State rep candidates claim differences in debate

Candidates for state rep in districts covering New Canaan at the debate Monday night. From left, Democrat Lucy Dathan, Republican Fred Wilms, Democrat Ross Tartell, and Republican Tom O'Dea. — Grace Duffield photo
Candidates for state rep in districts covering New Canaan at the debate Monday night. From left, Democrat Lucy Dathan, Republican Fred Wilms, Democrat Ross Tartell, and Republican Tom O'Dea. — Grace Duffield photo

Tom O’Dea was the most animated of the four candidates running for state assembly to represent New Canaan during the League of Women Voters Candidates Debate Monday night here at Town Hall. He talked fast, waved his arms, promoted his fellow incumbent Republicans as very effective, apologized for being so anti-Democrat, and he came out swinging. For state senate debate click here. 

Across the board 20% spending cuts, except for the judiciary and the Department for Developmental Services, are proposed by O’Dea, the incumbent Republican. These cuts would stabilize the real estate market in the state, he said, and from there he would eliminate the estate and gift taxes and lower the income tax.

The debate was held in New Canaan Town Hall Monday evening, Oct. 22. It was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters New Canaan and the New Canaan Advertiser. An archived recording may be watched on NCTV-79.

O’Dea’s opponent in the race for the 125th District seat covering New Canaan and Wilton, Democrat challenger Ross Tartell, said, “no,” those spending cuts “would hurt the things we need to fund in order to make out state attractive,” — namely transportation and education.

Getting concessions from labor unions, through “direct negotiations” is one way to save money, Tartell said.

Tartell proposed raisings new revenues with tolls to fund transportation.

With a quick rebuttal, O’Dea said, “If you send more Democrats up to Hartford you will have less money.”

Said Tartell, “It’s not fiscally responsible to use sales tax to pay for transportation.” He  explained that electronic tolls can be programed to raise more money from some drivers and less from others.

Creating a lockbox for transportation funds “was a Republican idea,” O’Dea exclaimed.

On protecting state funds for education, Tartell raised the idea of regional funding for special education, saying that families flock to Wilton and New Canaan because of the excellent special ed programs here.

Education funding was an area where O’Dea chose to tout New Canaan’s two state senators, both Republicans, Toni Boucher and Scott Frantz, who were sitting in the room awaiting their turn to debate. “If not for Toni and Scott” state support would have been eliminated completely for New Canaan, and the governor’s plan to have towns cover the cost of teacher pensions would have advanced, O’Dea said.

Tartell said he has a master’s degree in education and he knows how to use technology to enhance education focused on the kids.

A few times throughout the rep candidates’ debate Tartell spoke in general terms. He said “the world is changing” when asked if he supported rights for LGBTQ people. On the place for guns in society, he repeated, “We are at risk,” “We are all at risk,” “We are a soft target,” and  “Society is at risk.”

He bemoaned the large number of guns in this country, but did not get specific regarding any legislation to control them.

The incumbent O’Dea was able to say he voted the toughest gun laws in the country, adding, “Fighting off the NRA was not easy.”

Dathan and Wilms

The race for the state assembly seat in the 142 District, which includes New Canaan and Norwalk, between incumbent Republican Fred Wilms and Democrat Challenger Lucy Dathan, was marked by Dathan often seeking to criticize her opponent, and Wilms calmly discounting the claims or turning one into a positive.

When Wilms spelled out the “fiscal crisis” in Connecticut with 0% revenue growth and 8% expense growth, he said the state should cut unemployment compensation, $2.5 billion from pensions and retiree healthcare, and shift some social services to non-profit organizations, which he said would save the state $1 billion.

Dathan said she worried about Wilms wanting to reduce the income tax, because that “would leave schools in a decimated situation.”

Her theme with many answers throughout the debate continually came back to keeping schools excellent here so that businesses and individuals will want to move here.

Wilms stayed firm with his push for reducing income tax to be lower than New York State to attract more people to live here. He said closing loopholes in the Connecticut sales tax will keep his tax cuts neutral so there would be no effect on schools.

Like Tartell, Dathan strongly and repeatedly called for adding revenue to Hartford through road tolls with the aim of keeping education strong here.

After the second time that Dathan mentioned that her “opponent” voted with Republicans 97% of the time, as an attempt to suggest that that was not a sign of a strong legislator, Wilms countered her assertion.

Yes, he was unashamed of voting with his party 98% of the time, he said, pointing out that he also voted with Democrats 75% of the time. He said he is bipartisan. “We’re able to work together,” Wilms said of Republicans and Democrats the state legislature. Three-quarters of the time he works with Democrats, he said, and the rest of the time “I stand up for principles” to turn the state around.

Trying to display a distinction between herself and her opponent, Dathan said, “I am a deep thinker,” and “I have been bringing people together” throughout her business career.

Responding to the question from the audience about the candidates and LGBTQ rights, Wilms said, “We are all American citizens and children of God, and we’re all entitled to be treated equally.”

He pointed to his vote in favor of banning conversion therapy for gay people and his vote to allow transgender people to change their birth certificates.

Dathan criticized Wilms for what she said was his thinking that an openly gay judge was not fit to sit on the bench. She then moved to a more positive tone about herself and LGBTQ rights being human rights.

“We need to make sure they marry who they want to, love who they want to,” and can get insurance when they want to, Dathan said.