August 20, 2018

Three 33rd District Candidates Hold Lively Debate at High School in Deep River

Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg, Republican candidate Senator Art Linares and Independent Candidate Colin Bennett (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg, Republican candidate Senator Art Linares and Green Party Candidate Colin Bennett (photo by Jerome Wilson)

DEEP RIVER— The three candidates in the 12-town 33rd State Senate District, one-term incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg, and Green Party candidate Colin Bennett, held a lively debate Tuesday that covered the economy and taxes, along with social issues such as reproductive rights and possible right-to-die legislation.

A crowd of more than 100 voters filled the auditorium at Valley Regional High School, with sign waving supporters of the two major party candidates gathering outside the school before the start of the debate. The 90-minute session was moderated by Essex  Library Director Richard Conroy, who posed questions that had been submitted in writing before the debate from district voters.

Linares, describing his record as “pro-growth and pro jobs,” attempted to tie Bjornberg to tax increases imposed during the administration of Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democrat-controlled legislature. Bjornberg noted that she was not in the legislature when most of the higher taxes were approved, and pledged to be “very wary” of increases in “regressive taxes,” such as the sales and gasoline taxes, in any future budget decisions.

Objections from Linares to the Malloy Administration First Five program of grants and loans for business expansion prompted one of the sharpest exchanges of the session, with Bjornberg noting that Linares had accepted a $350,000 state low interest loan for his Middletown-based Green Skies solar power company while later voting against funding for the program.  She also contended Green Skies resells cheaper solar panels from China at the expense of producers in Connecticut and the United States. Linares replied that Bjornberg’s comments show “my opponent is ready to attack a good thing,”  describing the business he co-founded as a clean energy company that is providing jobs.

The candidates differed on possible right-to-die legislation for the terminally ill, with Bjornberg pledging support for what she called the “compassionate choices” bill that failed to win approval in this year’s legislative session. Linares said he is “concerned about human error,” under the proposed legislation. Bennett also expressed support for the bill that is expected to be considered again next year.

A question on reproductive rights and insurance coverage for birth control brought passionate remarks from Bjornberg, declaring that she is concerned about her young daughter losing rights that women have fought for and secured over the past 40 years. Linares said he was “born a Catholic” and is “not running for the U.S. Supreme Court,” before changing the topic to his support for new legislation to protect women from domestic violence.

Marijuana and the minimum wage brought the most passionate remarks from Bennett, who has run as the Green Party candidate in three previous elections in the 33rd District. Bennett said  “ending the prohibition” on marijuana would help the state’s economy and finances. Linares dismissed the idea of legalizing marijuana, while Bjornberg said she would not support legalization at the present time but favors a “careful and measured” review of the option and possible further reductions in penalties for possession of marijuana.

Bennett said the minimum wage, set to increase to $10.10 per hour in the coming years, should be even higher and suggested there should be a “maximum wage” for the highest paid earners. Linares said he opposed the minimum wage hike adopted earlier this year because Democrats had blocked all amendments to establish a lower starting wage for workers under age 21. Bjornberg said Linares and state Republicans were “fear mongering” on the minimum wage issue and quoted Eleanor Roosevelt’s Depression era comment that “we all do well when we all do well.”

In her closing remarks, Bjornberg called on Linares to agree to hold another campaign debate in one of the northern towns of the sprawling district. Other sessions set for early October are more limited forums that include candidates for state House seats. The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep  River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook, and sections of Old Saybrook.

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