19th District Senate candidates spar in Norwich debate
Norwich ― During a Wednesday night debate, the two candidates vying for the 19th state Senate seat disagreed on how they would approach issues such as education, marijuana and early voting.
Incumbent Democrat Cathy Osten faces political newcomer Pietro Camardella, a Norwich Republican, in the district that covers Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Norwich and Sprague.
Moderator Sandra Laub of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut asked questions, some posed by members of the Norwich NAACP youth council and the NFA Young Voters Society, during the debate at Norwich Free Academy Wednesday.
Asked for their priorities if elected, Camardella stressed the need to cut taxes. He said the state has a surplus of “over $1 billion” and legislators “won’t even talk about it.”
Osten said in the last legislative session she was “very honored” to approve $600 million in tax reductions, and she has been working to cut taxes for seniors, including taxes on annuities, Social Security and eliminated income taxes on veterans’ pensions. Retired teachers also now have a cap on their income taxes. The $600 million in tax reductions included a reduction in the state gas tax.
“Many retirees have told me that that is a significant reason why they chose to stay here in Connecticut,” Osten said, “particularly our veterans.”
Camardella called Osten’s response “an alternative universe.”
Asked how the state should enforce the new law legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana to keep it from youths, Camardella said he is against legalized marijuana, except for strictly controled prescribed medical marijuana. He said recreational marijuana would lead to use of other drugs, “and then they will get stuck with fentanyl, which is deadly.” He said other states regret legalizing marijuana.
“We need children, young men and young women to go to church, to go to school, to learn a trade,” Camardella said.
Osten called legalized marijuana a “new, emerging cannabis industry.” She said the state for years has enforced age restrictions on alcohol and state and local law enforcement would do the same with legal adult-use recreational marijuana.
“Massachusetts has been doing it for a number of years and has effectively enforced the rules and regulations,” Osten said. “I don’t see that as a problem. We have great law enforcement here, and they are certainly able to enforce the rules.”
The Nov. 8 ballot has a referendum question on whether the state Constitution should be amended to allow the legislature to enact early voting laws. The candidates were asked if they supported the measure and whether they would accept the results of the election.
Both said they would accept the tallied results but disagreed on the state Constitutional question.
“I think it’s important for us to have early voting and for us to discuss the pieces of early voting,” Osten said. She added that no-excuse absentee balloting provides “a good methodology” for early voting.
Camardella opposed early voting and expanded absentee voting beyond a voter’s inability to make it to the polls on Election Day.
“It doesn’t have to take two weeks, three weeks, five weeks,” he said. “The whole world votes on one day. Italy just voted on Sunday. So, we’ll use Tuesday, Nov. 8. Be there. We can do this. And for those exceptions, let’s make arrangements.”
Osten countered that 46 other states have early voting.
“We would only be joining 46 other states,” Osten said.
One student asked how the legislature should ensure schools are teaching mandated Black, Latino and Native American history.
Camardella said the parents should decide what is taught in schools, and elected boards of education should implement what the parents decided.
“The curriculum in the schools has to be the will of the parents,” Camardella said. “The parents dictate what their children should be learning, and the board of education and the state of Connecticut just deliver what the parents desires are.”
Osten said the legislature voted to require Black, Latino and Native American histories be taught, and in Connecticut, the state Department of Education has the authority to set curriculum. It has started rolling out Black and Latino studies curriculum, and schools are starting to teach it, Osten said.
“History in and of itself should be taught as it happened, not as something that we don’t know about,” Osten said. “That’s exactly why we are teaching Black and Latino. The Native American curriculum will have the same thing. The Native American curriculum requires that the Northeastern woodland tribes get an opportunity to explain their history.”
“It’s not the boards that dictate,” Camardella said. “It’s the people that tell the boards what we want. Once and for all, let’s get this straight.”