Bowles, Somers continue to clash in contest for state Senate seat

Democrat Timothy Bowles ramped up his attack on Republican Heather Somers in the contest for the 18th state Senate District seat this week, releasing a 14-year-old document that he alleges "raises all kinds of questions" about a "previously hidden" $340,000 loan that he says the businesswoman's company took from the state.

Somers rebuffed the charge, saying the company, Hydrofera LLC, which has since been sold, never took a loan from the state "and the document that Tim Bowles claims is proof of a loan is most likely a proposal."

"It seems as if someone who can't tell the difference between a proposal and a signed loan shouldn't be running for state senator," Somers said.

She also went after Bowles for a recent Superior Court judgment — a $35-a-week garnishment of his wages to pay off an outstanding $37,399 debt he owes to Bank of America.

"If Mr. Bowles is so concerned with getting, what he calls, the truth out, he should come clean with the voters about his refusal to pay his creditors and the garnishment a judge ordered against his generous taxpayer-backed pension just this week," Somers said in a statement. "He should also come clean about his past history of protesting workers at Electric Boat, since he refused to give the Norwich Bulletin an answer at their debate."

"I'm owning that," Bowles said of his outstanding debt. "I have touched base with the law firm and I'm making arrangements. I wasn't even aware there was a court action.

"But that's a whole separate issue. It's a private loan, not a credit card, and I'm taking responsibility and I will pay it off," he said. "That's not taxpayer dollars. It's my private financial business."

In the hotly contested race to fill the seat being vacated by Democratic state Sen. Andrew Maynard, Somers, of Groton, and Bowles, of Preston, have gone at it at debates and in campaign fliers.

The 10 pages of documents released by the Bowles' campaign Tuesday are from the state Department of Economic and Community Development and reference Hydrofera Micron Technologies, described as a subsidiary of Hydrofera LLC, and the Windham Mills Development Corp. Asked for additional documents to lend more perspective, Bowles said the 10 pages were all he had and that they were obtained through a state Freedom of Information Act request.

In a news release, Bowles said in addition to $1 million that Hydrofera received from the state, "yet another loan was discovered last week that was granted to Hydrofera Micron Technologies in 2002 for the amount of $340,000."

"More questions, not answers, have come to light," he said. “ .... Was this loan ever paid back? What happened to Hydrofera Micron? Did it go bankrupt? Were all the employees fired? Why were there two different companies that received money from the state? And did Heather Somers hide debt in one company to make the other company more profitable before selling it?”

Somers blasted back, saying while she has tried to focus on the issues, "Tim Bowles is flinging debunked attacks in a desperate attempt to distract from his own failed record. ... Mr. Bowles has staked his entire candidacy on mudslinging and lies."

"As I've said over and over my company never had a loan from the State of Connecticut. ... Frankly, I'm embarrassed for Mr. Bowles that he is so desperate to get back to Hartford that he would stoop to this level," she said. "Mr. Bowles should recognize the will of the voters who kicked him out of office in 2014 for being a reliable vote for Malloy's crippling tax increases — and retire from politics."

Bowles unleashed, too.

“If Heather Somers isn’t able to give straightforward answers to straightforward questions, she isn’t fit to lead. She should be honest with the taxpayers of Connecticut and finally tell the truth. Heather should come clean, or drop out of the race,” he said.

Somers has met twice with The Day, in 2014 when she was a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and again this month, to answer questions about Hydrofera, the firm she helped to launch in the late 1990s and that she said she held a minority stake in. About 2001, the quasi-public agency Connecticut Innovations made a $1 million equity investment in Hydrofera, which Bowles has described as a loan.

When Hydrofera was sold to Hollister Inc. of Libertyville, Ill., in 2012, Connecticut Innovations, which had merged with the Connecticut Development Authority, collected $80,000 because Hydrofera fell far short of the 100 jobs it said it would create. Bowles has been critical of that, and that the CDC was paid back less than half of its original investment.

"The taxpayers of Connecticut and people of the 18th Senate District deserve answers and they deserve a leader who can keep a promise," Bowles said in his release. "They also deserve to be paid back."

"The truth is, I have consistently been fully transparent about the amazing success story of the business and opportunities I helped create," Somers said in a dueling news release.

Bowles' campaign fliers, sent to voters across the eight-town district that includes Groton, Stonington, North Stonington, Preston, Sterling, Plainfield, Voluntown and Lisbon, continue to focus on the Hydrofera issue, while literature from Somers highlights her business experience and dozen years as a municipal leader in Groton.

a.baldelli@theday.com

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