Candidates for 18th District state Senate seat define positions, priorities

State Senate candidates for the 18th District Democrat Tim Bowles and Republican Heather Somers. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
State Senate candidates for the 18th District Democrat Tim Bowles and Republican Heather Somers. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Democrat Timothy Bowles of Preston said he prides himself on not being a partisan politician.

His opponent for the 18th District state Senate seat, Republican Heather Somers of Groton, disagrees.

"I understand him wanting to distance himself from (Gov. Dannel) Malloy, because if I were him, I would want to do it, too. But it is simply not true," Somers said.

The two candidates are vying to fill the job of state senator being vacated by five-term Democrat Andrew Maynard representing Stonington, Sterling, Groton, Griswold, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston and Voluntown.

The race is being watched across the state as one district where Republicans may be able to tip the balance of power in Hartford more to their advantage. Senate Democrats now outnumber Republicans 21-15, but the GOP is working to make inroads and, with Maynard retiring, believe the 18th District could elect a Republican.

Bowles, 66, a former one-term state representative and a former selectman in Preston, said he has a record and a history of being an independent thinker.

"I do reach across the aisle, and I do think it is very important, critical, that we do look for ways to find common ground and come up with solutions to the problems we have," he said, adding he hasn't been to the state Capitol or spent time with Malloy since his House term ended two years ago.

"So this idea that I'm an insider, when (Somers) obviously ran as lieutenant governor, I don't know how much more inside you can get than that," Bowles said, referring to his opponent's 2014 unsuccessful run for the second-tier job on the gubernatorial ticket with Republican Tom Foley.

Somers, 50, a businesswoman and former town of Groton mayor, has characterized Bowles as a "Hartford insider" and a rubber stamp for Malloy's "job-crushing agenda."

She points to Bowles' campaign donor list, which she said includes contributions from 12 lobbyists, and his career working for the state, both in social services and as a legislative liaison. And, she said, an examination of his voting record shows "95 percent of the time he has voted with Malloy."

"My opponent has spent his career as a bureaucrat. He knows no other way. And he has voted lock, stock and barrel with Malloy all along the way," she said.

Bowles counters that while in Hartford he "frequently" supported "Republican amendments that made sense to me" and did so "oftentimes very much in the minority as a Democrat."

He said he voted against his party and gun control following the 2014 massacre of students and teachers at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, something he now regrets. He explained he listened to his constituents at the time, and had reservations about the legislation's failure to adequately address mental health issues and urban violence. But later, in hindsight, Bowles said he came to believe he should have supported the bill and worked to address what he viewed as inadequacies "in a separate way."

"I wish I had supported it," he said.

Somers, who said she has a pistol permit but does not own a gun, said she would not try to undo the state's gun laws.

She obtained the permit about four years ago because "I just felt it was really important to me so I could learn about it and speak to it. ... I believe in Second Amendment rights," she said, but added, if she is elected, her focus would be on improving the state's business climate and creating jobs.

"The issues are the same in Plainfield as they are in Groton as far as jobs and the economy," she said of the sprawling district. "It's all tied to jobs and the economy, because when you have jobs, you have people who are employed, and when they are employed, they buy houses and pay taxes and fund schools; it's all connected."

Acknowledging the state's budget crisis, Bowles said he believes lawmakers themselves, or more precisely the General Assembly, are part of the problem. He advocates reducing the number of representatives from 151 to 108 — three state representatives for each of the 36 state Senate seats — and increasing state House and Senate terms from two years to four, but capping the number of terms at three.

"Right now, it's just a dysfunctional system. It's Byzantine," he said, adding by way of example that the town of Montville has three state representatives and two state senators.

He also supports more regionalization, and the local Council of Governments as "one tool or strategy to solving our problems." 

A state retiree, Bowles said it is "a myth" that unions have not made concessions and said there have been "significant changes in the pension system." But he added there is still work to be done and said he would support "a cap on the amount of money you can make as a pensioner. Some of the figures I just think are excessive," he said, although he couldn't suggest an amount for the cap.

His opponent said it will not be an easy fix to address the state's budget and pension woes and said "everything has to be on the table" during discussions.

"First of all, we have to get our pension system under control, we have huge liabilities," Somers said, and added the problem is compounded as people move out of the state.

"So we have this shrinking pool of people left in Connecticut to be able fund this, and that is terrifying," she said.

Somers said in 2013 Bowles voted against House Bill 6704, which  would have required new state hires to go to a defined contribution rather than a defined benefit plan. 

"We need to address these issues," she said.

Somers believes her experience in local government and business makes her the better choice for voters.

"I'm somebody who has been a job creator, an employer. ... I understand what it's like to make payroll and stay on budget, and how difficult it is for small businesses in particular," she said. "And I think it is time to break this one-party rule we have had in Hartford. ... I hope the people who have a choice in this election will choose something different and give someone else a chance," she said. "If we don't change the type of person we send to Hartford, then you can't expect a different result than what we've had." 

Bowles views himself as the superior choice.

"My experiences are much broader and deeper and involve a whole range of issues that haven't really come up in this campaign yet," he said, noting climate change, land preservation, agriculture, human services and the environment. "I have a depth of experience and a breadth of experience. And I have a record in Hartford and in Preston. I just don't talk, I try to listen to the people I am representing and act in their best interests.

"When I speak to people about working in a bipartisan way and returning civility to the process, people listen and agree with me," Bowles said.

Both candidates are crisscrossing the district, attending Grange dinners, conferring with local elected leaders and going door to door, making their cases for being the next 18th District senator.

a.baldelli@theday.com

Republican Heather Somers makes a comment while participating in a candidate forum hosted by CT Community Nonprofit Alliance and The ARC Quinebaug Valley at The ARC office in Danielson on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.  Somers is a candidate in the 18th District state Senate race.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Republican Heather Somers makes a comment while participating in a candidate forum hosted by CT Community Nonprofit Alliance and The ARC Quinebaug Valley at The ARC office in Danielson on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. Somers is a candidate in the 18th District state Senate race. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Democrat Tim Bowles, state Senate candidate for the 18th District, makes a comment while participating in a candidate forum hosted by CT Community Nonprofit Alliance and The ARC Quinebaug Valley at The ARC office in Danielson on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Democrat Tim Bowles, state Senate candidate for the 18th District, makes a comment while participating in a candidate forum hosted by CT Community Nonprofit Alliance and The ARC Quinebaug Valley at The ARC office in Danielson on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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