143rd House District: Candidates differ on school regionalization
WILTON — The candidates running to represent the 143rd state House district found a lot of common ground on topics such as tolls, firearms legislation, legalization of marijuana, climate change and voting. But when it came to school regionalization, that’s where they differed.
Democrat Stephanie Thomas and Republican Patrizia Zucaro, who is also endorsed by the Connecticut Independent Party, participated Tuesday in a candidates forum, which was moderated by Marianne Pollak, of the Stamford League of Women Voters, at the Wilton Library.
The candidates are seeking to fill the open seat held by Republican Gail Lavielle, who is not seeking reelection.
Zucaro and Thomas support no-excuses absentee ballots and would back a constitutional amendment for changes to absentee voting, depending on the language.
Calling it a nonpartisan topic, Zucaro said everyone “should have access to voting and it shouldn’t be difficult.” A previous constitutional amendment failed, she said, because the language was confusing.
“It needs to be something an everyday person can understand,” she said.
“For me, to ensure people have access to voting is a cornerstone of democracy,” Thomas said. “I don’t think what we have works for everybody.” She gave an example of people who may have to commute long hours and would not be able to vote on a single day.
Both candidates oppose regionalizing schools, but they did not agree on what direction the issue was taking. This was a major issue last year, when several bills at the state level raised the ire of area residents, including one that proposed folding small school districts into larger ones.
“This issue has really bothered me,” Thomas said. When the bills were raised last year they “disturbed people in Norwalk, Wilton and Westport,” she said, calling the bills “silly.”
“In this campaign, people have tried to raise the issue … the Democrats are somehow trying to bring this issue back up and if it did come up, we would all roll over like dominoes. It’s very disingenuous. I’m about people over politics, truth in government and that starts on the campaign trail,” she said.
“It’s nice to have a conversation, but when people start drafting bills, having a discussion with actual language and how it’s going to work is more than a discussion, it’s a plan,” Zucaro said. “If they have support, it will move forward.”
Thomas disagreed. “I don’t think it’s a discussion we need to have. The bills died an inglorious death. If they couldn’t get a hearing, I don’t think they can bring it back,” she said, adding the bills were a bad idea.
“This is something that is still on peoples’ minds,” Zucaro countered. “To say it’s not going to come back, I don’t think that’s true if people are still talking about it.”
On the issue of Connecticut losing both people and businesses, Thomas said she “never hears differentiation between types of businesses” from gig workers to micro and small businesses. Small businesses, she said, need predictability, paperwork that is not burdensome, access to capital and manageable costs. On that last issue, she brought up the cost of health care and said she has fought for a public option. For large businesses, she would like to see a move-in bonus for any business wanting to come here.
“We have to maintain flexibility,” she said. “Businesses plan for the future. Government has to keep pace with the rate of change.”
Zucaro said she agreed on many points, but added businesses were leaving due to “the rate we tax.” Most important, she said, is a consistent tax and regulatory policy, and streamlining the process when it comes to obtaining licenses and permits.
“The No. 1 thing for businesses is the cost of doing business. How do we reduce costs?” She pointed out the minimum wage, which she said has been raised 15 times in the last 19 years, will be $15 an hour by 2023. “Why did we get to that number? Is it sustainable? The majority fails to do that research,” she said.
Thomas countered by saying when workers cannot earn enough to live “we as taxpayers end up paying for public assistance — food security, health insurance.”
On climate change, Zucaro, who lives in Westport, said she would like to see more attention paid to cleaning up Long Island Sound, expanding recycling for bottles and more charging stations for electric vehicles. Citing Westport’s long-established plastic bag ban, she said she would like to see towns have more control over their environmental policies.
Thomas said one initiative that “could make a huge difference” is establishing a “climate curriculum” in schools. “We’re not all pushing in the same direction. People don’t know if what they are doing is helpful or harmful,” she said.
Questions that did not elicit much discussion centered around women’s health care, legalization of marijuana, tolls and firearms legislation. On women’s health care, neither candidate thought confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett would affect a woman’s right to choose. “Regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, it won’t affect us in Connecticut,” Zucaro said.
On marijuana, both said they needed more information. Thomas was concerned whether small or micro businesses would benefit, as opposed to big business, and Zucaro was concerned about the effect on roads, businesses and the economy. “Use in the home is different than driving a car or using machinery,” she said.
As for any further gun legislation, both said they want more attention paid to mental health through screenings and programs. Thomas, who lives in Norwalk and has been endorsed by Connecticut Against Gun Violence, supports an expansion of red flag laws and limiting the number of guns that can be purchased at one time.
Of the issue that dominated discussions for a number of years, Thomas said she supports tolls and Zucaro said she was not adverse to the concept.
“But we need to address Connecticut’s spending,” Zucaro said. “Without addressing that first, we can’t talk about tolls.”