This week the Round Hill Association held a debate among the three candidates seeking to fill the State Senate seat in 36th district that Democrat Alex Kasser resigned from in June.
The district includes Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan.
The RHA debate was the third of three debates among petition candidate John Blankley, Republican candidate Ryan Fazio and Democratic candidate Alexis Gevanter.
The moderator was John Conte, president of the Round Hill Association. He said over 100 questions had been submitted in advance. He directed about a dozen to the candidates.
Mr. Blankley, who referred to himself multiple times as the “man in the middle,” said if elected he would not caucus with either of the two main parties.
He repeated his signature policy idea of enhancine ports in New London and Bridgeport with the goal of getting trucks off I-95 and rolling cargo on and off ships.
Blankley started Flagship Networks, Inc, an IT company that caters to multiple industries including shipping, 21 years ago.
Republican Ryan Fazio, who challenged Alex Kasser last November, repeated his theme that Connecticut is on the wrong path, citing the unemployment rate, low population growth, rising crime and divisive partisanship. He attributed the problems to one party rule in 36 of the last 40 years.
Fazio worked for a French agriculture firm in Wilton called Louis Dreyfus for two years, then worked for four years at Noble Group, a Singaporean energy firm in Stamford. From 2018-2019 he worked at a Chinese agriculture firm in Stamford called Cofco International. Since 2020 he has worked at a Chicago-based growth equity firm called MARCorp Financial, which was co-founded by his father Michael.
Fazio has said repeatedly during debates that if elected, Democratic candidate Alexis Gevanter would join “a Democratic super majority” in Hartford.
Blankley said he would “stand against the super majority.”
Before her four years at Moms Demand Action, Gevanter worked as an attorney for Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP (in NY and San Francisco) for a year, at Dentons for four years (in NY and San Francisco, and for a year at Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Gevanter said she should not be held accountable for what any Democrats had done before her.
“I will fight for the interest of our district,” she said.
A question touched on the state’s 8-30g affordable housing statute, which dates back to the late 1980s and exempts developers from all local zoning if they create developments with a percentage of affordable units.
Fazio again said the problem was Democrats.
“The best chance that Greenwich, Stamford and New Canaan have at preserving local control of town planning and zoning is to elect the Republican candidate in this race to the State Senate in order to stop a Democrat super majority in the State Senate that is veto proof.”
Blankley and Gevanter insisted they favored local control of zoning as opposed to state directives such as 8-30g.
Gevanter pushed back on Fazio’s super majority comment.
“Ryan’s implication that I would automatically become part of a super majority when I represent Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford… is just disappointing this far into the campaign. The implication is that I am a weak woman who couldn’t possibly stand up to a Democratic super majority in Harftord. But I’m not weak. I’m strong. I have stood up to the gun lobby even after being harassed, having threatening letters sent to my home and having to have the Greenwich police involved. I kept going.”
Police Accountability Bill and Gun Safety
There was a disagreement over the cause of the increase in crime in Connecticut, which Fazio attributed to the police accountability bill a year ago and Gevanter attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gevanter said community based gun violence intervention programs are data driven and shown to reduce gun violence where it’s needed most.
She also said a modernization of the state’s “red flag” law would really impact suicide rates, and and that Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs treat gun violence as a pubic health crisis.
Fazio talked about the police accountability law.
“We have very strict gun control laws in Connecticut. That’s not going to change,” Fazio said. “The police bill last summer took tools from police to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”
Gevanter said she favored fully funding the police and that she’d worked extensively with police through Moms Demand Action.
She asked Fazio whether he would support any new gun safety bills.
In response, Fazio discussed wanting to repeal the police accountability law.
Gevanter then pressed him for an answer on future gun safety legislation.
“I agree you are a prolific writer on so many issues, and yet again, on gun violence prevention, I can’t find anything about you supporting any gun laws. I think the question is pretty broad and easy for you, right? Are there any gun safety laws that you can see going forward that you would support?” she asked.
“Sure,” Fazio said.
Taxes and the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI)
On taxes, Fazio said his top priority was to reduce the income tax burden on all residents in Connecticut, which he argued drives away residents and destroys jobs.
Fazio said reductions in taxes could be financed in several ways.
“First there is an excess of $6 bill of special tax expenditures that the Office of Fiscal Analysis has laid out in a 2018 report. They should be prioritized for which are the least fair and least accommodating to growth.”
Second, he said, “We should put the state on a Debt Diet, which Governor Lamont promised during his last campaign, but which was not delivered in the past three years.”
Third, he said the state should divest of non core loss making assets which aren’t core responsibilities of government.
Fourth, he said Connecticut needs to reform its unfunded pension liabilities.
“Both my opponents have embraced TCI (Transportation and Climate Initiative), which is a new gas tax. With gas prices rising 100% over the past year I don’t’ think it’s fair to impose a new burden at the pump for regular working class and middle class citizens.”
Gevanter said TCI is absolutely not a new tax, and the 5 cents per gallon extra amounted to $32.80 per year.
“I agree we need to lower our income taxes and we should repeal our estate tax, and that we need to make no tax increase, balanced budgets the standard, not the exception,” she said. “That’s what we had this year under Governor Lamont – and with bi-partisan support.”
“Where we disagree is on the categorization of TCI as a ‘gas tax.’ It’s just not. I’m surprised you bring it up again. Just this week the UN Climate report made clear that the planet is burning….It was described as a code red for humanity. TCI is a regional approach that would levy a fee on oil companies. That fee if passed down to consumers would be 5 cents a gallon….Rome is burning, Ryan. I don’t think we can quibble over 5 cents.”
Blankley agreed with Gevanter on TCI. “I believe it is in the order of five cents. That’s a small price to pay to save the planet.”
He also said there was no “way in this world we’d be able to reduce taxes.” He said Wall Street was “on a tear” and that was good for the state’s coffers. He also said he had managed budgets greater than the state of Connecticut.
He refuted Fazio’s suggestion for reducing income tax.
“The tax expenditures Ryan refers to are concessions made to certain industries over time. Those concessions have enabled us to boost manufacturing in our state. If we remove that, then we are taxing that sector – in order to do what? Reduce taxes somewhere else?”
On the topic of jobs, Gevanter noted that several new companies recently announced they were relocating to Connecticut. She mentioned Juniper, a lighting company coming from Brooklyn, NY, and Governor Lamont’s idea of Earn As You Grow, which gives new companies incentives once they bring in jobs to the state.
“It’s been working well. We’re seeing it. We’re feeling it.”
And, she said, people want to live where they work. She noted the bidding wars over residential properties in Connecticut. “We’re seeing people flooding in here, fighting for real estate.”
On the topic of jobs, Blankley said changes reflected what’s been happening in the finance sector since 2008.
“We must look at the bigger picture of what is happening and not self-flagellate too much,” he said.
Returning to his idea of getting trucks onto ships, he said congestion on I-95 is a deterrent to companies considering moving here. He said developing the ports of Bridgeport and New London would create jobs.
Fazio’s response on jobs was to say that under one party rule, Connecticut has tied for the highest unemployment in the US.
“Connecticut’s predictably high income tax environments have destroyed jobs,” he said.
Gevanter said, “We’re coming out of a pandemic. We’re also coming out of 40 years of mismanagement in terms of our pensions. To get businesses to come here and grow takes time. But we’re on the right path.”
As for I-95, she said she had a call this week with Senator Chris Murphy on the topic of federal infrastructure dollars. She said she has relationships within the federal delegation and would work to make sure Connecticut fixes its crumbling infrastructure, using quiet technology, upgrading the Stamford Transportation Center – which she noted is the busiest rail station in the state – and making sure to bring more service to New Canaan, and lastly to speed up rail out of Greenwich.
In a question on climate change, Fazio said the number one way to solve climate problems and improve the environment was through rapid development of technology including wind, solar, battery technology, and electric vehicles.
He said he had been appointed to the Greenwich First Selectman’s Energy Committee, which he said, “has begun to research how we can conserve energy in our town buildings and reduce costs.”
Gevanter said she didn’t disagree with Fazio. But, she said, “It’s just not enough…It’s a huge crisis.”
“In terms of rapid development of technology and electric vehicles, TCI is going to fund those kinds of projects, in addition to others.”
On health care, Blankley gave a succinct answer.
“It’s a mark of a civilized society that we have health care for all,” he said, adding,”If that costs us a bit more from time to time, that is a price well worth paying. It’s like the TCI: saving the planet is a small price worth paying, that small extra we’ll be paying for gas.”
Gevanter said the cost of health care and prescriptions need to be reduced, and that nobody, especially children, should be denied health care.
Speaking to Fazio, Gevanter said, “I want to protect and improve health care, and you have said in your writing that you’d like to eviscerate the affordable health care act.”
Fazio said that Gevanter referred to a line taken out of context from something he’d written years ago.
“People can read for themselves what you’ve written,” Gevanter said.
As for his past writings being taken out of context, Fazio said he does have an extensive online history. But, he said, Ms Gevanter has only lived in Connecticut for three years and there was “no paper trail on her.”
“The idea that I don’t have a track record, or a record period, is just not true,” Gevanter replied. She noted she had worked for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense for four years. She has been a business attorney for many years.
In his closing statement Fazio repeated the concern about a Democratic super majority. “If someone wanted to hand the Democratic party a super majority in the State Senate in order to further push for a statewide property tax, statewide control of zoning and schools, further undermine our public safety and local police, I understand why they would galvanize the Democratic leadership in Hartford by electing a Democrat to this seat.”
Gevanter said community values are important, including safeguarding the environment, protecting women’s rights and expanding voting rights. “You’ve heard about two different Connecticuts today. One spells doom and gloom. But the reality is that Connecticut doesn’t exist. We are not currently in a fiscal crisis. We are working our way out of it. It’s a backwards looking view and it’s just hyperbole.”