Formica, Henowitz engage in 20th state Senate District debate
Waterford — Republican state Sen. Paul Formica and his Democratic challenger, Ryan Henowitz, debated cordially here Thursday night, agreeing that Connecticut has to get its fiscal house in order if it’s going to stop young people and retirees from fleeing from the state.
Henowitz, an Army veteran who most recently has worked as a lobbyist, called for a state minimum wage of $15 an hour and said the state should stop subsidizing big corporations that pay low wages. He said the legislature should have passed a bill that called for fines on low-wage employers.
“We don’t have the economy working for working people,” Henowitz, a New London resident, said. “We need more jobs paying middle-class wages.”
Formica, the former East Lyme first selectman who won the 20th state Senate District seat two years ago, said the “jury is somewhat out” on what effect a substantially higher minimum wage would have. He said he favors a “two-tier” minimum wage — a higher minimum for heads of households and a lower one for others.
Saying the state is “less than business-friendly,” Formica blamed Connecticut’s lack of economic progress on the failure of majority Democrats and Republicans to collaborate.
“I worked hard to reach across the aisle,” he said of his first Senate term. “A lot of people up there don’t speak to each other.”
About 80 people attended the debate.
Sponsored by The Day, the event took place in the community room of the Charter Oak Federal Credit Union headquarters on Hartford Road. Three members of the The Day’s editorial staff posed questions.
In regard to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s transportation plan, Henowitz said extending Route 11 could help address traffic congestion and related safety issues on Interstate 95.
Formica, who advocated instead for such measures as a reduction in the speed limit and the widening of highway shoulders, said the completion of Route 11 “won’t happen in our lifetime.” Improving I-95 in the areas of Exit 74 and the I-395 interchange would produce “better bang for the dollar,” he said.
Henowitz said he was in favor of restoring highway tolls to generate revenue for transportation improvements. Formica said he’s against tolls because their use could affect the federal highway dollars the state receives.
Asked about the presidential election, both candidates said they were supporting their party’s nominee.
“Mr. Trump certainly is a bit unpolished,” Formica said of Republican Donald Trump, “but he has tapped into a discontent.”
Henowitz, who said he had worked as a volunteer for Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, said he is supporting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said he was troubled by Trump’s joking about the use of nuclear weapons.
Henowitz defended his filing of a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission that raised questions about the propriety of Formica’s paying a marketing agency that employs Formica's daughter.
“The first step is we want clarification — ethics and elections (commissions) have different rules,” Henowitz said. “It’s something that has to be addressed by the state.”
He declined to discuss the status of the complaint, which the SEEC is not expected to rule on until after the election.
Formica said he checked with the state ethics and elections enforcement commissions and was confident his campaign had violated no regulations. He said his daughter who works for a Norwich marketing agency he first hired in 2014 is not working on his campaign.
The 20th District comprises Bozrah, East Lyme, part of Montville, New London, Old Lyme, part of Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford.
Video of the debate will be available at www.theday.com through Election Day.