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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Refusing to debate, maybe Sen. Somers fears the Trump question?

    The word ricocheting around the region’s political circuits this week was that Republicans were refusing to participate in debates for three legislative races to be hosted by two chambers of commerce in Stonington.

    That turns out not to be true.

    In fact, state Sen. Heather Somers last week told the League of Women Voters, the organization that was going to run the event for the chambers, that she and the other Republicans would not debate because they reject the league’s rules and format. In particular, she said they don’t want to talk about national issues.

    “Heather Somers said she was speaking on behalf of all the Republicans, that she had authority to speak on their behalf,” Joanne Moore, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut, told me.

    “She spoke very authoritatively that she was speaking for all the Republicans . . . she said it three times.”

    And yet when I reached out to Robert Boris, the Republican running against Democrat Aundré Bumgardner and unaffiliated candidate James Dunigan, he told me he is glad to debate as often as anyone would like. He said he made no objections to the league’s rules.

    Boris said he could not attend the meeting last week, knew nothing about Republicans rejecting the debate format and learned only by email from a chamber president that the chambers were changing to a candidates’ forum format instead.

    The other Republican included in the event, Rep. Greg Howard of Stonington, said he “was available for both dates offered for the candidate night/debate.”

    “I look forward to debating the issues with my opponent,” Ashley Gillece of Stonington.

    So it looks like it is only Sen. Somers who has rejected a debate.

    She did not respond to emails from me, but she texted Boris in response to them, asking him to call me to clarify his remarks. He did call, but what he told me didn’t change.

    I understand Somers’ reluctance and the worry she expressed to the league that she doesn’t want to field questions on national issues.

    That would include the question of whether the candidates believe Donald Trump’s lie that he won in 2020. Somers’ constituents in the hard-right northern reaches of her district would expect a very different answer to that question than moderates along the shoreline.

    I suspect she might also be wary of a debate question about abortion, which, of course, is very much a local issue now.

    But avoiding a debate herself is very different from suggesting that her Republican colleagues would also refuse to debate in a League of Women Voters format.

    It turns out, by the time I spoke to Boris, the league had already starting planning a separate debate in his race with the two other candidates, excluding him, based on Somers’ representation that he was rejecting it. He contacted the league and is now being included.

    If I were the candidate running against Republican Howard, I would challenge him to a debate, since he says he is willing. I’m sure the league would oblige.

    And if I were the supporters of Somers’ opponent, Democrat Farouk Rajab, I would turn up in big numbers at the chambers’ Sept. 29th event at the La Grua Center in Stonington, the debate which has been rechristened as a forum, with no questions by journalists or the public.

    I would hand out rubber chickens and protest loudly about a sitting senator in a party that is increasingly denying election results and the norms of democracy who now won’t even debate her opponent.

    We can do much better than that in Connecticut.

    And if I were the Republican candidate in the 41st District, who was almost excluded from a debate in his race that he wants to participate in, because of inaccurate, self-serving representations made by Somers, I would give the senator a very big piece of my mind.

    This is the opinion of David Collins

    d.collins@theday.com

    This column has been edited to include comments from Rep. Greg Howard.

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