CLINTON— The three candidates for the 33rd Senate District seat faced off in a final campaign debate at Morgan High School in Clinton Thursday, with the sharpest exchanges coming during the final minutes of the one hour session.
About 100 voters turned out for the debate that was organized by students in the school’s current issues class, with students posing questions and moderating the session. It is expected to be the final public debate between one-term incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook, Democratic challenger Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, and Green Party nominee Colin Bennett of Westbrook.
The candidates stuck to familiar themes through most of the debate. Linares pledged to work to reduce state taxes on gasoline and phase out taxes on retirement benefits while touting his endorsement by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Bjornberg said Linares has “voted against the most vulnerable among us,” over the past two years while noting her endorsements from the Connecticut Working Families Party, unions representing teachers and college professors and various women’s and environmental groups.
Bennett, declaring he “will not pander,” occasionally used his time to raise issues that were not part of the initial question, including racial justices, police shootings of minority citizens, and the expense of incarceration for non-violent crimes. He called for a “maximum wage” rather than just increasing the minimum wage and higher tax rates for the wealthy.
Most of the exchanges were cordial in a formant that did not discourage applause and cheers from the audience. But the gloves came off in the final minutes after Bjornberg noted that Linares is “the only person on this stage who has proposed a tax increase,” as she pointed to Republican budget proposals backed by Linares that would eliminate the state’s earned income tax credit that provides limited cash rebates to low income workers. Bjornberg also criticized Linares votes on issues related to the environment and women’s rights.
Linares said the earned income tax credit is ” a tax credit for people who don’t pay taxes.” In his closing statement, Linares said Bjornberg “desperate and void of solutions, has begun a smear campaign against me in regards to women and the environment.”, before pointing to his support for funding for the Preserve land purchase and labeling of genetically modified foods.
Bennett used his closing statement to claim that some Bjornberg supporters have contacted him and urged him to withdraw from the race to avoid pulling liberal-leaning votes from Bjornberg. While confirming that he would “rather see Emily elected than Art,” Bennett said such efforts are “100 percent antithetical to democracy” and vowed to continue his campaign to the Nov. 4 vote
The 33rd District includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and portions of Old Saybrook.