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Norwich - The 139th House of Representatives district gets a new look this year, adding the center section of Norwich in place of Franklin and Lebanon while keeping Montville and Bozrah.
The reconfiguration brought incumbent Democrat Kevin Ryan and Republican challenger Leon Moore, both of Montville, to the district's first debate in Norwich Tuesday. The candidates faced questions from members of Youth in Democracy Challenge, the Norwich Free Academy Young Voters Society, the NFA Debate Club, NAACP youth council, the Bully Busters, and students from Norwich Regional Technical School.
Moore admitted at the start that he has little political experience. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2009, after having spent 15 years stationed in the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton. He ran unsuccessfully for Montville Town Council last year and challenged Ryan in 2010.
He said he hoped to bring fresh ideas to the legislature different from the perspectives of long-time politicians.
Ryan faced several questions about what the legislature did last year and during his 20-year tenure. Asked about state budget issues, Ryan said it was important to preserve state funding to cities and towns, including education funding.
Ryan said in contrast to the gridlock in Congress, compromise remains important in Hartford. Both parties came together on the jobs bill last session, for example, he said.
Moore said the biggest issue the 139th District faces is the need for jobs. Many people have lost their jobs or had to take pay cuts to keep their jobs, he said.
"We need to find ways to entice or encourage new businesses to start up and new businesses to come into the state, and the only way I can see to do that is to improve our tax code," Moore said.
Ryan said that while Connecticut might have one of the biggest tax burdens in the country, the state doesn't have a county form of government, and the state ends up paying for many services that in other states are covered by and taxed for by county governments.
One student surprised both candidates when he brought up the issue of teenage pregnancy. The boy said the issue came to light for him when a family member became pregnant. Not satisfied with the initial answer, the student asked again whether the candidates felt the current programs and available funding were good enough.
Ryan said the state has to make sure programs for sexual education, birth control and family planning services are available to students. He said health education in the schools is the most important measure.
Moore said the issue hit his family as well; a friend of his stepdaughter's became pregnant and decided to get an abortion, he said. He said he supports schools having after-school programs and outreach to keep teenagers active and informed about the issues.