Going Green in 33rd Senate District

Voters in the sprawling 33rd Senate District will be choosing among three candidates vying to replace a retiring long-term incumbent who did not seek re-election. The district straddles the Connecticut River and is home to some of the state's most scenic landscapes. Appropriate then that we believe the Green Party candidate deserves serious voter attention.

The 33rd state Senate seat covers all or parts of Clinton, Westbrook, Essex, Deep River, Chester, Haddam, East Haddam, East Hampton, Portland, Lyme, Colchester, and Old Saybrook. A legislator since 1993, incumbent Sen. Eileen M. Daily will not be on the ballot.

Competing for the open seat are Republican Art Linares, 23; Green Party candidate Melissa Schlag, 38; and the Democrat, Rep. James Crawford, 62, who is seeking to make the jump after one term representing the 35th House District of Westbrook, Killingworth and Clinton.

In our estimation, this race comes down to Rep. Crawford and Ms. Schlag. Mr. Linares, a young businessman living in Westbrook, certainly does not lack for enthusiasm. However he is not ready for prime time. His broad philosophy of less government and lower taxes needs to be sharpened before he is ready to apply it towards the complex challenges confronting this state.

Rep. Crawford, also of Westbrook, is a career public school educator and former selectman. He brings the educator's perspective to the race. Federal and state governments should fund 100 percent of Special Education costs, he contends. The current system, which places much of the fiscal burden on local schools, leads to uneven services from one district to another for these special students, said Rep. Crawford.

He makes the persuasive point that schools should not consider college the only destination for students. "Many talented kids never have the opportunity to enhance their skills because our school systems don't nurture diversity of interests," he wrote in his Voter's Guide submission to The Day. Schools need to foster students whose talents are more technical and hands on, giving them the support necessary to fill technical jobs in modern manufacturing that are now going unfilled despite a poor economy, said Rep. Crawford.

But in Ms. Schlag we find a candidate brimming with ideas and raising issues that major party candidates often avoid. The common thread in her political philosophy is a desire to "reinvest in the middle class." A small business owner and resident of Higganum, Ms. Schlag points to property tax reform as a major component of rearranging a tax system that falls disproportionately heavy on the middle class. While comprehensive reform is at best a difficult long-term goal, Ms. Schlag is realistic enough to set reasonable short-term goals, such as property tax relief for seniors over 65 in the form of tax abatements proportional to their income.

She calls for reorganizing state economic development policies to place greater emphasis on small business; for utilization of health care managers to help seniors navigate the confusing billing and benefit process and in the process drive costs down by reducing billing mistakes, erroneous charges, and fraud; and she wants to close loopholes that allow corporate tax dollars to slip out of state. The legislature could benefit from an innovator.

Countering these strengths is the political reality Ms. Schlag would be a third party candidate in two-party legislature. We suspect, however, that Ms. Schlag is bright enough to find partnerships.

Co-founding Citizens for Protection of Public Lands, she showed determination in leading the fight against the so-called "Haddam Land Swap" that would have allowed a developer to gain prime, protected state-owned waterfront land in return for an isolated parcel. In the process the group exposed the lack of safeguards against the legislature pushing through such deals. We expect she would fight just as hard for her district.

In the 33rd Senate District The Day endorses Green Party candidate Melissa Schlag.

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