Republican American: Republican candidates ‘no-shows’ at CAFTA forum in Torrington

First appeared in the Republican American on 9/20/2018 here.

TORRINGTON – The conventional wisdom is that Democrats are hungry this election cycle, eager to obtain a better balance of power in Washington and to retain or build control in the state legislatures. Four of those hungry Democrats showed up for a candidate forum sponsored by the Connecticut Academy for the Arts (CAFTA) Tuesday night in Torrington. 

None of their Republican opponents put in an appearance.

Taking the stage at CAFTA’S Cineteque Theatre were Democratic candidates David Lawson, running for the 30th Senate District, Melissa Osborne for the 8th Senate District; Maria Horn, 64th House District, and Michelle L. Cook, the incumbent representative for the 65th House District who currently serves as Deputy House Speaker.

Republican candidates – Brian M. Ohler, 64th House District incumbent, Molly Spino, 65th District, and State Sen. Craig Miner – submitted written statements but were not present to take questions from the audience. State Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, who is running against Osborne, was neither present nor sent a statement.

Also absent were Republican incumbent Jay M. Case and his opponent for the 63rd House District, A. Candy Perez, both of whom submitted brief statements.

Cook, who has served the 65th District since 2008, said she was “disappointed” that the Republicans had not come, a view shared by Horn, who concluded that the conversation had been stimulating but would have been better with opposing points of view being offered.

Justin Giampaolo, chairman of the Torrington Republican Town Committee, said Thursday there was “no collusion in terms of boycotting the event.” 

“It was an unfortunate series of prior events. We attended two years ago and certainly will attend in the future,” Giampaolo said. “There are four to five candidates that serve multiple towns and have multiple events. It was unfortunate timing.” 

During Wednesday’s forum, discussion ranged over topics as diverse as education, pharmaceuticals and medical insurance coverage, college costs, the budget deficit, and funding for the arts.

“This is a critical moment in our history,” said Horn. “We need a government that shares and communicates our values. We need a government that looks at every single line while prioritizing funding for our most vulnerable. We need to make sure we create a just and fair economy.”

All four candidates stressed their ability to work collectively for the common good and their willingness to find compromise solutions. Cook noted that there has to be a discussion of “how we get to the middle” when Democrats and Republicans are polarized in their budgetary goals. But, she cautioned, care must be taken not to create unintended economic stressors as changes are made. 

Osborne agreed. “We have to ask what the results of our decisions will be. What is it going to cost? Is it a real saving or does it just look like it is cutting costs? If I cut money from seniors or from prescriptions, that person just ends up in the ER, which we all pay for. If I cut education, who will want to move to Connecticut? We need a 10-year plan.” 

Horn said “hard decisions” will have to be made as the state strives to join the national economic recovery. Referring specifically to funding for the arts, she acknowledged the tie to economic growth, but warned, “There are lots of things that will be close to our hearts but all issues should be considered holistically.”

All the candidates advocated making higher education more affordable. 

“We have to make sure college is affordable or free,” said Osborne. “If it were more affordable or free, our children would not leave. I want people to start careers not owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Horn admitted that she had felt burdened by the debt for her own degree. 

“It changes your decisions,” she said, adding that an educated workforce is critical. “We need to fund a range of educational opportunities so we meet kids where they are.”

Bemoaning the cost of his own children’s college educations, Lawson, a retired teacher, said, “Every year I felt like I bought a Cadillac and drove it into a lake.” He suggested that the state would benefit from offering free or low-cost education if students were required to stay in-state for five to seven years. “That would erase the debt,” he said, “because they would be staying here, paying taxes, becoming rooted in the community.”

In his written statement, incumbent state Sen. Craig Miner had a similar idea. He said that job growth and inward migration would produce competitive wages, which would boost real estate values “and Connecticut will join the rest of the nation in the recovery.”

Osborne noted however, that Connecticut “is lagging behind, making it less likely our children will stay here.”

MediaMeghan FlanaganMedia