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Sterling - Stuart Norman, the Republican running for state Senate in the 18th District, was chatting with the small crowd at the Ekonk Community Grange Wednesday night while waiting for his opponent, incumbent Democrat Andrew Maynard, to arrive.
Suddenly Norman's phone chirped, heralding a text message. "It's Andy. He's two minutes out," Norman said. "We're on speed dial now, Andy and I."
The race between Maynard and Norman may be unlike any other in the state. Rather than spend their time railing against each other, the two have decided to campaign together, embarking on what they're calling a "civility tour."
"After one of the first events of the campaign, Andy and I got talking in the hallway, and I talked about how a campaign of civility and respect would be good," said Norman, who lives in Griswold. "I said, 'Andy, you might have better name recognition than me and if the press catches on, it could help me more than you,' " he said, noting that the unlikely partnership could boost his lesser-known campaign.
"And [Maynard] said, 'I still want to do it,' " Norman said. "I wouldn't go as far as saying Andy and I have become good friends, but we respect each other."
In the past few months, leading up to Tuesday's election, the two candidates have held events at which they discussd the issues facing the state, especially how to deal with the $3.4 billion budget deficit projected for next year. Both agree that the state needs to cut spending but acknowledge that tax increases may be necessary to solve Connecticut's fiscal woes.
"I think we've grown to the point where it's unsustainable, especially when it comes to layers and layers of administration," said Maynard, referring specifically to the state government. Maynard, of Stonington, said he voted against this year's state budget because it relied on borrowed cash.
Norman said he entered the race because, as a Griswold Board of Education member, he was concerned that the state would pass its problems on to cities and towns, which would then be forced to raise taxes.
"A huge concern of mine - and I'm sorry you have to hear this again and again, Andy - is that Hartford will solve this mess by cutting state aid to municipalities and by cutting ECS grants," Norman said, referring to the education cost-sharing funds the state gives to local school districts.
Throughout the evening, the two men were exceedingly polite to one another, displaying conduct rarely associated with politics and government. It's an ongoing, open dialogue like theirs, both men said, that will be necessary for state officials working to solve Connecticut's budget problems.
"Thoughtful leaders on both sides of the aisle, in both [legislative] houses, working with whoever our new governor may be, need to work together and find out what people expect from their government and what we can reliably deliver," Maynard said.
And the campaign dialogue will continue well past Tuesday, regardless of who wins, the two agreed.
"I told Andy that if he's elected I'll be here the next two years, ready to help. And I hope all of you will, too," Norman said, addressing the audience, "because that really is what democracy is all about."
Maynard said constituents of the 18th Senate District - which consists of Griswold, Groton, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston, Sterling, Stonington and Voluntown - also need to make their voices heard throughout the year, not just in the run-up to elections. He said he appreciates feedback and ideas from his constituents, even if he does not ultimately agree with the input.
"You can't just fill in a black circle on a piece of paper and stick it in the slot," Maynard said. "You have to make your voice heard. You have to hold people's feet to the fire."
Norman, of course, agreed.