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Norwich - Four state legislative candidates had to answer to the city's youth Wednesday in a political forum hosted by the Greater Norwich Area Anti-Bullying Coalition's Youth in Democracy Challenge.
The debate featured candidates for the 46th and 47th House seats, with questions posed by members of the Norwich Free Academy Young Voters' Society, the NFA Debate Club, the Norwich branch of the NAACP's youth council and Bully Busters.
Democratic candidate Emmett Riley, husband of the 10-year incumbent, Melissa Riley, who is giving up the seat, and Republican Town Committee member Mikel Middleton, a Navy veteran, are seeking the 46th House district seat, which represents the urban and southern sections of Norwich.
Both candidates said the need for more jobs is the most pressing issue in the coming legislative session. Middleton said the current state administration has imposed too many taxes that have hurt businesses, especially the high gas tax, and have driven businesses out of state.
Riley said the city needs to develop 21st century jobs. He praised the new Three Rivers Middle College for high school juniors and seniors for addressing those needs. Riley said Norwich and the state should work on plans to bring jobs to the region. He said small business tax credits should help attract business.
Republican Noah Enslow of Sprague, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and Electric Boat dockmaster, and Democratic Canterbury First Selectman Brian Sear are seeking the 47th District seat that includes Hampton, Chaplin, Scotland, Sprague, Franklin, Canterbury, pieces of Lebanon, Lisbon, and Norwich.
Enslow said the state budget cuts last legislative session were necessary to "keep the government going," but he complained that the cuts were followed immediately by increased spending. He said government incentives to businesses amounted to "bribes" to keep them in state, when lowering taxes would have been the better tactic.
Sear said he "absolutely applauded" that the state did not cut aid to cities and towns, believing the local towns know best how to spend the money. He said he has been frustrated with the state for inefficiencies in government, something he hopes to change if he is elected.
One student asked how the candidates would try to attract youths to come back here after college. Sear said Connecticut has lost its pride and needs to promote small business to provide jobs for young families, more than major corporations.
Enslow said there's nothing for young people to return to the area for, and the state should work to bring high-tech jobs here to replace jobs lost by Pfizer Inc. and other companies. He said tax burdens placed on small businesses make it difficult for them to work and thrive.
"We need to cut out all that," Enslow said.
Asked for their strategies on reducing college costs and student debt, Enslow recommended students consider both military service as a means of funding college and attending community college for basic degrees that can be transferred to larger colleges later.
Sear said the state should consider creative incentives for helping students and keeping them in Connecticut after they graduate, possibly including an incentive program that would forgive loans or tuition payments if students remain in the state for a number of years after graduating.
What next: Political debate hosted by Norwich Youth in Democracy Challenge
Who: 19th state Senate and 139th state House of Representatives candidates
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25
Where: Sidney Frank Center, Norwich Free Academy
What else: Open to the public