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Hartford — Five Republican gubernatorial candidates — excluding Tom Foley of Greenwich — debated gun control, taxes, education and the economy on Friday during the first televised gubernatorial debate of the election season.
"It's unfortunate that one candidate opted not to show up today," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said at the debate, hosted by FOX CT and The Hartford Courant and held at the Mark Twain House. "You lead from the front. You don't lead by hiding somewhere else in the state."
Candidates differed on how to address gun rights, the economy and which taxes to cut. But they agreed that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's $55 tax rebate for individuals was a gimmick and that the Common Core educational standards aren't working in Connecticut.
State Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, defended his vote for gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.
"I wish that day never happened. … At the end of the day, I was elected by the people of Newtown to be their voice in Hartford," McKinney said.
Last year the General Assembly passed and Malloy signed into law legislation that bans the sale and possession of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and requires people who want to purchase rifles, shotguns and ammunition to obtain a permit.
The other candidates said that as governor, they would have vetoed the gun-control legislation or sent it back to the legislature for revisions.
"My concern has been that it didn't address the key issues that affect our state," Boughton said. The state spent a lot of time "concerned about what kind of flash suppressor a gun has or what kind of magazine it has" and should have spent more time on mental health and more money on school safety, he added.
"I don't think it solves anything," said Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, noting that he would have vetoed the legislation. "Oftentimes we try to justify things by taking an action because the people feel we need to do that."
Former West Hartford Town Councilor Joe Visconti also said he would have vetoed the legislation, because it infringes on people's Second Amendment rights. The "high courts" will rule that Connecticut's gun control legislation is unconstitutional, he said.
"I am someone who likes to deal with facts," said Avon lawyer Martha Dean. She cited research that she said shows that the more gun ownership there is among law-abiding citizens, the less crime.
"Citizens have the right to bear arms," Dean said. "It doesn't matter how many people think something should be eliminated if our core principles say we protect it. Slavery was popular. And if we had taken just a raw vote, we would still have slavery. But it was wrong. So we need to do what is right."
In a rebuttal, McKinney said that as a member of the minority party in the state Senate, "it wasn't a matter of whether they were going to pass the bill. The question was, what the bill was going to look like." He said leadership means "rolling your sleeves up," getting the work done and trying to make a better product for the people of Connecticut, not "sitting on the sidelines and simply saying no."
In February, Malloy proposed a $155 million gasoline and sales tax rebate. Individuals who earn less than $200,000 would receive a $55 rebate and join filers earning less than $400,000, who would receive $110. If passed this year, the funds would come from the state's $505 million budget surplus.
"Basically, the Malloy administration went out and borrowed money at our expense to give us a rebate," Dean said.
The $55 rebate is the governor's way of "trying to bribe us with our own money," Visconti said. The state should be cutting back the gasoline tax, he added. "Connecticut is basically a ship sinking, on fire that is drifting into the rocks."
The candidates advocated for a variety of tax cuts and reforms.
McKinney said he would repeal the $1.5 billion tax increase that was passed by the Democrats in 2011. Visconti said he would phase out the sales tax and Boughton said he would examine the regressive property tax system.
Lauretti said he would reduce spending before cutting taxes and Dean said she would repeal the state income tax.
"I've never tried to be someone who was popular," Dean said.
In July 2010, the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core program, but many school districts have had trouble implementing it. Complaints were so persistent that Malloy created a task force to research ways to better implement Common Core.
Many candidates said the one-size-fits-all approach isn't working.
"I think government needs to get out of the classroom," Lauretti said, adding that principals and superintendents need to be empowered.
As a certified teacher with a master's degree, Boughton said he understands that using a single teaching model ignores the potential in children. As governor, he said, he would decouple the Common Core standards from the teachers' evaluations and engage parents and administrators.
"Decisions should be made at the local level," McKinney said. Teachers and administrators are the ones on the front lines, and they should be the ones making the decisions, he said.
FOX CT will air the debate at 10 a.m. Sunday.
First priority for fixing Connecticut's economy:
Mark Boughton: Do all of the state permitting for new businesses at once “to reduce the red tape that businesses face.”
John McKinney: “Get our state's fiscal house in order.”
Martha Dean: “End the state income tax.”
Mark Laurett: “Stabilize the cost of doing business in Connecticut.”
Joe Visconti: “Put a plan together where small businesses are heard so they don't close up.”
Favorite television shows:
Mark Boughton: “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead”
John McKinney: “Seinfeld”
Martha Dean: “The Big Valley”
Mark Laurett: “I don't watch much TV.”
Joe Visconti: “The Ed Sullivan Show”