Rotella, Donahue debate in North Stonington

North Stonington — Bolstering business, environmental protections and state government spending were just a few of the topics touched on during the 43rd District state representative Democratic primary debate held Monday evening. 

More than 70 people crowded into the Wheeler High Media Room to get their first glimpse of Kate Rotella and Chris Donahue, the two candidates vying for the right to run as their party’s candidate during the general election and ultimately replace outgoing state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who served nine terms. 

For North Stonington residents, Monday’s debate, sponsored by the North Stonington Democratic Town Committee and the League of Women Voters, also took on a special importance because for many it was the first time they were getting to know Rotella and Donahue, who are both from Stonington.

And after 17 questions, all of which were submitted in writing by the audience and spanned a variety of issues, residents likely left feeling they at least got a small taste of who the candidates are and their positions on issues.

“I am running for state representative of the 43rd District because I am committed to serving our community. ... It’s my home,” said Rotella, a Stonington Selectwoman, in her opening statement, adding that she felt her professional education and background left her uniquely qualified for the position.

Specifically, Rotella highlighted her bachelors degree in economics and finance, masters degree in public administration, and prior work in Stonington and her experience working in government for over the past 10 years as readying her for the role. She currently works as the purchasing manager for the Capital Region Education Council in Hartford and is the vice chairman of the Stonington K-12 School Building Committee, which oversees the ongoing $67 million renovation and expansion of two elementary schools.

In his opening statement, Donahue, a Pawcatuck resident and sales consultant at Valenti Auto Mall in Mystic, highlighted his desire to serve and experience the past 10 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Pawcatuck Fire Department.

“I learned to work together as teams to get the job done in crisis situations no matter what,” Donahue said of his experience as a firefighter. “I believe I can bring the same guts to Hartford.”

Both candidates expressed their support for the state exploring tolls to help address infrastructure and stressed that they felt money from tolls needed to go into a lockbox or transportation fund. The candidates also expressed similar attitudes in favor of the state taking environment protection into its own hands in light of federal EPA regulation rollbacks, as well as about supporting first responder training and treatment programs that transition into job training to support those impacted by the opioid epidemic. 

Both candidates also expressed their opposition to the idea of third casino coming to Connecticut, and emphasized that the state needed to reexamine its distribution of slot revenue to more fairly support host communities.

When it came to the issue of how to help reverse the flow of industries leaving the state, Donahue emphasized looking at state spending, trying to incentivize small businesses and promoting vocational training to help stem the tide.

“We incentivize small businesses ... that brings more jobs to this district,” Donahue said. “That not only gives them incentives to stay and grow their business, but it trains the new workforce.” 

“We need vocational training around here," he continued, "because there’s a lot of jobs around here. ... There's a lot of jobs to fill at EB and in other parts of the state.”

Whereas Rotella also emphasized stabilizing the state budget and investing in small businesses, she also stressed the importance of looking at infrastructure. 

“We need to look at our infrastructure here in the state. We need to look at our roads,” Rotella said. “We also need to be more stable in our budget, we need to project a positive stable environment for people, something they can count on.” 

“There are a lot of things that we can do for growing our business here in Connecticut,” she added.

On the issue of allow communities to enact their own hotel tax, Rotella said it was something she was willing to explore, whereas Donahue said that right now he would be in favor of it, as long as it goes back to the community. 

Stonington and North Stonington Democrats will have the opportunity to vote in the primary Aug. 14.

c.clark@theday.com

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