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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    Three candidates spar in 46th District debate

    Candidates for the 46th District state House seat, Republican challenger Rob Dempsky, center, and petitioning candidate Bonnie Hong, joke with each other about wanting more time as Democratic incumbent Emmett Riley, left, listens during the Lunch with the Candidates debate on TheDay.com in New London on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

    Norwich — The three candidates vying for the 46th District state House seat sparred on several issues during an hourlong debate hosted by The Day on Tuesday, including minimum wage, funding for local schools and the state budget, while all three said they would support expanding medical marijuana.

    Two-term Democratic incumbent Emmett Riley is being challenged by Republican Robert Dempsky, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Riley in 2014, and petitioning candidate Bonnie Hong, former City Council president, for the district that covers the southern and urban section of Norwich.

    Dempsky differed most from the other two candidates on the subjects of minimum wage and school funding.

    Hong said raising the minimum wage would help alleviate the state budget crisis as well as help families make ends meet. She said the minimum wage will rise to $10 per hour in January, but should be $15 an hour “so it's a livable wage.”

    “I can proudly say I have voted twice to increase the minimum wage, and I will certainly do it again until we get to a point probably much past $15 an hour for those individuals that work on a daily basis for 40 or 45 hours a week,” Riley said.

    Riley also promoted a plan House Democrats proposed that did not pass in the last legislative session, that would lower the taxes college graduates would pay on their first home purchases.

    Dempsky however, said the best way to keep people in Connecticut would be to reduce state spending and stop raising taxes. Raising the minimum wage would amount to another tax on businesses and could cost jobs, he said.

    “Frankly I think it's un-American for government to dictate to a private citizen what they must pay to another individual,” Dempsky said. “When you're talking about a wage of any kind, how is that transacted? That's two people, or a person and a business, agreeing on a job for a wage. Nobody is making anybody go to work for X amount of money. They freely enter into a contract.”

    “I am never in favor of keeping people in poverty, that actually makes slave workers out of American citizens,” Hong responded, making references to historic movements to end child labor and to enact minimum wage laws.

    “You may be lucky enough not to know a single person who is doing exactly that today in Norwich,” Hong said to Dempsky. “I know too many of them, that work two and three jobs. None of that is American.”

    Asked whether he would support Norwich's pending request for an estimated $87 million in state reimbursement for a possible $144 million school restructuring plan, Dempsky said sources have told him state school construction reimbursement “is not necessarily the best use of taxpayer money, both locally and statewide.” He said Norwich's plan could be a case of doing the project because the state money potentially is available.

    Dempsky said he strongly supports financial vouchers for families to choose their schools. With that, he said, if more students want to attend vocational schools, more such schools would open to meet the market demand.

    “I have a very difficult time even imagining a public school system totally depleted of real resources, which is what happens when you have a voucher system,” Hong responded.

    Riley, too, rejected school vouchers and said if Norwich voters support the school project at a future referendum, he would work to secure the state funding. He said the state should support improvements to Norwich's “struggling schools.”

    The candidates were more agreeable when addressing how to reduce the current opioid crisis that includes heroin addiction and overdose as well as over-use and misuse of prescription opioid drugs. Riley, vice chairman of the legislature's Public Health Committee, said he supported legislation that reduced opioid prescription supplies from 30 days to seven days to reduce overuse and abuse of the potent painkillers.

    All three candidates supported the expanded use of medical marijuana, both to reduce opioid use as a painkiller and to counteract addition to opioid drugs.

    With that issue raised, Hong suggested legalizing recreational use of marijuana as a possible way to raise state revenue. She later said, however, that Colorado's experience has been that legalizing marijuana hasn't been a financial boon, but neither has it led to more use of illegal drugs.

    Riley said he would have to see specific legislation and whether it would cost the state federal dollars before supporting legalizing recreational marijuana. Both Riley and Dempsky said the state could run into problems with federal enforcement of laws that make growing and selling marijuana illegal.

    Dempsky, who favors strong state governments over federal control in general, said Connecticut should hold off to allow time to learn the experiences of other states that already have legalized recreational marijuana.

    The debate was streamed live on theday.com, where it will be available for viewing through Election Day.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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