DeLucia seeking to unseat Ryan in 139th House District race

Republican Nick DeLucia is making a hard push to take the seat long held by Democrat Kevin Ryan in the 139th House District race.

Voters in Bozrah, Montville and Norwich have a choice between Ryan, who is running for his 14th term, and newcomer DeLucia, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Ryan, 66, of Montville, is a physics professor at the University of New Haven and has been serving the district for 26 years. He graduated from Villanova University in 1974 and holds two bachelor’s degrees, in biology and English. He also received a master’s in community psychology from the University of New Haven and a doctor of optometry degree from Pennsylvania College of Optometry.

In the General Assembly, Ryan has served as a deputy speaker since 2011, and is a member of the Public Health, Environment and Appropriations committees. 

DeLucia, 34, graduated from the Norwich Free Academy in 2003 before joining the Marine Corps. He was medically discharged from the service in 2007, and moved to Branford to take a job as a salesman for AT&T. He now works in New London as a sales manager and also is vice president of AT&T’s veterans employee resource group for Connecticut and New England.

In Branford, DeLucia started volunteering with veteran’s organizations before serving on the Representative Town Meeting for a year beginning in 2015. After being transferred to New London, DeLucia and his wife Maryn bought a home in Norwich in 2016. They have a 5-year-old daughter. Since moving to Norwich, DeLucia said he has been active in town, attending town hall meetings and learning about the issues that affect the district.

Ryan said that after 26 years in the legislature, he has the know-how to help his constituents on a state level. He said his experience enabled him to successfully work through several tough budget seasons while also working to address the opioid crisis and championing legislation that expanded access to medical marijuana for children.

“We were able to sit there and see what we’ve done in the past and not make the same mistakes again," Ryan said. "We did go through a period where we had to do a couple tough budgets, and that led us to the last session where we worked out two bipartisan budgets. My experience has helped us get through that tough part.”

DeLucia said he has been “campaigning hard,” making calls and knocking on thousands of doors during this election season.

“I’m not subscribed to party lines,” he said in an interview. “I want to represent the individuals in Norwich, Montville and Bozrah. I want to represent this district. I want to bring honest leadership here to the district and allow people’s voices to be heard again in Hartford.”

“I’m socially independent and fiscally conservative. I believe in helping people,” he said.

Regarding Ryan’s track record, DeLucia said, “He has voted for two of the highest tax increases in the history of our state." DeLucia said Ryan was on the Appropriations Committee that approved a budget that partially restricted state aid to Montville and Norwich.

In response, Ryan said that establishing a budget is more complicated and nuanced than some may realize.

Both candidates agreed that keeping taxes low and adequately funding education costs to district schools are top issues facing the 139th District, while they differed on issues ranging from ways to help the state’s economy to proposed highway tolls. DeLucia is adamantly against highway tolls, while Ryan feels that they would help fund necessary infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Both agreed on other matters, such as a zero-based budgeting approach to the state’s budget and eliminating the minimum budget requirements for towns. Both have reservations about legalizing recreational marijuana use.

DeLucia said he has concerns about adequately testing for marijuana intoxication during traffic stops and worries that children could get a hold of baked items containing THC.

“It can’t just be a revenue source. We can’t just think about passing things because we want money,” DeLucia said. “I think we need to study it more. How do we make sure our children are safe while still getting revenue? We can’t just tax our way out.”

Ryan said that while he liked the idea of using tax revenue generated by recreational marijuana use to address the state’s larger opioid crisis, he said he also would prefer to see additional studies on the substance and its widespread effects.

“There is conflicting info whether marijuana is a gateway drug to the opioid issue,” Ryan said. “I think we need to be cautious going forward.”

Ryan added that he has worked to pass legislation addressing various aspects of the opioid crisis, seeing that naloxone, or Narcan, is readily available to first responders throughout the state. He said he has worked to limit the amount of painkillers prescribed at a time, requiring doctors to keep a registry of not just who they prescribe to, but how much is prescribed, and said he helped pass legislation requiring opioid overdoses to be documented in a separate registry.

DeLucia said a $15 minimum wage should not be mandated by the state, but rather businesses should decide how much to pay their employees.

“The cost of living and what the market will allow should determine an individual’s wage. It shouldn’t be something that the government should mandate, otherwise businesses would leave,” he said.

Ryan said he supported the idea but felt the change should not be implemented suddenly, allowing for businesses to gradually ease into those added costs. Ryan added that while serving as chairman of the Labor Committee, the concept of paid family leave was proposed.

“It’s important to maintain families in this region,” he said. “People can’t afford to take that time off, so we have to have a system, one where people would pay into that system, so it wouldn’t just be a burden on the employer. I’ve been supportive of that.”

When it comes to Bob Stefanowski’s proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax, DeLucia said he didn’t feel the idea was immediately realistic.

“(The income tax) is a huge percentage of the backbone of our budget,” DeLucia said. “It’s one of those things. You aim for the moon. If you miss, you land among the stars. We aim for a 100 percent reduction in income tax, what if we get 30 percent? Think about the savings we will see for the taxpayer.”

Ryan worried that eliminating the income tax would force cuts to other necessary social services and programs.

“I kind of like (Stefanowski’s) concept of zero-based budgeting. Really implementing that would probably be a good thought, and once (Stefanowski) does that, he probably would realize some savings, but he probably wouldn’t realize $10 million worth in savings.”

Both candidates emphasized a need to address job growth in Connecticut and in New London County.

Ryan says that southeastern Connecticut is in a peculiar situation with employment at the casinos declining and employment at Electric Boat increasing. He said he has been looking to support high school programs that would help prepare students for manufacturing jobs once completing high school.

DeLucia argued that Connecticut’s tax laws should be changed to encourage a friendlier business climate in state.

“We need to keep business here. Connecticut needs to be business friendly,” DeLucia said “Incentives are great, but they are not sustainable. Once an incentive expires, the taxes jump so high on businesses. It needs to be something that gradually increases. Towns will have to adjust property taxes, giving (businesses) an abatement. States should stay out of that.”

m.biekert@theday.com

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