October 1, 2020

Democratic Daily Faces Republican Nichols in 12-Town 33rd Senate District

AREAWIDE—  Nine-term incumbent Democratic State Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook is facing an active challenge in Tuesday’s election from Republican Neil Nichols, a retired pilot from Essex.

The state’s Clean Elections Program public funding, now in its second legislative election cycle, has enabled Nichols to remain more competitive with the 18-year incumbent in campaign resources compared to previous Republican challengers. Under the campaign finance law, candidates for state senate receive an $87,000 grant after they raise at least $15,000 in small contributions from in-district donors. According to the Oct. 10 finance report, Daily has raised about $106,500 to about $104,000 for Nichols.

Daily, who co-chairs the Legislature’s key Finance, Revenue and Bonding committee, has trounced a series of Republican challengers in the large district since her first election in 1992. She defeated Republican Vince Pacileo, at the time an Essex selectman, on a vote of 30,326-17,624 in 2008. Before entering the senate, Daily served as first selectwoman of Westbrook from 1983-1989.

Nichols, a West Hartford native who has lived in Essex since 1994, is a former U.S. Air Force pilot who later worked as a pilot for Pan American airlines from 1967 to 1991. He has represented the 33rd District on the Republican State Central Committee since 2006, and also serves on the local planning commission. Nichols was the unsuccessful Republican challenger to State Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, in the 36th House District in 2006.

The 33rd district includes the towns of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth, Portland, Westbrook, and portions of Old Saybrook.

While the two rivals have been cordial at a series of debates or joint appearances during the campaign, they differ sharply on many issues. Both cite improving the business climate in Connecticut and creating jobs as a priority, but diverge on the state’s fiscal situation and  how to address the prospect for more budget deficits in future years.
Nichols calls for a “top to bottom review” of all state spending, and proposes a 15 percent reduction in spending from the $16.8 billion total in the budget year that ended on June 30. He calls for repeal of the state’s annual $250 business entity tax, and contends many of the state’s smaller taxes and fees don’t generate sufficient revenue to justify continuation. “We’ve got to change the culture in the Legislature to make it more friendly toward business,” he said.
Daily maintains the state’s fiscal situation is not as dire as claimed by critics like Nichols, noting the last budget year ended in June with an unexpended balance of over $400 million. She also supports elimination of the business entity tax, but describes as “ridiculous” Nichols’ call for a 15 percent spending reduction from the 2009-2010 budget. “We have more people in need during this recession than we’ve ever had before,” she said.

Nichols said he believes the death penalty should be reserved for only the most heinous murders, but would not support a repeal of the state’s ultimate penalty. Daily had voted to repeal the death penalty during the last legislative session, and suggests new revelations about suspects determined to be innocent after the latest DNA testing “should be reason enough for anybody.”

Daily opposes Sunday liquor sales, noting “most of the package store owners I talk to are opposed to it.” Nichols said he is open to allowing Sunday sales, but also expresses concern for the possible impact smaller liquor stores. “I would have to listen to all of the arguments,” he said.

Both candidates have waged active campaigns, including mailings to voters, one television ad each, and targeted door to door campaigning. Also on the Nov. 2 ballot is Colin Bennett, running under the banner of the Green Party. Bennett, a Westbrook resident, was also the Green Party nominee in 2004, 2006, and 2008, when he received his largest share of the total vote, 1,682 votes.

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.