In 20th state Senate District race, it's a 'collaborator' and a 'fighter'

State Sen.  Paul Formica addresses those gathered for a meet-the-candidates event Tuesday, October 11, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
State Sen. Paul Formica addresses those gathered for a meet-the-candidates event Tuesday, October 11, 2016. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

One touts his penchant for reaching across the aisle, while the other casts himself as a fighter for working people. Both are frustrated with the way things have been going in Hartford.

“I’m running as a collaborator,” said Paul Formica, the East Lyme Republican seeking a second term in the 20th state Senate District. “I had to reach out to both sides just to find my way around the building my first term. But I think I’ve become known as someone you can talk to about the issues — and not just the politics.”

His challenger, Democrat Ryan Henowitz of New London, a political activist and former union lobbyist who has never held elective office, said the district needs a stronger advocate for working families, for school funding and for more affordable public higher education.

The district comprises Bozrah, East Lyme, part of Montville, New London, Old Lyme, part of Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford.

Election Day, Nov. 8, is less than four weeks away.

In an interview last week, the 63-year-old Formica said the No. 1 priority facing lawmakers next year is the resurrection of a bill aimed at protecting the economic viability of Millstone Power Station in Waterford. The measure, which stalled after the Senate passed it this year, would have enabled Dominion, Millstone’s owner, to sell some of the energy it generates via long-term contracts.

“Nuclear plants are in danger of closing in New England and in New York, where the legislature approved $954 million in subsidies to keep them operating,” he said. “What would we do if we lost that power (from Millstone)? What if Electric Boat wanted to add a third shift and we couldn’t supply enough energy? What would happen to southeastern Connecticut if those jobs went away?

“This is not ‘Formica loves nuclear,’” he said. “We’re talking about a bridge to renewables. If Dominion closes, we’d be devastated for 20 years. For the district, for Connecticut and for New England, it’s the most important thing we can pass.”

Henowitz, 33, said in an interview that his dissatisfaction with state government motivated him to run. He said he’s frustrated that budget-cutting cost some state employees their jobs. He cited what he called the “inefficiency” in laying off judicial marshals, for example, and then paying overtime to state police officers to provide courtroom security.

“There’s no real savings in this scenario,” Henowitz said. “You still have to provide the service, you have to pay unemployment benefits to those you laid off and you lose the income base of those laid-off workers who can’t spend as much.”

Formica, too, expressed frustration with a state budget process that he said suffers from the “one-party rule” associated with a Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy, and Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

“At least one of the chambers needs to have a Republican majority,” he said. “We’re going to need to have everybody at the table to deal with the problems we have. We need shared power.”

He said he believes Republicans can pick up the four Senate seats they need to turn a 21-15 Democratic majority into a 19-17 GOP advantage.

Though he’s never held office, Henowitz has been politically active for about a decade. After serving two tours of duty as a combat medic in Iraq, he completed a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he’s now pursuing a master’s in organizational management. From 2012 to 2014, he worked as a lobbyist for AFT Connecticut, a labor union that represents teachers, nurses and some state employees.

During this year’s state legislative session, he worked with the Working Families Party to advocate for a bill that called for paid family medical leave for workers, a measure that failed.

Henowitz has also worked for state legislative campaigns, serving as 2008 campaign manager for Rep. Susan Johnson, a Windham Democrat, and later for Leo Canty, a Windsor Democrat who lost a primary race.

During a Sept. 29 debate in Waterford, Henowitz called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and said the legislature should have passed a bill that would have imposed fines on big companies that pay low wages. Formica, who questioned the effect of a significant increase in the state’s minimum wage — set to go from $9.60 to $10.10 on Jan. 1 — said he favors a “two-tier” minimum wage — a higher minimum for heads of households and a lower one for others.

Henowitz called for the extension of Route 11 from Salem to Interstate 95 in Waterford, a long-dormant project that Formica, a former East Lyme first selectman who served on the Route 11 Commission, dismissed as a long shot.

Henowitz also said he supported the restoration of highway tolls to help fund transportation improvements, an option Formica rejected.

Formica said last week that he supports caps on state spending and borrowing and believes the legislature should vote on union contracts with state employees, “which doesn’t mean we should negotiate them.” That's the governor’s responsibility, he noted.

Henowitz said he's opposed to the legislature getting involved in contract negotiations.

Citing a program in place in Tennessee, Henowitz said he’d like to see the state pay the community college tuition of students who graduate from high school with a grade-point average of 3.0 or better and who maintain that level of academic performance.

“I learned in the military that when you have a problem, you address it,” Henowitz said. “But we saw that nobody was ready to advocate for returning veterans. On the state level, we’re seeing the same thing. Who’s advocating for the middle class? Who’s fighting for them?”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Ryan Henowitz of New London, Democratic candidate for the 20th state Senate District, running against incumbent Paul Formica, campaigns door- to-door on Washburn Road in New London, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Ryan Henowitz of New London, Democratic candidate for the 20th state Senate District, running against incumbent Paul Formica, campaigns door- to-door on Washburn Road in New London, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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