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    Saturday, November 26, 2022

    Candidates discuss issues at Stonington forum

    Candidates for the 18th State Senate District, left, State House of Representatives 41st District, center, and 43rd District, right, during the Stonington Candidate's Night Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at the La Grua Center in Stonington. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Farouk Rajab, left, a Democratic candidate for the 18th District state senate seat, answers a question while incumbent State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, listens during Stonington Candidate's Night Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at the La Grua Center in Stonington. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    State Sen. Heather Somers, R-18th District, right, talks with State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, center, and Robert Boris, left, Republican candidate for the 41st District house seat, before the start of Candidate's Night forum on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at the La Grua Center in Stonington. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Farouk Rajab, right, a Democratic candidate in the 18th District state Senate race, and Aundré Bumgardner, a Democratic candidate for the 41st District state representative seat, wait for the start of the Stonington Candidate's Night Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at the La Grua Center in Stonington. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    James “Jake” Dunigan, center, an unaffliated candidate for state representative in the 41st District, answers a question while candidates for the house 41st and 43rd Districts and the 18th District state Senate seat participated in a Stonington Candidate’s Night forum. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, incumbent in the 43rd District, answers a question while Ashley Gillece, a Democratic candidate for the 43rd District, listens during Stonington Candidate's Night Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at the La Grua Center in Stonington. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Stonington ― Education, affordable housing, data centers, and inflation were among the topics candidates for the 18th District state Senate and 41st and 43rd District state House seats discussed Thursday evening during a candidate forum.

    The Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce held the candidates night at the La Grua Center.

    Corey Fyke, editor of the Westerly Sun and the Mystic River Press, moderated the event, which was also livestreamed on Facebook, broadcast on the radio and will be rebroadcast on public television. Fyke said some questions were submitted by the public and all questions were vetted by himself and the chambers. After introductory statements and before closing statements, candidates each answered a series of questions on local issues, with a maximum of two minutes, and were called on in an order drawn by the chambers.

    Education

    Fyke said that school districts need to deliver well-educated graduates who are not just college-ready, but ready for the local workforce, and asked what the candidates would propose to assist students and local employers.

    Robert Boris, a Republican who is running for the 41st House District, said it’s important to ensure students have access to high-speed Broadband and are educated about how the Internet works — both its positives and its negatives — and supported with a skill set to create jobs for the future.

    Boris said it’s important to listen to parents and ensure they have input in their children’s curriculum.

    State Rep. Heather Somers, R-Groton, incumbent for the 18th Senate District, highlighted existing programs, such as manufacturing programs at high schools in Griswold and Plainfield, and said there are opportunities to do more.

    Somers said it can be tough to find a nurse who is also a state-certified teacher to teach a nursing class. She called for flexibility with credentials so professionals can teach high school classes in needed industries, and said she has submitted a bill for that.

    Aundré Bumgardner, a Democratic candidate for the 41st district, said it is important to provide the funding necessary to continue running great schools in Groton and Stonington. He said teachers have been hurt by the pandemic, and the state needs to continue investing in teachers and provide the training necessary to bring up the next generation of teachers.

    He called for investments in early childhood education and for moving into the direction of having universal prekindergarten education.

    James “Jake” Dunigan, an unaffiliated candidate for the 41st district, said a comprehensive education gives people the ability to decide what interests them and what solutions they can come up with on their own to solve problems.

    Dunigan proposed a program in Connecticut, based on AmeriCorps, that would allow high school graduates to pursue a two-year service term working in education, law enforcement, or whatever state need interests them, and then get a college education for free.

    Ashley Gillece, a Democratic candidate for the 43rd House district, agreed with expanding preschool education. She said she’s an advocate for apprenticeship programs and expanding the work between unions and apprenticeships. She said she believes in technical schools and that schools need to give children the ability to go to college, but also help children who do not want to go to college.

    Gillece also said she wants to fight for state education funding for local communities.

    State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, incumbent for the 43rd district, said students need to be in school to be successful and that he led the charge last year to get students back to school following the pandemic.

    Howard said state mandates are crippling local budgets and don’t fit all communities, so local control is important for schools. He said it’s time to get away from costly state testing and implement a different measure that is cost-effective and teachers think is good.

    Farouk Rajab, Democratic candidate for the 18th senate district, said Education Cost Sharing needs to be fixed. He also said more needs to be done to support teachers, paraeducators, staff members and find solutions for bus driver issues across the state

    Rajab also advocated for more social-emotional learning. He said the pandemic has been very difficult on kids and called for doing more to support them socially, emotionally and educationally.

    Data centers, affordable housing

    In another question, Fyke said state legislation has opened the door to development incentives for projects such as data centers and affordable housing, yet town approvals and local neighborhood support also is critical to moving these projects forward. Candidates were asked for their positions on the economic development initiatives, the current process, and how they would define success for the initiatives.

    Dunigan said that if a town strongly does not want a data center, then, “We have to listen to the towns.” On affordable housing, he said he would like to see the state deny funding for municipal budgets to towns that do not meet a particular ratio of affordable housing, but added that the ratio does not have to be very high.

    Boris said affordable housing is an issue and local control is important. He said “Hartford can provide guidance, but we need to figure this out as a community.”

    He cited mold and issues at Branford Manor as an example of what happens when someone “on high” makes a decision for a local community . He called on U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for an audit of Branford Manor’s funding.

    Farouk said data centers are good for profit, but not in Groton, where the community did not want it, and “We should listen to our community.”

    Citing Pawcatuck, where community opposition to some proposed affordable housing developments has been strong, he said it’s important to listen to the community on affordable housing and that affordable housing needs to be built near infrastructure. For Branford Manor, he said the state can put in health codes and should work with the federal delegation.

    Both Somers and Howard said a data center bill was a good bill, because it allowed the opportunity to bring data centers to communities, if they wished, but also gave communities the opportunity to say they did not want them.

    Somers said housing and taxes are so high that young people are being forced out. She said more affordable housing is needed, but she’s an advocate for local control and thinks more needs to be done to explain how planning and zoning works and how towns set up zones where there can be affordable housing.

    Gillece said: “I think we have amazing opportunities to actually provide some real affordable housing across this area of Connecticut, but we need to do it in a way that actually makes sense for our communities, and I will continue to be an advocate for affordable housing but looking at doing so in small scale and not large developments in high traffic, high density areas that put our communities at risk.”

    Bumgardner said “all neighborhoods matter,” whether it’s Branford Manor in the City of Groton, Smiler’s Wharf in Mystic, or Mystic Oral School.

    On the Groton Town Council, Bumgardner said he voted against data centers after residents were concerned about the impact on the environment and noise pollution. He also said he called for ending the local tax abatement for Branford Manor and invited Blumenthal to visit Branford.

    Howard spoke about the importance of local control and addressing affordable housing. He said rather than having a “one size fits all” law to affordable housing, the state can offer grants for buildings, like the one falling down on Mechanic Street. A grant would stabilize it so someone will want to invest in it.

    For a question on women’s reproductive rights, the candidates all supported choice, but some called for the state to take further steps to support women or sparred over a bill.

    Candidates also answered questions on their top priorities and on inflation.

    A recording of the full debate is available at the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OceanChamber/

    k.drelich@theday.com

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