AREAWIDE— The election contest in the four-town 36th House District pits a two-term Democratic incumbent with previous experience as a first selectman against a Republican newcomer whose most recent full-time job was as a bartender. The district includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam.
Democratic State Rep. Phil Miller, 56, of Essex, is seeking a second full term in a seat he first won in a Feb. 2011 special election. After serving a nearly full term that included votes for the tax and budget plan presented by Democratic Governor Danel Malloy, Miller was re-elected in 2012, defeating Republican Vince Pacileo of Essex on a 7.105-5,352 vote. Miller previously served four terms as Essex first selectman, winning the top job in 2003 after unsuccessful runs in 1999 and 2001.
Robert Siegrist, 31, of Haddam, is making his first run for political office from a spot on the Haddam Republican Town Committee. Siegrist emerged as a candidate in June after the nominee of the May party convention, Chester Harris of Haddam, withdrew to run for lieutenant governor on a conservative petition ticket. A 2001 graduate of Haddam-Killingworth High School, Siegrist received a degree in political science from Quinnipiac University and has worked as a bartender in recent years at two establishments in Chester. Siegrist said he gave up bartending in August to focus on the campaign, and currently works for a local landscaper.
Both candidates have received the $27,850 grant for House races through the state’s Citizen’s Election Program, and are waging active campaigns that have included door-to-door visits in the four towns. Siegrist, seeking to build some name recognition, has deployed more than a dozen large signs at various locations in the district.
An Oct. 8 debate at Valley Regional High School in Deep River showed Miller, known as a progressive with a focus on the environment, and Siegrist, who has a libertarian bent, agree on several social issues such as support for abortion rights, same sex marriage, and decriminalization of marijuana. But differences have emerged over state spending, taxes, and the possibility of returning tolls to two interstate highways in Connecticut.
Miller said this week he does not believe any possible budget shortfall in 2015 will be as large as predicted by some fiscal analysts. He discounts the possible need for new or higher taxes, and suggests any future tax increase should be limited to a hike in income tax for the state’s wealthiest citizens. Siegrist believes the deficit could be higher, and calls for a renewed effort to cut state spending. He also calls for reducing state taxes on gasoline and social security income, along with elimination of a business entity tax on companies with less than 50 employees.
The rivals differ sharply on the issue of restoring tolls, with Siegrist rejecting any consideration of tolls as a way to boost funding for road and bridge projects. Miller said he could support restoring tolls to certain locations on Interstate 95 and Interstate 84 as a way to build funding for transportation projects while also allowing for reductions in the gasoline tax that would put Connecticut prices more in line with prices in neighboring states.
The candidates may also differ on the possible authorization of red light cameras in Connecticut. Siegrist said he would oppose any legislation for red light cameras. Miller said he is undecided, but sees some possible benefits that could include greater safety for pedestrians and bicycle riders “It’s a tough issue and there needs to be a lot more discussion on it,” he said.
The candidates have avoided negative campaigning and personal attacks, Siegrist said he has been running a positive campaign that seeks to present himself as a new face in local politics. Miller said Siegrist’s lack of government experience could hamper his efforts for the district. “I respect that he is a working person but I don’t think Bob has the knowledge and skills to discern what is important.” Miller said.