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Waterford — Near the end of Tuesday night's Democratic primary debate in the 20th state Senate District, the moderator asked the candidates where they differ.
"That's the toughest question of the night," New London Democratic Town Chairman Bill Satti, the challenger for the nomination, said. "There's not a lot of difference between us."
Both he and state Rep. Betsy Ritter, the party-endorsed candidate who's seeking to move to the Senate after five terms in the House, would do what's best for the district, Satti said.
Ritter said there's one big difference, though.
"I do believe I will be a very effective state senator," she said, standing before a crowd of more than 150 people packed into a meeting room at Waterford Public Library. "After 10 years as a legislator, I have a proven record. I've accomplished things legislatively.
"I believe very firmly that I'm the candidate that brings the best opportunity to get things done."
Satti is challenging Ritter for the nomination in a primary next Tuesday.
While Ritter recounted her legislative successes in such areas as access to health care, support for results-based accountability in budgeting and protections for victims of sexual assault on college campuses, Satti recalled his efforts to control New London's budget and preserve services as chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee in the 1990s.
"My expertise is working on budgets, crunching numbers," he said.
The candidates took turns responding to voters' questions read aloud by moderator Marilyn Mackay, president of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut, frequently agreeing with one another. Under a "cumulative timing" format, each candidate had the floor for a total of 24 minutes.
Satti said he would support the installation of tolls on Interstate 95, which cuts through much of the 20th District. The district comprises Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford. Tolls should be seen as a way to regulate traffic and generate revenue for highway-related improvements, he said.
"The money goes back into infrastructure, not the General Fund," Satti said.
Ritter said she agreed.
In regard to job creation, Satti said the state Department of Economic and Community Development should be more aggressive in recruiting small businesses from other states. Ritter touted her work to bring Connecticut's licensing and certification of trained workers into line with that of other states, her support of entrepreneurial networks and efforts to prepare veterans for jobs that utilize skills they learned in the military.
The questions also covered such issues as taxes and the state's deficit, which Ritter noted has been significantly reduced over the past four years.
"Many of the things we did worked," she said, referring to the legislature. "We took a balanced approach that involved raising taxes. I voted for it (raising taxes), but I would be extremely reluctant to do it again."
Satti said he would tackle the deficit by curtailing funding for "earmarks," like the $400,000 a year the legislature approved for the Amistad America organization. He also said more of the revenue the southeastern Connecticut-based tourism industry generates should stay in the region.
More of the gaming revenue Connecticut collects from the casinos should be returned to the state's towns, he said.
Satti was asked whether his job as director of public affairs for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, would cause him to remove himself from discussions about the state budget, leaving the region without a voice.
He noted that under the state's ethics law, he would only have to abstain from matters in which he had a personal financial interest.
Ritter said she gave considerable thought to giving up a chance to retain her deputy speakership in the House to run for the Senate seat, ultimately deciding she could have greater impact in the upper chamber.
"I can be very effective in the Senate because of my ability to form coalitions," she said.
The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut and the library.