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46th District hopefuls spar over guns, legislators' pensions

Norwich - The differences between the two candidates in the 46th District state House of Representatives race are evident from the start.

The race pits fiscally conservative political newcomer Rob Dempsky, 40, against freshman incumbent Democrat Emmett Riley, 45, who practically grew up at the state Capitol and counts several longtime state Democratic leaders - along with his father, Dennis Riley - as political mentors. The single-municipality district covers the urban and southern portions of Norwich.

Riley says he is proud of his first-term record and his advocacy for some bills that are targeted by state Republicans, including the landmark gun control measures put in place after the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and a bill to allow illegal immigrants to obtain legal drivers' licenses.

Riley recently had been elected and not even sworn in yet when the shootings occurred. He said he knew it would dominate the upcoming legislative session. He recalled frantic, emotional sessions and meetings with the Sandy Hook families. He said one woman let out an emotional cry when the final vote was taken to approve the gun control bill that included bans on certain high-power rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

"I'm proud of my support for that bill," Riley said. "I'm not going to back away from my vote. These guns were banned for a long time, and I think they should be banned."

Dempsky said the bill curtails citizens' ability to protect themselves and signals to shooters that they have several minutes to commit their crimes in schools or other public places that do not have armed protection before police arrive. He would repeal the law and work on a new one that addresses problems with mental illness.

Dempsky, a poker dealer at Mohegan Sun casino, said he has been keenly interested in politics and political theory since he was a young child, and in studying the U.S. Constitution, he has found that government has strayed far from the carefully crafted dictates of the Founding Fathers. Many aspects of today's government, he said, are extraneous. And spending is out of control, he said, and at times misdirected.

"We need tolls to raise money to fund the roads," he said as an example. "That money goes into the general fund, not into roads. In 10 years, we'll be looking for more money to pay for roads."

Dempsky said he would call for elimination of state pensions for elected legislators, using Riley's wife, Melissa Riley, as an example. Melissa Riley served for 10 years as the state representative in the 46th District - just long enough to earn a pension, Dempsky said.

"They put in 10 years and then they can collect a pension and they get out," he said. "That's wrong."

Riley said he sees nothing wrong with the pension system. Anyone who works for 10 years as a legislator has earned a pension, small though it is, he said. The pension is only a portion of a legislator's part-time salary and can't be collected until the person turns 65.

Eliminating those pensions would be minimal and not an immediate savings, Riley said.

Both candidates acknowledged that the upcoming budget session will be difficult and strained. Dempsky said legislators need to be courageous to address spending that is out of control, although he said it would be difficult to cut programs now seen as entitlements.

Riley said government's job is to provide services, and those services are expensive. He said when cuts are proposed, he will concentrate on how those cuts affect Norwich, a city that relies heavily on state education grants and other programs.

The two candidates will participate in a debate sponsored by The Day at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the Slater Auditorium in Norwich.

Members of the public can submit questions for the debate in advance to elections@theday.com. Questions can be submitted in person on index cards prior to the start of the debate.

c.bessette@theday.com

Twitter: @Bessettetheday

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