33rd Senate District race: Two challengers take on one-term incumbent

Voters in the 33rd State Senate District will choose next month among candidates of three different parties and viewpoints, but all with similar hopes to represent the 12 towns in the lower Connecticut River Valley.

Incumbent State Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, will run against Democratic candidate Emily Bjornberg and Green Party candidate Colin Bennett. The district encompasses Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland and Westbrook.

Linares, 25, is a partner and co-founder of Greenskies Renewable Energy, a Middletown-based solar company. He was elected to his first term in the state Senate in 2012.

Bjornberg, 33, of Lyme, is the Youth and Family Ministries Director for Deep River Congregational Church. She is a member of the Lyme Land Conservation Trust and has managed an AIDS clinic in South Africa.

Bennett, 35, of Westbrook, is a substitute teacher for the Region 4 school district in Chester, Deep River and Essex. He has run for state office several times and worked for nonprofit organizations.

Linares said he is proud of introducing a bill to expand the state's manufacturing reinvestment account program, enabling small manufacturers to create bank accounts that will be tax-free provided they use the money to create jobs.

He also highlighted his work to prevent the proposed reduction of the size of drug-free zones around schools, and his efforts on the Education Committee to raise awareness about the need for flexibility in the implementation of new state academic standards.

Linares, who graduated from the Westbrook public school system, is focusing on job growth, reducing taxes and making the state more affordable.

He supports cutting back on large-scale spending projects, such as the New Britain-Hartford Busway, and instead balancing the budget and paying down the state's unfunded liabilities. He proposes reducing the gasoline tax, making the state income tax more competitive with other states, and simplifying the tax code. For example, he favors phasing out the business entity tax by cutting it for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

He also said it's important to improve the state's attitude toward business by cutting "red tape" and making state agencies more accessible to business owners.

"We need to really send a message to our workforce and business owners that we work for them," he said.

Bjornberg, who is mother of two and wife to an Iraq War veteran, said her priorities are the economy, education and the environment. She said improving the state and its economy requires thoughtful conversations, while avoiding divisiveness in politics.

"I would like to see government function a little bit more like our small towns and our families do," she said. "At the end of the day, the only way we are all going to get through tough economic times is together, and too often we pit the environment against business, or we pit education against business, or education against environment, and we tell ourselves we need to choose either or," she said.

To spur job growth, she said she supports manufacturing programs and apprenticeships that will train workers in the skills businesses need. She said she would advocate for small businesses by examining state regulations and regressive taxes.She mentioned cutting the business entity tax, which charges $250 for anyone starting a business, an amount that could have a big impact on a small business.

Bjornberg, whose family operates Reynolds' Garage and Marine in Lyme where she grew up, favors state initiatives to encourage more land preservation.

Bjornberg also wants to make sure small towns get their fair share of the state's education funding and to reform the state's minimum budget requirement to reflect the needs of school districts with declining enrollments.

Bennett, who said the birth of his 15-year-old daughter inspired him to work to make the world a better place, proposes investing in clean-energy technologies, such as wind and solar. He favors tax incentives for residents to install solar and renewable energy equipment, as well as state investments in research and development for renewable energy.

"It would not only help our environment, it would also help the economy and create countless jobs for people to stay in the state," Bennett said.

Protecting land in perpetuity is another priority. He proposed creating private-public partnerships to protect land and work toward designating land within the district as a national park.

Bennett, who said being from the Green Party will give him a unique position in Hartford to represent the interests of the 33rd District, also wants to stabilize taxes, particularly for low- and middle-income families.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

BIO BOXES

CANDIDATE NAME: Art Linares

Party: Republican

Incumbent?: Yes

Town: Westbrook

Age: 25

Occupation: small business owner & state senator

Elected/appointed offices: state senator elected in 2012.

Contact: Phone: (203) 645-9215

Email: Senatorlinares2014@gmail.com

CANDIDATE NAME: Emily Bjornberg

Party: Democrat

Incumbent?: No

Town: Lyme

Age: 33

Occupation: director of Youth & Family Ministry

Elected/appointed offices: "This is my first run for public office. I believe we need some new voices at the State Capitol."

Contact: Phone: (860) 598-0309

Email: emily4ct@gmail.com

CANDIDATE NAME: Colin Bennett

Party: Green

Incumbent?: No

Town: Westbrook

Age: 35

Occupation: environmental organizer and educator

Elected/appointed offices: Town of Westbrook - justice of the peace, 2005-2008, Jan. 2013 - present; Westbrook Volunteer Fire Company - firefighter, 2002-2006; Town of Westbrook - elected member, Forest Commission , 2004 -2008.

Contact: Phone: (860) 395-8392

Email: colinbennettforsenate@gmail.com

For more information on all candidates, visit: www.theday.com/section/election2014

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