AREAWIDE— The two candidates for the 36th House District seat, incumbent Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller of Essex and Republican challenger Robert Siegrist of Haddam, faced off Tuesday in a cordial campaign debate held at Valley Regional High School in Deep river.
About 70 voters turned out for the 90-minute session in the school auditorium that was moderated by Essex Library Director Richard Conroy, who posed questions that had been submitted in advance by district voters. The 36th District includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.
Miller, a former four-term first selectman of Essex who was elected in a February 2011 special election, said he is a “right to now advocate,” who has worked to help the four district towns on various local issues, including remediation and reuse of vacant “brownfield” industrial properties. Siegrist, a former bartender and member of the Haddam Republican Town Committee, said he is a “new face” who would be “beholden to no one,” at the state Capital. Siegrist stepped forward as a candidate in June after the candidate nominated by district Republicans at the May convention, Chester Harris of Haddam, withdrew to run for lieutenant governor on a conservative petition ticket.
The two candidates found agreement on several issues, including support for decriminalization of marijuana and medical marijuana, gay marriage rights, and the state’s Citizens Election Program public financing of campaigns for state office. They also agreed to oppose unfunded mandates ion public schools and higher electric rates.
Miller said he was proud to support the increase in the state’s minimum wage that was approved by the Legislature this year. Siegrist said he does not object to the hike in the minimum wage, but believes it could become a burden on small businesses. There were also nuanced differences on the 2013 gun law, with Miller defending his vote in support of the law and maintaining it is not a burden on law abiding gun owners. Siegrist said the law has “some parts that are good,” but also represented an overreach that violates the rights of gun owners.
The candidates differed sharply on state spending, with Siefgrist contending government spending is “out of control” and pledging to oppose any tax increases to address a possible budget deficit for 2015. Miller, who supported the Malloy Administration tax increases of 2011, said the state was facing a “deficit that was too big to cut our way out of,” adding that he “hopes to avoid” tax increases during the next two-year term.
The rivals differed on a Nov. 4 ballot question that would allow the Legislature to consider changes in election laws to allow early voting. Miller said he would vote yes on the ballot question and support allowing the early voting that occurs in several other states. Siegrist said he would be voting no, declaring “the system we have in Connecticut works very well.”
One key difference emerged in the final minutes of the debate on a question about state transportation policy After Siegrist objected to past “raids” on the state’s dedicated transportation improvements fund, Miller said he would support restoring tolls to locations on Interstates 95 and 84. After the debate, Siegrist said he does not believe tolls are needed to maintain the dedicated transportation improvements fund.