is no voter fraud is not true,” he said. “Just last year the chair of the Stamford Democratic party was arrested and charged with 14 counts of forging absentee ballots. Last year the Democratic mayor of Bridgeport won his primary because he clearly was cheating on absentee ballots.”
“Again, 42 states have early voting, and it’s time for Connecticut to have early voting and more voting options,” Kasser said.
In closing remarks, Kasser said, “We cannot let disinformation distract us. The idea that Democrats destroyed the State is a myth. The idea that Republicans can save us is also a myth, because political parties don’t save us. Only our principles do.”
She said laws that protect public health, gun safety, the environment, and education, as well as laws including the right to marry, and even the right to vote, are under attack from the White House and the Supreme Court and state legislatures are “the firewall” to stop it.
Fazio concluded by saying it was time for a change.
“I’ll advance a new vision to unite Democrats, Republicans and people in between in order to put our state on the right path back to prosperity.”
“We need to keep schools open safely and reduce state influence over school districts,” he said. “And, we need to protect health and safety with good moderate policing and public health policies that limit the spread of disease and reduce crime, but also protect people’s rights fairly.”