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Election race begins in 37th House District

The race for the 37th District state House seat has begun, with three candidates stepping forward.

The district, which covers East Lyme and Salem, currently is represented by Republican Holly Cheeseman, who is seeking re-election for her third term this fall. Newly elected East Lyme Board of Education member Cate Steel this week announced her Democratic candidacy for the seat. And a third candidate, Democrat Hugh McKenney of Salem, also has announced he will run.

McKenney, who sits on Salem's Board of Selectmen, also has served on his town’s Planning and Zoning Commission for eight years, five as its chair, and worked as a supervisor at Dominion Energy’s Millstone Power Station in Waterford. According to his campaign website, McKenney is looking to address issues around economic stability, budgeting, gun safety, the environment and education.

Cheeseman, who was first elected to her position in 2016, previously sat on the East Lyme Board of Selectmen from 2011 to 2017, is the current chair of the East Lyme Republican Town Committee and is a past member of the East Lyme Board of Assessment Appeals. As a state representative, she serves on the Finance, Revenue & Bonding and Energy & Technology committees, and as a ranking member on the General Law Committee of the General Assembly. She currently works as the executive director for the Southeastern Connecticut Children’s Museum.

In a phone call Wednesday, Cheeseman highlighted her recent achievements, including co-sponsoring bills supporting wider mental health benefits through insurance companies, safer gun storage and more accountability to those who sell the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

She also has focused on supporting local business, conducting quarterly business councils in East Lyme and Salem to ensure business owners’ issues are heard and addressed, “making sure that they can live in a state they can afford and have the tools they need to grow and thrive," while also seeking, in particular, expanding manufacturing training to high school students and helping a handful of local breweries succeed.

“These are businesses started by young people who are betting everything to make a go of it in our state,” Cheeseman said. “It’s important we support what they are doing. We need to make sure they succeed.”

Having just stepped into her first publicly elected position on the East Lyme Board of Education in November, Steel said by phone Wednesday she feels empowered by the positivity she experienced during her campaign and realized through that experience she desired to further give back, reach out, make an impact and bring her community together. She said her platform will be based around state budgeting resolutions, supporting veterans and “improving the quality of education and the quality of life from early childhood through retirement,” among other points.

As a retired speech pathologist, Steel said she has worked with students from 3 years of age through high school over the duration of her 35-year career and has continued to teach improvisation classes in the Norwich school system since retiring. She also frequently works with seniors, holding storytelling sessions, while also serving as board president of two area nonprofits: the Norwich-based Artreach, “which supports health and wellness through the creative and performing arts,” and the New London-based Connecticut Storytelling Center, “which promotes living art through storytelling,” Steel said in a news release.

She said her experience in the school system has given her a unique perspective on educational and public policy issues and believes her position on the school board will meld well with the state representative position, allowing her to bring state-level insight back to her position in town and vice versa.

“My ability to assess situations and identify solutions will bring new legislation into law. Collaboration and cooperation across the aisle will be immediate,” Steel wrote in a news release. “When elected, I will work tenaciously for all of the residents of Salem and East Lyme.”

The Democratic Town Committee will hold its caucus to select 10 candidates in March to attend a nominating convention in May to endorse its candidate for the office. A potential primary to select the final candidate for the district may be held in August.

m.biekert@theday.com

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