Will New London Dems lose their safe 39th District seat?

There is no doubt that City Councilor Anthony Nolan, a New London police officer, is a popular city politician who has effortlessly won election after election, serving seven years on the council, two as its president, after being chosen leader by other councilors.

And yet I would say a debate this week among the four candidates running for the House seat in the 39th District, vacated when Rep. Chris Soto took a job in the administration of Gov. New Lamont, proved conclusively that Officer/Councilor Nolan, the endorsed Democrat in the race, is not up to the job.

In fact, I would suggest that the only way you could watch that debate and decide to vote for Nolan is because you only ever vote for the endorsed Democrat, or he is a friend of yours. There is no way you would come to the conclusion that he has the best grasp of the issues at hand.

Watching the debate makes you wonder how city Democrats came to endorse the Nolan candidacy in the 39th so early and so decisively, given the interest in the seat.

Nolan gave his most disqualifying answer, I would suggest, early in the debate, when asked what he would say to frustrated city Republicans who complain that Democrats sent to Hartford ignore their ideas for reducing the size of government.

"Nothing," Nolan replied, using precious few of the 60 seconds allocated for his response.

Even the moderator seemed startled, commenting on the candidate's spare use of his allotted time.

This question was a chance to knock one out of the park, if the candidate wanted to use his minute to wisely explain his philosophy about the role of state government. He also could have used some of the time to defend Democrats.

Instead he conclusively seemed to prove the point: They are not listening to or responding to constituents.

There is another Democrat in the race, school board member Jason Catala, who got the signatures to petition onto the ballot after city Democrats rallied early around Nolan. Green Party member Mirna Martinez says she would caucus with Democrats.

The endorsed Republican in the race is Kat Goulart, who distinguished herself in the debate with concise and thoughtful answers.

State Democrats would probably get a fairly reliable vote on most issues from any of the candidates except Goulart.

No one seemed as programmed in the evolving Democratic agenda for the next session of the General Assembly than Nolan. Democrat Catala specifically rejected some of the very same taxes that Lamont proposed this week. Martinez twice rejected a chance to endorse the Democrats' maneuvers to change the rules on energy pricing for Millstone electricity.

Nolan, on the other hand, was quick to endorse Gov. Lamont's extension of sales taxes to services, making a strange defense of the idea.

Expanding sales taxes beyond purchases of goods to services, Nolan said, would "close the gap" and "even the playing field."

So there you have it, if you want to even out the taxes you pay for services to what you pay for goods, to be more fair, make sure and send Councilor/Officer Nolan to Hartford.

All the candidates except Nolan showed, if not a broad understanding of all the complicated issues that await a freshman legislator in Hartford, at least evidence they have studied the issues and possible solutions. I thought it curious that both Nolan and Martinez talked about new taxes when asked about what cuts they would like to see to the budget.

Nolan got testy when he said people have suggested he was in favor of a groceries tax and asked where the notion of a groceries tax came from. You would think he would know the governor floated that himself. You might also wonder why adding groceries to the goods that are taxed wouldn't level that playing field.

Nolan, asked about a letter to the newspaper from a constituent complaining about his lack of responses to communications, answered by criticizing the letter writer. This led two of his opponents to complain about his lack of preparation and attendance at community meetings.

Martinez suggested that, while a school board member, she asked Councilor Nolan about a budget item after the first public disclosure of the city budget, and said he told her he hadn't read the budget. He didn't answer that rather explosive allegation.

Goulart also scored a zinger in response to Nolan's repeated assertions of his service for seven years on the council. He shouldn't be so proud of that, she said, given the steep property tax increases in that time.

Nolan didn't suggest many policy issues he would pursue, saying there are a "lot of things you have to decide when you get up there." The ones he did bring up seemed strange. If a marijuana bill, which he does not support, were to pass, he would want to make sure people who are "not the millionaires and billionaires" get some piece of the pie. He said he would support tolls at the borders and would recommend speed traps in between as revenue generators.

If I heard a Nolan platform, it was parity in sales tax on goods and services and more speed traps to raise money.

On the big things, he will figure it out when he gets up there.

Don't take my word for it. Have a watch.

Maybe someone can explain how, beyond likeability, Democratic officialdom in New London decided this was the best person to represent the city's interests in Hartford.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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