Boucher on her nicest, nastiest opponent and running again in 2016
Toni Boucher (R-26) is seated in a booth at Orem’s Diner in Wilton one weekday morning, before beginning her usual day of non-stop activity. The state senator, representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton, orders a bowl of oatmeal, and with her usual frankness and passion talks about what life is like as a state senator.
Talk about your job.
People ask me how I can stand it, knocking my head against the wall, against negative policies and different ideologies. I say, yeah, it affects me personally. I go home and worry about all these things. I worry about people who call me with their problems, I worry about the state of Connecticut, I worry about losing GE. I started my career at GE as a young person. They were the best company I ever worked for. It’s heartbreaking their leaving.
Every two years you have to ask for an endorsement again by the people who are electing you. I can only be thankful that it is truly a gift, a gift to be involved, and to have this kind of voice in a political process that runs the government, local or otherwise. I started on the board of education. I served on the board of selectmen. I thought that was it, that I’d reached the pinnacle of public service and can die happy that I contributed a little something.
And then to be asked to serve as a state representative and now as a state senator is incredible. I’m grateful every day.
What are your days like?
Sometimes it’s beyond belief. I once had four events in one night after a full day. The Memorial Day parades, here’s the schedule. There’s seven towns [she represents] and each has a Memorial Day parade. Luckily one of them has it the week before—yay! And another one has it on a Saturday. But on Memorial Day there are five. The most I ever did was four, boom boom boom boom. I have to try and get there because they all say, “You’re going to be at our parade, right?” And the fact that they want me to be there? I’m so happy to be there.
What do you recall about your last race against Phil Sharlach?
He was the nicest competitor I ever had. He was such a nice guy. The two first elections were awful, and recognized state-wide as the nastiest race around. Because the individual [John Hartwell] started a lying campaign and had flyers with my face with a big X on it. He had TV ads saying everything’s a disaster because of me. It makes you crazy. And he’s 6-foot-7, so he’d try to use his height against me. He would tower over me. He tried to demean me, and belittle me. I even had the gubernatorial candidate call me up and say, “Boy, I don’t feel so bad right now. The TV ad he did against you is even worse than the one I had done against me.” Welcome to my world.
Who’s going to oppose you next?
That’s a good question. We’ll see. The conventions are in the early part of May, and I’m sure they’re waiting to see what I’m going to do. I’m running again. I haven’t filed yet because my treasurer is a CPA and she has to get all of her clients’ tax returns done, and I promised her I wouldn’t bother her until April 16th.
Do you worry about having a strong opponent?
I’m glad to have an opponent. If you don’t have one, people feel like there’s no race going on. So your voice isn’t heard, you’re not in the paper, no one asks for a quote from you. Whereas if there’s opposition, everyone wants to know your views. They like the interplay.
What’s the political climate now?
It’s a tough year, because it’s a presidential race, and in those years it becomes different because there are factors outside of your control, versus gubernatorial years when it tends to concentrate more locally.
Luckily I’m more well known in the district rather than brand new. When I first started only two towns knew who I was. New Canaan, which I’d been a state rep for them, and Wilton, which has known me for a long time. And then there was Ridgefield. And those are three more Republican-leaning towns. The other four were Democrat-leaning towns, and Westport two-to-one leaning, Weston leaning close to Westport, and the others were a couple hundred more Democratic registered.
That was the year of the Obama tsunami, we call it. Christopher Shays lost the seat as a Republican and my House seat was lost to a Democrat. So I was the last person left standing as a Republican in that district, and I won it by just three towns.
Westport I lost by 2,000 votes. The next few times I ran I won all seven towns. The best was going from a 2,000 loss in Westport to a 1,000 plus. Three thousand people had to change their vote. There they follow the way you vote on issues. It’s the social issues that made the difference for me in Westport. Ridgefield is the second-largest town, and it’s more Republican leaning but they have a Democrat first selectman. But they are the opposite in the social views than Westport. So you have a bifurcation in ideology, which is quite interesting. So I would call this district very similar to a lot of Connecticut in many ways. You have to work very hard to get that crossover vote. But I don’t work at it. I do what I think is right. I try to get a sense of where people are in the district, and vote that way. I never avoid a controversy.
Some people will walk away from a vote, a gun vote, a gay vote, an assisted suicide vote. I will not. I will always vote.