Bowles, Somers debate in 18th District state Senate race
Stonington — Timothy Bowles and Heather Somers fielded questions on topics such as gun control, a third Connecticut casino, the state’s fiscal problems, and the ongoing heroin epidemic.
But it was the query about whom they will support for president that elicited the loudest response from the audience at the debate of the 18th District state Senate candidates at Stonington High School on Tuesday night.
Republican Somers conceded she’s not thrilled about either Democrat Hillary Clinton or the GOP’s Donald Trump.
But when asked whom she will vote for on Nov. 8, the former mayor of the Town of Groton said while she doesn’t like things that Trump has said, she is more put off by things that Clinton has done.
“Therefore I will support my party's nominee,” she said, to applause from those there to support her.
Her opponent took a similar position, saying that for a country the size of the United States, it’s troubling that Trump and Clinton are the candidates of the two major political parties.
But Bowles, a Democrat and a former state representative and a former Preston selectman, said he intends to vote for Clinton, garnering applause of his own.
More than 100 people attended the debate sponsored by The Day and the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce between the two candidates vying to fill the seat being vacated by five-term state Sen. Andrew Maynard, who is not seeking re-election following a fall down a flight of stairs that left him with serious injuries, and a subsequent car crash.
Somers, 50, repeatedly touted her experience as a businesswoman and elected official in Groton as reasons why she will have the best insight to help steer Connecticut back to solvency and improve its climate to attract businesses.
Bowles, 66, who retired from the state after working in various departments for almost 30 years and served one term as a state representative, said he would improve government by working to decrease the number of legislators and install term limits in Hartford.
He proposes cutting the number of representatives in the state House to 108 from 151 and making the current two-year term a four-year term and capping it at three terms.
Somers attributed the state’s lousy financial condition to “one-party rule” and said if elected, she would support generally accepted accounting principles and the release of about $2 billion in tax credits to help lure new businesses.
Bowles advocated streamlining state agencies and divisions within some departments and making better use of the state’s Councils of Governments, which operate regionally.
Asked about campaign financing, Somers said she would support eliminating the Citizens Election Program, and cited the ongoing probe involving the use of funds in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election.
And as far as term limits, she said that’s the decision of voters.
“I’ve won at the ballot box and lost at the ballot box,” said Somers, who was the unsuccessful GOP lieutenant governor candidate in the 2014 elections.
Asked about collective bargaining and binding mediation regarding state employee contracts, Bowles said the state’s current problems date back to the administration of former Gov. John Rowland, who signed off on “a sweetheart deal” and that in recent years state employees have negotiated in good faith and made concessions.
“I believe and respect the collective bargaining process,” he said.
On the state’s gun laws, especially those enacted following the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Somers said she wouldn’t try to undo them, but she would not advocate for more.
She said she has a pistol permit and believes that people have the right to possess weapons.
Bowles said in the past, he voted against a gun bill and it is one of his greatest regrets. But he also said he believes there needs to be a federal approach to gun legislation.
Both candidates said more needs to be done to address the issue of mental health and guns.
A number of topics reverted back to the question of the state’s business climate, and Somers repeatedly stated that, to attract businesses, the state must get its fiscal house in order and make it easier to secure state approvals.
“It’s not helpful when you tell someone here’s the 52 permits you have to fill out to become a business,” she said.
In fighting the heroin problem, Bowles proposed a partnership approach, including community stakeholders such as faith groups, along with government, to work toward solutions.
But Somers, who said she was personally touched by the problem when a young relative died of an overdose, called it a health crisis and said the state has a responsibility to address it.
The League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut helped with timekeeping at the hourlong debate, which was moderated by Paul Choiniere, The Day’s editorial page editor.
Managing editor Tim Cotter and retired editor Lisa McGinley helped in asking questions.
The 18th District encompasses the towns of Voluntown, Griswold, Preston, Stonington, North Stonington, Sterling, Plainfield and Groton.
Readers will be able to view a video of the debate on theday.com until election day.