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Statchen takes on Somers in 18th Senate District debate

Democratic challenger Bob Statchen of Stonington sharpened his attacks on Republican state Sen. Heather Somers of Groton Wednesday night, repeatedly faulting her for not disavowing President Donald Trump, whom he called “the embodiment of divisiveness” during an hourlong debate at the Garde Arts Center in New London.

Somers, running for a third term in the 18th District, did otherwise, portraying herself as a dogged legislator who reads bills in their entirety before she votes on them. She said her opponent has engaged in lies, deception and law-breaking during the campaign.

“I’m sure Sen. Somers would like to believe that the president and her standing by him is not the most important issue in this election, but to many voters it is,” Statchen said. “It’s about decency and the rule of law. Sen. Somers is doing everything she can to distance herself from the president — except what voters want, which is to be their voice, to disavow and condemn his words and actions.”

Somers defeated Statchen in 2018, garnering 55% of the vote in the district, which includes Griswold, Groton, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston, Sterling, Stonington and Voluntown.

Somers scoffed at her opponent’s claim that by not denouncing the president’s dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency and his nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice seen as likely to support the overturning of Roe v. Wade, she was “creating doubts” about her values.

“I don’t have to defend my values,” she said. “I’m not running for federal office. I have to represent everyone in my district regardless of who they support for president.”

The candidates agreed that Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has done a good job handling the COVID-19 pandemic, though Somers said he should have waited a few weeks before pushing ahead with the third phase of the state’s reopening plan, given the recent spike in coronavirus cases.

She voted against extending the executive powers the governor invoked to manage the pandemic at its outset.

“What’s the alternative?” Statchen said. “Does everything open up? The Republicans who voted against the emergency powers should have proposed a plan. It’s like the Republicans wanting to get rid of ACA (the Affordable Care Act) but they have no plan.”

Statchen accused Somers of expressing support for broad legislative proposals but then voting against specific legislation, citing her opposition to the state’s minimum wage act, a family leave bill and the police accountability bill passed by the legislature in July. Somers has denounced the latter, calling it a “horrible bill” that was hurriedly passed without being properly vetted.

“We need to change the bill,” she said, adding that she supports parts of it, including provisions pertaining to body cameras, mental health checks and more training for police officers. But a provision overhauling officers’ protections from lawsuits is causing many early retirements among police, she said.

During the live-streamed, no-audience debate, the candidates were distanced from one another at podiums arranged on the stage of the Garde Arts Center. They responded to questions posed by Paul Choiniere, The Day's editorial page editor; Lee Elci, 94.9 News Now radio talk show host and contributing Day columnist; and Julia Bergman, a Day staff writer and editorial board member.

Tensions between the campaigns escalated this week when the chairman of the Stonington Republican Town Committee, Shaun Mastroianni, announced he was filing a complaint against Statchen with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Mastroianni alleged Statchen campaign mailers linking Somers and Trump violated election laws that prohibit a campaign from spending public funds on ads targeting a federal candidate.

Statchen’s campaign maintains it violated no law because it shared the cost of the ads against “an outside candidate” with the Groton and Stonington Democratic town committees.

The SEEC, which met by telephone Wednesday morning, has not received Mastroianni’s complaint, a commission spokesman said Wednesday afternoon. Mastroianni said later he has received documentation that the complaint was delivered to the commission Tuesday and confirmed he intends to pursue the matter.

The commission did act Wednesday to accept a complaint Statchen filed earlier this month against Somers over what he said “appears to be illegal coordination” between the Somers for Senate campaign and Somers PAC, a political action committee. A Somers campaign spokesman has denied the PAC made any payments benefiting the campaign.

The candidates also sparred on occasion during the summer, starting with Statchen’s charge in August that the Somers campaign had engaged in deceptive “push polling” that referred to him as “Radical Bob Statchen,” a nickname hung on him in 2018.

The claim involved phone calls that Statchen supporters said started out like opinion polls but eventually advocated for Somers and against Statchen. Somers’ campaign spokesman dismissed Statchen’s objections, insisting the calls were no more than traditional surveys aimed at determining voters’ stands on the issues.

Statchen also has complained about Somers campaign flyers' unauthorized use of photographs of Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick and police officers and staff members, saying it gave the misimpression the officials were endorsing her re-election bid.

Somers has secured endorsements from several law enforcement groups, including the Police Officers Union of Connecticut, the New London Police Union, the Stonington Police Union and the Connecticut State Fraternal Order of Police. She also has been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business Connecticut PAC, the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, Connecticut Realtors and Planned Parenthood Votes.

Statchen has been endorsed by the Independent Party of Connecticut, the Connecticut Working Families Party and NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut.



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