Needleman an exceptional choice in 33rd Senatorial District

One of the most intriguing state races to watch election night will be for control of the 33rd Senatorial District. It is an open seat, features two strong candidates and could potentially determine control of the state Senate, now split 18-18.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Art Linares, who made an unsuccessful attempt to win the party nomination for treasurer and moved from the district due to his marriage, is not seeking re-election. The 33rd covers Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland and Westbrook.

Voters will be choosing between two candidates with substantial political experience. Democrat Norm Needleman, 67, is serving his fourth term as first selectman of Essex. State Rep. Melissa Ziobron, 47, is completing her third term representing the 38th House District of Colchester, East Haddam and East Hampton.

Both, we are confident, would be quick studies in assuming their senatorial duties if elected, with gravitas that would extend beyond their freshman status.

In our estimation, however, Needleman is an exceptional candidate while Ziobron is merely a good one.

His experience as both a successful businessman — his Essex-based Town Laboratories, manufacturing effervescent products, employs 150 people — and as a first selectman provides him rare insider perspectives in two key areas. Needleman knows firsthand how state policies both help and hinder job creators. He knows, too, the challenges of preparing a government budget, made particularly difficult in recent years due to the vagaries of state aid.

Essex has done well under Needleman’s leadership, attracting businesses, expanding the tax base and keeping its property tax among the lowest in the state.

Needleman doesn’t pretend to have all the answers for a state confronting a $2 billion deficit, about 10 percent of the budget, for the coming fiscal year. Addressing that shortfall will be the first test of the next governor and General Assembly.

But Needleman does have clear guideposts. Any adjustment in tax policy, he recognizes, must be done in a way that encourages economic expansion because that will be the key to generating the revenue necessary to escape Connecticut’s fiscal problems.

He knows small adjustments can pay big dividends. Developing a comprehensive economic development plan can generate job growth. Transferring responsibility for special education to the state could provide a major boost to our public schools. Smartly investing in tourism will pay dividends far in excess of investment, he recognizes.

Needleman does not see a gradual increase to a $15 minimum wage or development of paid family leave policies as adverse to business growth. Businesses can adjust and the higher wages at the low-end of the scale can boost the economy and ease the burden on state services, he said.

But we would be remiss not to acknowledge that Needleman faces a strong challenger in Ziobron. As ranking member of the Appropriations Committee she played a role in developing a state budget that won bipartisan support and avoided another tax increase.

Ziobron has been a strong leader for protection of the environment and conservation. Her advocacy contributed to funding for expansion of the Airline Trail biking and walking path, the reopening of river access at Sunrise Park and the return of camping at Devil’s Hopyard State Park.

A fiscal conservative, she has demonstrated by doing, refusing to spend taxpayer money to mail legislative updates to constituents, instead using digital means to get information out to the public.

And Ziobron is willing to buck leadership, in her strong advocacy for production of industrial hemp and in support of legalization of marijuana for adults 21 and older, positions Needleman shares.

But on balance, Norm Needleman is the stronger candidate and gets our final endorsement in the 2018 election.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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