Four New London candidates seeking state house seat
New London — The lawn signs are out, voting ballots secured in locked cabinets and the four candidates vying for a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives are scrambling to get their message out to voters.
The special election for the 39th District House seat will be held on Feb. 26 — giving candidates less than seven weeks to gather enough support to send them to Hartford. The 39th District encompasses the city's first and second voting districts, where there are a total 13,314 registered voters — 6,493 Democrats, 1,075 Republicans, 5,578 unaffiliated and 168 from other political parties.
The seat was held by Chris Soto, who announced his resignation and is now working as legislative affairs director for the Gov. Ned Lamont administration.
The special election pits a police officer against two school board members and a former small business owner. The candidates are petitioning candidate Jason Catala, Green Party member Mirna Martinez, Republican Kat Goulart and Democrat Anthony Nolan.
In emails and through interviews, the candidates shared their thoughts on issues ranging from tolls and the legalization of recreational marijuana to casinos and paid family leave. Candidates also talked about the Connecticut Port Authority’s new agreement with the city related to State Pier — a minimum annual payment of $125,000.
Catala, 44, is a Democrat and an academic coach in the New Haven school district who has served seven terms as a school board member and one term on the City Council. He has made multiple unsuccessful runs at the state representative seat dating back to 2000, when he was a Republican. He registered as a Democrat in 2013.
Catala thinks the city could have gotten a better deal with the state Port Authority. He is against tolls, said they would be a “burden on the working class” and is skeptical that revenues from the tolls, should they be implemented, will go toward the state’s transportation infrastructure as promised.
“In the past, monies earmarked for initiatives never made it to the proposed initiative,” he said.
Catala said he would not support the legalization of marijuana if the vote were held today but is still considering the arguments for and against. He said he has concerns that revenue generated for the state from marijuana sales would be at the expense of the health and safety of residents.
“I am still researching, and getting feedback on this important topic. There are many pros and cons in legalizing marijuana. To me it seems this bill is being proposed due to the state’s lack of ability to budget and fund programs and positions in place now. Perhaps there needs to be a complete reconstruction of positions that the state of CT currently funds. Do we need all the commissioners we have?" he said.
Catala supports a paid family and medical leave program but does not support paycheck reduction to fund it. He supports the pending bill to eliminate federal approval for the proposed East Windsor casino. If elected, Catala said he would never vote on party lines for the “sake of the party.”
“I always put the citizens of New London at the forefront when voting on issues that come to the table.”
He said tax relief for property owners in the district is a priority and thinks the number of state legislators could be cut from 151 to 130 to save money.
“We must look at ways we are spending our current dollars, we must reorganize the legislature and institute term limits so that we don’t have to pay life benefits to future state reps who serve ten or more years,” he said.
Goulart, 38, a Republican, has secured a place on the ballot as both a Republican and Independent Party candidate. She is the former owner of Kat Bakes Cakes, former president of Easy Bail Bonds and is now self-employed in the health and wellness industry. Goulart is a member of the Police Community Relations Committee and Economic Development Commission. She made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the City Council in the last election.
Goulart said the city’s deal with the state Port Authority is not sufficient. “Yet again, our city is being told what crumbs the state will give us, and it’s unacceptable," she said.
She is against tolls and thinks “at best, only 30 percent of the revenue generated from tolls will be from out-of-state drivers, meaning 70 percent will be paid by already cash-strapped Connecticut residents.”
“We absolutely cannot reach into the pockets of residents until the State takes measures to address overspending and discontinues raiding the Transportation Fund for special projects," she said.
Goulart said she is personally against the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana but would vote "yes" in Hartford because the overwhelming majority of local voters have expressed support.
“The job is state representative, which I interpret as representing constituents, not bringing a personal agenda to Hartford,” she said.
In the area of paid family leave, Goulart said the issue needs to be addressed, but “the current proposal doesn’t seem to be financially sustainable in the long run and needs some tweaking in order to both benefit the employee and not be financially burdensome on the state.”
She would support a current bill to eliminate the need for federal approval of the proposed East Windsor casino, sees opportunities for bipartisanship and thinks some of the most pressing local issues surround New London’s share of the state’s payment in lieu of taxes and educational costs sharing programs.
“We must demand that lawmakers address overspending and city waste, so that New London doesn’t suffer by receiving reduced State funds, as we’ve seen happen year after year. When this happens, the taxpayers of the city are forced to make up the difference, and we simply don’t have more to give!”
Martinez, 46, is a former bilingual teacher who is serving her third term as a member of the Board of Education. She served as the board's president for the past year.
Martinez said she was heartened by the news that New London will see an increase in annual funds from the State Port Authority for use of State Pier, along with the investment by the state for millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements. She said if elected she would work toward further opportunities for New London and a spot on the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee.
She views tolls as an additional tax burden that could unfairly impact lower-income and student commuters who live in the state. If tolls are constructed, Martinez said, she would like to see the focus be out-of-state commuters and tractor trailers with exemptions for certain in-state commuters.
Martinez said she is in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana but wants to see specific language before voting on a bill legalizing recreational marijuana. She thinks revenue should not be the driving force behind legalization and that there should be a phased rollout of legalization to ensure proper regulations are in place.
The money from marijuana sales, if it becomes legal, should be earmarked for education and for communities most harmed by repercussions of the war on drugs and the current opioid addiction crisis, she said.
She supports paid family leave and wants to perform more research before backing a proposed bill to eliminate the need for federal approval of the proposed East Windsor casino.
Martinez thinks a universal health care system in the state could be palatable to legislators on both sides of the aisle, a measure that would protect the vulnerable while helping to promote business.
Martinez said one of her focuses if she is elected is ensuring urban centers such as New London get their fair share from the state’s payment in lieu of taxes program. She also wants to see a more equitable car-tax program statewide that doesn’t overly burden municipalities with already high tax rates.
Nolan, 51, a Democrat, is a Navy veteran, an 18-year member of the city police department and a deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church and is serving his fourth term on the City Council. He served for the past year as the council president and is known for his work with city youth. Nolan said he would relinquish his post on the council if elected and pointed out that he works the overnight shift, freeing his days for legislative work.
Nolan said he supports tolls “only if the discount provided to CT residents is sufficient. Out-of-state trucks have been wreaking havoc on our highways for decades and CT taxpayers have been footing 100 percent of the bill.”
Nolan said as a former school resource officer he taught kids the dangers of drugs and alcohol and has “heavy concerns” about the legalization of recreational marijuana but understands “it’s going to happen.”
“We should be discussing how legalization should work to undo damages to communities most impacted by the war on drugs. I do support expunging records and creating incentives for the cannabis industry to hire ex-offenders,” he said.
Nolan applauded the mayor for his deal with the Connecticut Port Authority: “For years New London was steamrolled seeing no share of the revenue at State Pier. This deal is a great starting point. In any future negotiations, I will be strong advocate for New London's interests.”
Nolan is an advocate of paid family leave and supports the pending bill that would eliminate the need for federal approval of the proposed East Windsor casino.
He sees regionalization as an area for bipartisanship and criminal justice reform as one of the key areas he would like to focus on.
“As a community police officer, every day I see formerly incarcerated folks struggling not to repeat the same behaviors they were locked up for. Providing more education and services both in our jails and after release will help these folks do right and make positive contributions to our community,” he said.
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