Longtime Democratic incumbent faces Republican challenger in 139th District
This year’s race to represent the 139th District pits a seasoned incumbent against an ambitious newcomer.
Republican Mark Adams of Norwich is challenging State Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, to represent a newly reconfigured state House district that covers parts of Montville, Norwich and the Gales Ferry section of Ledyard.
Ryan, 70, a longtime Montville resident and former optometrist who works as an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven is seeking election to his 16th term in office. Ryan was chairman of the Montville Board of Education, a teacher and working for a health clinic in Bridgeport when he was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1993.
At the time, Ryan said he was already active legislatively, seeking better pay for teachers and ensuring availability of healthcare. He said healthcare issues that include the high costs of prescription drugs are still among his top priorities.
He’s served on numerous committees while in Hartford, is a longtime member of the Public Health Committee, and said if reelected will continue advocating for the district he has served for more than three decades with a focus on jobs and job training , the economy and the cost of higher education.
Adams, 49, lives with his fiancè in Norwich and their combined four children, ranging in age from 1 to 25. He has never held public office but says he was inspired to seek office by an unsuccessful run for a seat on the City Council in Norwich in 2021. Adams lost by just 10 votes but said his platform garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans.
“The message from the people out there, the Democrats included, was my message resonated. Losing by that close is what put me in this position. It was a sign I could have more impact on the region,” Adams said.
Adams is a Norwich Free Academy graduate who is a former employee at the state Department of Children and Families and more recently worked as a public safety supervisor at businesses such as Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Mohegan Sun Casino.
Adams thinks the 139th District seat is ripe for a challenge and said one of his priorities is public safety. He also believes parental rights in healthcare decisions are a key issue in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
Adams and Ryan recently sat down with The Day to answer questions on topics ranging from property taxes to affordable housing.
With the rising costs of rents, Adams said the state could help families achieve the goals of owning their own home by cutting taxes, including the property taxes on motor vehicles.
“Making things more affordable would help those people living paycheck to paycheck able to come up with the down payment to own a home,” Adams said.
He said people, in some cases working two jobs, have become demoralized by the inability to get ahead due to high inflation, cost of living, taxes and inability to afford a down payment.
Ryan said he recognizes that people in the region are having a hard time finding an affordable place to live and said he supports incentive programs, such as those offering mortgage assistance.
Ryan said he does not think the state is at a point where it needs to change laws pertaining to requirements for affordable housing.
“We want to see people be able to live where they work,” he said.
In May, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law a bill that provides protection for abortion providers and patients in Connecticut. Both Adams and Ryan said they agreed with the state legislature’s move to further strengthen protections for women seeking an abortion.
“I think what we’re trying to do is to ensure that other states don’t come into Connecticut and try and enforce their laws here,” Ryan said. “We have our own set of laws regarding certain issues. We always make a distinction in this country about federalism and how each state is distinctive and responsive to their its citizens with their own concerns. While Somebody might have a certain set of values in Texas, those values shouldn’t be imposed on Connecticut.”
Adams said he is pro-choice and said he doesn’t think politics has a place in a woman’s decision to seek an abortion.
“I believe it’s (a decision) between the person and the provider and the partner of that person. Someone has to live with the decision they make,” Adams said. “I don’t think politics should have a role in saying what you can or can’t do with your body. The state should offer protection for people who chose to make the decision they make.”
Asked whether the state should use its more than $4 billion surplus to pay the state’s pension debt or return some of it to taxpayers, Adams said the state should do both.
“Paying down a pension fund will also help the future but people need help now with the rise in heating costs...gas, food,” Adams said.
Ryan said the state’s pension debt is the responsibility of the taxpayers and thinks paying down the debt will benefit taxpayers.
“If we start paying it off more now, I think in the long run it will save taxpayers money,” Ryan said.
2020 presidential election
Asked whether the 2020 election that saw Joe Biden elected as president was conducted fairly, Adams said “who knows, right?”
“It is what it is. The results came out. I don’t believe that it was stolen,” Adams said.
Adams does not agree that mail-in voting and early voting are the proper ways to “exercise your right to vote.”
“I think it’s one of the few rights you’re born with as an American citizens … to vote, and I think you owe it to everybody, your neighbors, your family, to go out and make sure your vote is counted at the poll and not leave anything up to chance,” Adams said.
Adams said he thinks the mail-in votes cost him the election to Norwich City Council.
Ryan said he believes the 2020 election was conducted fairly and supports measures in the state related to mail-in and early voting.
While there are occasional irregularities in voting, Ryan said they are rare.
“I think in this state, as in many states, our problem is not having people who shouldn’t vote vote, but having people who should vote vote,” Ryan said.
On property taxes and education funding, Ryan said that as long he’s been in office the legislature has sought a way to address the disparities in property taxes. He said he supported the state’s cap on car taxes, calling it “a start.”
“We continue to try and provide more state funding for education…so it can give some relief for towns,” Ryan said. “Whatever changes we have to make, we have to make sure the towns are held harmless because they still have to provide the serves they’ve held.”
Adams said that if elected he would seek to overturn the Police Accountability Act, which was approved by the state legislature in 2020. Adams said he believes the law has made it harder for police departments to hire officers at a time when crime is a “major issue” in many towns and cities.
He said he thinks one of the most pressing issues for the region is the economy.
“People are struggling economically here. A lot of people are living check to check and with the price of groceries and heating costs and everything going up, nobody’s check is going up. You’re already taking people who are stretched thin and asking them for more,” Adams said.