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    Thursday, August 11, 2022

    Scott, Conley square off in 40th District debate

    Candidates for the Connecticut House of Representatives 40th District seat, Democrat Christine Conley, left, and Republican John Scott shake hands at the conclusion of The Day's Lunch with the candidates forum at The Day's offices in New London, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

    Incumbent Republican lawmaker John F. Scott defended his work on behalf of his 40th District House constituents in a lunchtime debate Tuesday with Democratic challenger Christine Conley.

    The candidates verbally sparred on topics ranging from Interstate 95 improvements to tolls, education funding, tourism dollars, the opioid epidemic, a third tribal casino and the region's slow economic recovery.

    One major point of disagreement was support for the school construction program that Groton voters will decide on in November. The total cost of the project is about $184 million, of which Groton taxpayers would pay about $84 million.

    Conley, an attorney and floor leader of the town's Representative Town Meeting, is opposed.

    Scott, who was chairman of a prior school building committee whose proposed plan was defeated, supports the plan to build one new middle school and convert the two existing middle schools to elementary schools.

    "The problems in town are just not being solved and I don't think we can kick the can down the road again," said Scott, who noted that work by the new committee is essentially a duplicate of what his group did.

    "The problems are the same, the issues are the same, and the price tag has gone up significantly," he said, "and with any school project, timing is your enemy."

    Conley said Groton tends to put out high-dollar projects that get rejected by voters.

    "Groton does have some older schools and, while we do have some great teachers, we do have some leaky roofs and we have some properties that folks with physical disabilities cannot make their way around," she said. "But that being said, Mr. Scott was not able to get the funding that we needed to make the plans affordable. The current price ... lays too heavy of a burden on property taxes."

    The 40th District includes portions of both Groton and Ledyard and the two candidates each said the towns deserve state support for dependents of military personnel who attend local schools.

    On another topic, Scott defended his introduction of a bill pertaining to health insurance coverage for college students in the state that some criticized as potentially beneficial to his company, Bailey Agencies Insurance, and a conflict of interest.

    "I think that was a learning curve, and I don't regret putting that in," he said, adding that it applied to "tons" of insurance agents, not just his business.

    Scott said what he learned from the experience after a newspaper columnist made an issue of his introduction of the bill is the significance of appearances.

    Conley said the legislation was a conflict of interest and unnecessary since students can get good coverage through Medicaid.

    On another topic, both the candidates said it is likely that a recent ruling by a Superior Court judge in a case about public education funding in the state will be appealed and will not be the subject of debate in the upcoming legislative session.

    The ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding said lawmakers should resolve the funding dilemma and gave them 180 days to propose remedies.

    But Conley, who said she closely studied the ruling, said there is no real winner or loser in the case and she suspects, as does her opponent, that it will go to an appeals court.

    On improvements to I-95, Scott said without specific language that protects the designated funds, he would not support a so-called "lockbox" to support highway improvements, or the addition of tolls in Connecticut.

    "My fear is that we will create another bucket of money that is not constitutionally protected and future legislators will be able to willy-nilly scoop money out of it," he said, while still acknowledging that state roads need to be improved.

    Conley said she would support tolls, given improved technology.

    On the issue of job creation, Conley said she would be a cheerleader for the region and is buoyed by recent hirings at Electric Boat, saying those jobs will lead to additional jobs in the community.

    Her opponent said fewer regulations would help to increase business starts and increase jobs in the state, and he supported lower taxes for big businesses like General Electric, which recently moved out of state.

    The candidates also discussed a third casino jointly proposed by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, with Scott saying there needs to be more study of the implications, and Conley saying she would be an advocate for a proposal like that endorsed by businesses.

    They also fielded questions on what more the state can do to stem the opioid epidemic, and on the decision to cut funding for the state's tourism districts.

    Perhaps the most passionate answers came when the two were asked who they each will support in the presidential race, Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    "I am proud to support Hillary Clinton for president," Conley said. "I support her record of 40 years of standing up for inequality, standing up for women, standing up for families and standing up for workers."

    Scott suggested the question was unfair, and said, "So I will not directly answer the question but I will say that my position is I'm a Republican, I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative and I want a smaller government that the taxpayer of this state can afford."

    "In the two years I served in Hartford, there hasn't been a day where the president of United State has had a say in day-to-day operations of our government," he said. "I therefore feel that my endorsement or lack thereof or renouncement or whatever is not important."

    Tuesday's debate, part of the "Lunch with the Candidates Series," is sponsored by The Day and may be viewed through Election Day at theday.com/debates2016.

    a.baldelli@theday.com

    Candidates for the Connecticut House of Representatives 40th District seat, Democrat Christine Conley, left, and Republican John Scott take questions during The Day's Lunch with the candidates forum at The Day's offices in New London, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Tim Cook/The Day)

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