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Marx right candidate for current challenges

The editorial board faced a difficult choice in assessing the race for state senator in the 20th District, which includes The Day’s host community of New London.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Paul Formica is seeking a fourth term in the district that also includes East Lyme, Waterford, Montville, Salem, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme and Bozrah. In his three previous campaigns he has earned our endorsement.

For a second straight election he faces Martha Marx, chair of the Democratic Town Committee in New London and a registered nurse for 30 years. She is a visiting nurse.

Formica, 67, who started the family business, Flanders Fish Market in East Lyme, is a statesman, measured in his responses, with a detached style that can at times come off as aloofness. He approaches policy from the businessperson’s perspective.

In contrast, Marx, 57, is passionate and emotional in arguing for the issues she sets as her highest priorities — access to health care, assuring a living wage, providing affordable housing and addressing racial inequality.

In past terms, Formica’s work to keep Millstone Power Station operating, support for development of an offshore wind-power industry, and backing structural changes to control spending were among his notable achievements.

Since his 2018 election, however, Senator Formica has marched in lockstep with Republican leadership, when the needs of his district demanded that he at times strike a different path.

Republican lawmakers, for example, chose the politically easy option in flatly opposing electronic tolling. But if there is a district that needs the investment in transportation that toll revenues would provide, it is the 20th. New London is a transportation hub. And the narrow, twisting section of Interstate 95 through East Lyme — the scene of the highest fatality rates in the state — must be overhauled for safety.

Of course tolls are unpopular, but they make sense, and would force the millions of out-of-state drivers who travel through our state to contribute to highway upkeep and improvements. Instead of showing the political courage to back this pragmatic solution, Formica aligned with a convoluted and fiscally perilous plan pushed by the Republican minority leader, Sen. Len Fasano (who, we note, is not seeking re-election).

That plan would have used the budget surplus to pay down pension debt, then used those “savings” — the pension fund would have still been grossly underfunded — to pay for transportation needs and leverage federal dollars. Thank goodness that idea was rejected. It would have squandered the surplus now needed to help the state get through the pandemic crisis.

Formica’s opposition to the stepped increases in the minimum wage passed by the Democratic legislature is understandable from his pro-business perspective. But what of the needs of the many people in New London, with its per capita income of $25,000, who depend on the minimum wage?

In the recent special session, Formica talked with uncharacteristic emotion about the different treatment Black Americans face in police encounters — more likely to be pulled over, more likely for the encounter to end badly. But rather than support a police accountability bill that he acknowledged was mostly good, Formica aligned, again, with all fellow Republicans in voting “no.”

This was a bill strongly backed not only in New London, but throughout much of the 20th District, where racially diverse groups of demonstrators had demanded police reforms. Formica had an explanation — his opposition to limiting the immunity now protecting police from litigation for misconduct — but he could have supported the bill while noting his disapproval to that provision, promising to work to amend it if re-elected.

Even on his fiscal policy, his seeming strength, Formica disappointed. As the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, the senator bought into the Republican strategy to offer no alternative budget proposal, a political calculation to let Democrats own it without having to defend a Republican plan.

Marx will fight for the interests of New London in a way the incumbent has not — working to protect the minimum wage step increases and fighting for the city to get a fair host community agreement before development on the offshore wind-power hub at State Pier begins.

She recognizes a need for toll revenues to improve the transportation infrastructure, will bring a nurse’s perspective to addressing the pandemic and its aftermath, and won’t shirk from addressing racial disparities.

These are the issues of our time.

Yet Marx’s seemingly unquestioning support of organized labor, her tone deafness about the challenges that businesses face in this state, and her eagerness to turn to higher taxes, give pause. If elected, she needs to also listen to the job creators in her district.

Marx, at this juncture in history, brings more positives to representing her community and gets our editorial endorsement.

Note: Wording in the editorial was adjusted since initial online publication to more accurately reflect the board's sentiments.

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 Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. 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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