Crouch and Osten make economy the battleground in 19th district state Senate race

Barbara Richardson Crouch and two-term incumbent Cathy Osten are vying for the 19th District state senate seat, and both are emphasizing the need to boost the lagging economy in southeastern Connecticut.

But Crouch, a Republican from Sprague, blames Democrats for the state's current economic doldrums — Connecticut ranks dead last in New England in regaining jobs after the Great Recession — while Osten, Sprague's Democratic first selectman, defends her record on economic development.

"The state is hindering economic growth with too many business regulations," Crouch said. "The legislature never goes back and says, 'Hey, is this working the way it was intended?'"

Osten, in response, said she has tackled overregulation in response to business concerns, including overhauling Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities procedures to streamline the process and working to reduce workers compensation costs. In fact, according to the Norwalk Hour, workers comp costs for Connecticut businesses are set to decline nearly 11 percent next year.

Osten, inspired by John Kennedy and a backer of Hillary Clinton for president, describes herself as a workaholic. Her 19th District covers Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich and Sprague.

"I like to fix things for people," she said in an interview at Otis Library in Norwich.

Crouch, in an interview at Hygienic Art in New London, where she works as development director, said she got tired of complacency.

"It was time to step up," said Crouch, who added that she was constrained as an election official in Sprague from endorsing a candidate for president.

"It's a good-old-boy system. Spending and taxes are out of control," she said.

And Osten, she said, "votes in lock step with the governor."

It's a charge that Osten denied, saying she votes with her constituents, pointing particularly to gun legislation as a place where she and the governor part ways.

Osten points as well to a piece of legislation she pushed last year that would have directed extra funds to southeastern Connecticut to help drive more economic activity here. The bill failed, but she promised another try next year.

Meanwhile, Osten has been heading efforts to develop better economic ties between this area and Rhode Island. The second roundtable meeting of her group, held late last month at Electric Boat's Quonset Point facility, focused on issues revolving around advanced manufacturing. 

“Moving forward, we plan to develop three key points that we can focus on in terms of legislation, with a goal of submitting parallel legislation in each state," Osten said in a statement. "We want to ensure we are working together — and not competing with each other — to advance our goals for what is truly a shared economy.”

But Crouch charged that the basic problem in Connecticut has been that there's a lot of talk and little action.

"I'm not a politician, and maybe that's what we need," she said. "Business as usual is not working."

Crouch said the state needs an economic strategy going forward because trying to pick winners through the First Five program is not a good formula for success.

"The state doesn't seem to have a plan," she said. "Taxes keep going up and up. We've got to do things differently."  

Crouch, who has two children and a master's degree in public administration, has worked in a wide range of fields, including banking, economic development, mortgage counseling and education. She has been a finance director for two local towns and currently is an adjunct professor at Goodwin College.

Osten, a Norwich Free Academy graduate who enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam era and later became a corrections officer, chairs the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee and is vice chair of the Aging, Housing, and Labor & Public Employees Committee. She also is on the Transportation Committee.

She cites her work on raising the minimum wage and passage of a state version of "Erin's Law," which requires schools to develop sexual-abuse programs. She has one child and four grandchildren.


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