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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Somers, Rajab vie for 18th District state senate seat

    State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, a three-term incumbent, and Democrat Farouk Rajab, the chair of the Stonington Board of Education, are vying to represent the 18th Senate District in the Nov. 8 election.

    The senate district includes Griswold, Groton, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston, Sterling, Stonington and Voluntown.

    Somers, 56, is married with three children and one grandchild, and lives on the Groton side of Mystic. She served on the Groton Town Council, including as town mayor, ran for lieutenant governor in 2014 with gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, and was elected to her first term as state senator in 2016.

    Somers said she is seeking reelection because she sees a real need for balance of the one-party rule in Hartford and that she works in a bipartisan manner. She said she is running on a record that includes work on the Public Health Committee to put the state on the forefront of opiate legislation and to push for increased use of telemedicine, as well as her work on the 2017 bipartisan budget, and the drive for reform and accountability at Whiting Forensic Hospital. Somers said being retired gives her more time to spend on the large district. She cited making connections with constituents and helping solve their problems as the most rewarding part of her legislative job.

    Rajab, 51, is married with three children and lives in Pawcatuck. He has worked in the hospitality business for the last 30 years, including six years as the general manager of the Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa, and currently as the general manager of the Providence Marriott Downtown. He has become involved with various associations and chamber of commerce boards and has served on the board of the Stonington Community Center for the past ten years. He joined the Stonington Board of Education in 2018 and is now chairman.

    He said he got more involved in politics seven years ago, at a time when society was focusing on party politics, so he could focus on the future of children. He’s said he’s running to build a better future for his children and grandchildren and has learned in the hospitality business the value of hard work, helping people grow and listening to learn. He said he also knows how to build consensus.

    Top priorities

    Somers said the affordability of the state, especially with the high rate of inflation, and workforce development are critical issues. She said she has a 100% rating with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which recently developed a plan to make things easier for businesses to survive. She said she’s an advocate of listening to industries, whether it’s physicians, small businesses, or teachers, who often are facing state mandates that are crushing them.

    One of her ideas is to create a medical magnet high school, where someone, for example, could graduate with a licensed practical nurse degree, which she said is an ideal position to work at long-term facilities that are struggling to hire people.

    The legislature also needs to make sure students are where they should be as far as their education, because students are in many cases two years behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Somers said.

    Somers also cited the critical need for the state to come up with a solution to the closing of the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) waste-to-energy plant in Hartford.

    Somers said she’s not against wind power, but a top priority for her is to protect commercial fishermen from any unintended consequences from wind power. She also said the wind power companies also need to create a mitigation fund to offset their impact.

    Rajab said he is passionate about preK-12 education and healthcare, which he believes are the foundations for a better society.

    He said on the Board of Education, he appointed only educators to the curriculum committee, and similarly he thinks legislators need to listen to educators. He said some of the state mandates for schools are being implemented too quickly and without thought process, and he thinks “a lot of one-sided conversation happens in Hartford.”

    If elected, Rajab said he’ll work to make healthcare affordable, including capping prices, premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. He proposes bringing together doctors, pharmacists, hospital executives, employers, and state officials to come up with solutions.

    “I dream of an America where people don’t have to choose between healthcare or food,” Rajab said.

    He said he wants to make the state overall more affordable and called for growing the tax base. He said investments, such as in education and healthcare, will help draw people and companies to Connecticut.

    He also said improving mass transit, including airports and expanding rail, will help make the state more affordable.

    With a surplus of revenue, the state could temporarily help offset inflation such as by putting a freeze on the excise tax on cars or reducing the income tax, he added.

    Video interview

    Rajab and Somers answered a series of six questions about issues in video interviews with The Day.

    On a question about affordable housing, Somers said the state could better advertise existing programs that help people buy a home, for example, and proposed incentivizing towns to work with its residents about how to incorporate affordable housing.

    Rajab said affordable housing is important for communities and proposed helping them by improving infrastructure that then would help support affordable housing.

    When asked whether some of the state’s surplus should be used to lower pension debt or returned to taxpayers, Somers said she would like to pay down the debt because Connecticut has exorbitant debt, but she doesn’t want to spend the whole surplus on that. Although the state has a surplus now, she said the state is looking at major deficits in the next two years.

    She said she would like to see more of the surplus money be used to help people pay their heating bills this winter. She said her caucus would like to give people some additional relief for heating bills.

    Rajab said the pension is a commitment the state made and needs to live up to. He supported paying down the pension debt, because it’s debt that he and others children and grandchildren would have to pay. If not addressed, he said the debt would only continue to grow and get worse.

    He said paying down the debt is important, but the state also needs to look at bringing in companies to grow its tax base to lower the tax burden on residents.

    Both Somers and Rajab said they believe Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

    The full video interviews are available on www.theday.com.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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