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Groton - Voters in the 41st House District this year will choose between two familiar faces vying for a seat in the state House of Representatives.
Incumbent Democratic candidate Elissa T. Wright squares off against Republican challenger Harry A. Watson, former mayor of the Town of Groton.
Wright, 66, an attorney, a former member of the Town Council and school board member, was first elected to her House seat in 2006. Watson, 63, has served on numerous town boards and commissions and has been a member of the council since 1990. The two served on the council together at one point.
Wright is no stranger to tight races, having won her party's nomination on a coin flip in 2006 after tying Rita M. Schmidt in the Democratic primary. She went on to win the seat, succeeding Republican Lenny Winkler. She won again in 2008 and in 2010 beat Republican challenger Timothy Plungis by fewer than 200 votes.
This year is not the first time Watson has tossed his hat in the political area. He ran for office 10 years ago in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic incumbent state Rep. Edward Moukawsher in the neighboring 40th House District.
This year's contest takes place in the newly redistricted 41st District, which shifts the area of representation in Groton and adds the southern end of New London.
Wright said no matter the geographic area, the economy is foremost on everybody's mind. She said she has spent years working on issues that fall right in line with concerns of residents of the shoreline district.
"There are many issue of common interest that really unite the communities. The Thames River is a shared asset ... along with Long Island Sound," she said.
Wright said one way of helping to jumpstart the local economy is building on strengths that include tourism and supporting the defense industry and expansion of commuter rail.
"Unfortunately, we did not have robust job growth even before the recession," she said. "The region is overly dependent on very few employers. We need to broaden our economy and get our region on a more competitive footing."
That will be achieved, she said, by cultivating a workforce that is better prepared by investing in technical high schools and community colleges and nurturing small businesses.
Wright said that during her time in the legislature, she has pushed for programs that help retain and create jobs and train workers.
"I've provided incentives for locally grown small businesses to expand," she said. "There is certainly a role for government to play in creating a climate for businesses to grow. As we work to build a stronger economy, we need to strike the right balance between business and government for long-term economic growth."
Watson said he plans to get to Hartford "not owing anybody anything" and prepared to take a hard look at government spending and policies - some of which he said are hurting businesses.
"Some of the stuff going on in Hartford is anti-business," Watson said. "We can help, but it's not by doing things like raising the minimum wage and creating extra benefits for employees. That's one of the reason I'm running."
Watson said there is often an adversarial relationship between businesses and regulatory agencies and points to corporate tax surcharges and business entity taxes as some of the taxes in need of repeal.
He said he was inspired to run for office after hearing from residents and business owners about a need for change.
"It's mostly all of the unfunded mandates that got me going. I was thinking about running last winter and thought now is a good time in my life," he said. "My youngest child is in college now, and the house is empty."
Watson said Wright has "lost contact with the local people."
"I think she's been a poor communicator with the local community and lost touch with it," Watson said. "She's a huge advocate of open space. So am I. But there's more to being a (legislator) than an advocate for open space."