September 27, 2020

33rd Senate Rivals Daily and Nichols Debate in Clinton

CLINTON— State bonding policy sparked the sharpest differences Wednesday night as State Senator Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, and Republican challenger Neil Nichols of Essex debated the issues before an audience at Morgan High School in Clinton.

The debate, one of a handful of joint encounters between the candidates this fall, was sponsored by the Morgan Political Club, with  students posing most of the questions. About 80 voters, most of them commited supporters of each candidate, turned out to watch the debate.

Daily, who served as first selectwoman of Westbrook from 1983-1989, is seeking her tenth term in the nine-town district that stretches from Clinton to Colchester and includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex. Nichols is a former Pan American Airlines pilot who ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2006 in the 36th House District.

Despite some sharp differences, the candidates agreed on several priorities and were cordial to each other throughout the one-hour session. Nichols contended Daily, as an 18-year incumbent, shares responsibility for the state’s fiscal problems and what he described as an “anti-business” economic climate.

Daily, who has co-chaired the Legislature’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, maintained the fiscal crisis was eased by steps taken in the current and previous fiscal years, which include an unexpended surplus now estimated at $449 million as of June 30, 2010. “We do have a more solid base than anybody would like to have you believe,” she said.

Nichols said lax standards for bonding have left Connecticut with the highest per capita debt of any state in the nation. He called for a  “top to bottom review of all departments, commissions, agencies and programs,” followed by a 15 percent reduction in spending from the current state budget.

But it was Nichol’s comments on state bonding that prompted the sharpest exchange of the debate, as Daily asked him which bonding appropriations for local projects in the 33rd District he would have opposed.

Nichols, who maintains bonding should be focused on statewide infrastructure projects, acknowledged he “has a real problem with STEAP (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) grants.” Several district towns, including Deep River, Essex, and Portland, have received STEAP grants for municipal projects in recent years.

Daily declared she was a “proud co-author” of legislation creating the STEAP grant program as a way to direct some state bonding funds to the smaller towns. “There are a lot of worthy projects,” she said, adding “at least the ones in my district.”

The candidates agreed on several issues and goals, with each pledging to seek state support for acquisition of the former Connecticut Yankee nuclear power plant property in Haddam Neck and the Preserve property in Old Saybrook and Essex for protection as open space land. Both candidates expressed support for the civil unions law that paved the way for gay marriage in Connecticut. But while declaring he has no objections to gay rights, Nichols said he is a Roman Catholic who remains pro-life on the abortion issue.

Author Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.