Wilton's state candidates square off in live debate

WILTON — Emotions and national politics were central to Tuesday night's candidate debates at Wilton Library.

In two consecutive one-hour forums, candidates vying for the 26th District Senate seat and the 42nd District House seat squared off on topics such as abortion and affordable housing.

The first hour debate was between Wilton's Republican Selectperson Kim Healy, a certified public accountant, who is running against Democrat Keith Denning, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, for the newly districted 42nd house seat, which includes Wilton, Ridgefield and New Canaan.

The next hour featured Republican Toni Boucher, who is looking for a return to Hartford after losing her five-term Senate seat in 2018 to then-22-year-old Democratic challenger Will Haskell. Her competition to represent the district — one that covers Wilton, Westport, Weston, Redding and parts of Ridgefield, Darien, New Canaan and Stamford — is Democrat Ceci Maher, a Wilton resident who has led several local nonprofits, including Person-to-Person in Darien.

Questions in each of the two debates regarding reproductive rights prompted each Democratic candidate to question the trustworthiness of their Republican opponents on the issue, as well as given statements and actions by members of the GOP at the national level.

Denning said that he doesn't believe the Republican party can be trusted. "We have a party that is actively trying to overthrow the government," he added, citing ongoing claims about election fraud in the 2020 presidential race.

He then called on Healy, who said she is in favor of a woman's right to choose, to condemn actions of Republicans at the national level. He referenced the actions of those at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. "If you do not condemn it, you condone it," Denning espoused.

Healy, meanwhile, found it inappropriate that Denning inject such issues into a local debate.

"I find it really upsetting that someone would bring such a national issue to Wilton," she said before noting that those who broke the law are rightfully being charged and convicted. "I think he's out of bounds."

Like Denning, Maher also broached the issue with Boucher, despite the latter describing herself as pro-choice and left of center on social issues.

"You know me well enough," Boucher said. "I've served this town for over 30 years. You know you can trust my word."

Maher, however, retorted by citing one of Boucher's past votes on an amendment to a House bill in which she allegedly supported an item that would allow guns to remain in a home with a history of domestic violence.

Boucher said it was her job to support a member of her caucus on that item, thus she voted with them to have the amendment added to the bill. She qualified that had the full bill gone to the floor, she would have voted against it.

"There's a lot of proposals that you don't support personally," she said, but give support because it's favored by a fellow party member. "That's part of the role."

Maher described this as a significant example of Boucher and other GOP candidates potentially being in "lock step" with the national party and having too much party loyalty.

"I do not trust that she is going to vote for women when she stands with her party in that sort of situation," said Maher, who stopped the debate at one point to have the moderator admonish a man in the front row of the room who was calling out at times and, she said, making faces and hand gestures.

While all four candidates were in agreement on some items, such as focusing on environmental conservation and concerns about rising fuel costs, answers differed according to party affiliation on how to address issues.

Both Democrats said that while the Connecticut General Statute 8-30g affordable housing law was in need of some repair, it served a purpose in moving municipalities toward more affordable housing.

Denning said that Connecticut has to take an interest in bringing affordable housing to the state. He also said the state should focus on improving transportation infrastructure in order to make it more attractive to new businesses, which will in turn supplement the tax base.

Maher also aims to improving public transportation, repairing bridges and upgrading overall state infrastructure.

Healy said she would consider repealing 8-30g, as she said it takes away local control of planning and allows developers carte blanche.

"We need to keep all our planning and zoning decisions local," she said. She also said she wanted to see various taxes reduced or removed, including diesel fuel and sales tax. "We can no longer ignore the fact that our state is unaffordable."

Boucher wants to reduce income tax from 5 percent to 4 percent for families making less than $175,000 a year and index state income tax brackets so that taxes paid on earnings do not outpace inflation.