Endorsements for State Senate
Eastern Connecticut’s state Senate districts stretch long distances, linking towns that differ in their interests and orientation. The most predictable distinctions might be between rural and urban communities but the contrasts go further: heavily populated shoreline linked with inland suburbs; wide-ranging hyper-local income levels; red vs. blue.
It’s easy to find differences, but these natural tensions have generally been constructive. The region’s Senate delegation doesn’t tilt sharply Republican or Democrat. The Senate has only 36 members; in a concentrated group, people get to know one another. Although the hidebound party caucus system spotlights partisan differences when the time comes for a vote, much of the important work comes from committees where senators of both parties share the groundwork.
One of the most productive Senate sessions in memory was in 2017, when the chamber split evenly, 18 to 18. Together with the House of Representatives, the Senate produced the statutory restrictions on spending and the “volatility cap” with which the legislators tied their own hands and those of their successors. The purpose was to prevent future legislatures from neglecting to save for a rainy day or failing to pay down debt. And it has worked, resulting in significant debt payments from the state budget surplus toward pension obligations.
Bipartisanship can work in Connecticut, even if Washington has forgotten how to do it. The ability to work in a bipartisan manner on behalf of Connecticut’s populace is a key criterion in The Day’s decisions on candidate endorsements. We are looking for constructive leadership that is open to reasonable compromise and supports greater access to voting; for senators who will represent people throughout their districts, however disparate.
Accordingly, The Day is endorsing Senate candidates from both parties who seem most likely to meet those criteria. The newspaper is not making endorsements in the state House races, but we urge voters to apply those same standards as they make their choices -- knowing from experience that Connecticut voters are independent-minded and often ignore party labels in state races. To see the candidates’ full interviews, visit https://www.theday.com/section/election2022/.
Senate District 18 (Griswold, Groton, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston, Sterling, Stonington and Voluntown): Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, is seeking a fourth term, challenged by Farouk Rajab, a Democrat who chairs the Stonington Board of Education.
Somers, a staunch Republican, nonetheless bucked her party to speak out quickly against the January 6 invasion of the Capitol. She has done bipartisan work, including the 2017 budget. Constituents say they find her accessible. Her key issues include public health, including opioid legislation, and making Connecticut affordable. Following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, she issued a statement saying she supports women’s access to reproductive care.
Rajab says he is a builder of consensus and would bring people together to solve issues in education and healthcare affordability. He wants legislators listen to educators on curriculum and mandated programs. While we agree on those points, Heather Somers has earned The Day’s endorsement for another term as the senator for District 18.
Senate District 19 (Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Norwich, Sprague and part of Montville): Incumbent Cathy Osten, a Democrat from Sprague is being challenged by Republican Pietro Camardella of Norwich.
In five terms Cathy Osten has proven to be a tough negotiator while remaining open to compromise and accessible to constituents. As Senate chair of the Appropriations Committee, armed with a fistful of figures, she argued for paying down the state pension debt at a faster rate than the administration was proposing. Osten has often worked alongside Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, across party lines. She favors the early voting referendum question on this year’s ballot.
Pietro Camardella answered his party’s call for a candidate to oppose Osten. He opposes early voting and wants parents, rather than elected school boards, to decide curriculum in public schools.
Cathy Osten is a hard-working senator who has proven her capability at juggling the myriad issues that face a legislator and at seeking out reasonable solutions. The Day endorses her for re-election in the 19th District.
Senate District 20 (New London, Bozrah, East Lyme, Old Lyme, Salem, Waterford and parts of Old Saybrook and Montville): With the retirement of Sen. Paul Formica, this race has no incumbent. Democrat Martha Marx of New London, a former city councilor and party official, and Republican Jerry Labriola Jr. of Old Saybrook, a former state Republican Party Chairman, are seeking the seat.
Two years ago the newspaper endorsed Marx in her second run against Formica; some of her positions aligned with those The Day considered the most pressing. There is no doubt of her passion for the causes she supports: protecting women’s right to make reproductive health care choices, more affordable health care and housing, and gun safety, among them. But the last decade has shown too many examples of legislative bodies in stalemate for lack of bipartisan compromise. An effective lawmaker speaks softly while carrying her big stick, but Marx’s style seems rather to keep swinging. In the end, what Connecticut needs is progress, and that may never come if the decision-makers can’t find a middle ground.
Jerry Labriola is admittedly an unknown quantity, although he casts himself as a successor in the centrist mode of Formica, whose endorsement he received. He supports women’s choice and the state’s “safe harbor” law. He describes his stance on guns as “common sense” and thinks that the free market can help with the housing shortage. If elected he is apt to be in the minority party, and as a freshman will have little clout. That will, however, give the voters time to assess whether he really suits the district. The Day endorses Jerry Labriola in the 20th District.
Senate District 33 (Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Portland, Westbrook and part of Old Saybrook): Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, is seeking his third two-year term, challenged by Republican Brandon Goff, an East Hampton town councilor and Navy reservist.
While almost all of District 33 is west of The Day’s core area, it is eastern Connecticut’s next-door neighbor. In a small state, that’s creates a community of interest. Sen. Needleman, as chair of the Energy and Technology Committee in favor of climate change mitigation and a supporter of wind power, would be in a position to affect decisions regarding the wind power project being developed at State Pier in New London. He is in favor of no-excuse absentee balloting and the early voting referendum question, and he supports women’s right to choose and Connecticut’s safe harbor law.
Brandon Goff opposes early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. He favors states’ having more rights in general. He says he would not do anything to limit women’s access to abortion. He would have opposed the recent decision to raise legislative salaries.
The Day endorses Norm Needleman for re-election in District 33.