State Rep. Christine Conley (L) and Lauren Gauthier (R)

Gauthier and Conley Face Off in the 40th District, Groton and Ledyard

The first in a series of interviews with candidates across eastern Connecticut

Republican candidate Lauren Gauthier is running against two-term incumbent Democrat Christine Conley for state representative in the 40th district, which includes Groton and Ledyard. 

Gauthier works as a special projects manager for Norm Bloom & Son oyster farm in Norwalk. She is a member of the Groton Representative Town Meeting and the State Contracting Standards Board. She also volunteers  with the Special Olympics Mystic-Ledyard. She has been endorsed by the Independent Party of Connecticut. 

Conley is an attorney at Groton-based Embry Neusner Arscott & Schaffner specializing in Workers’ Compensation law. She has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood and a number of union organizations.

The Economy

Asked how she would respond to possible 10 percent cuts in the 2021 budget to address a $2.5 billion deficit in the state budget, Conley said that a blanket cut on programs wasn’t going to work.

“If we cut five, eight, 10 percent across the board, we’re going to cut too low on a lot of things,” she said. 

Both Conley and Gauthier said that health and human services budgets needed to be prioritized. 

“There are basic services for folks, especially in COVID,” said Conley. “When it comes to food insecurity, housing — you need a roof over your head.” 

Conley said that since a number of people are retiring this year, one way to save money would be to refrain from hiring any new people. 

“A hiring freeze, I think is a very good thing to do,” she said. “And then opening up positions as they are absolutely necessary to try to hold the dollars and the budget line as close as we can.” 

Conley also said she would be in favor of generating revenue through taxes on legalized online gaming and marijuana. 

Gauthier said she believes that renegotiating some of the state contracts with private companies and taking advantage of more competitive bids could be a more long-term way of cutting costs. 

“I think the state really needs to be more aggressive in making sure that every single contract that we have, [that] we are getting what we need and we are holding firms accountable,” she said. 

Gauthier also proposed restructuring the administration to cut out unnecessary positions. 

“We have a lot of excess at the top, and I believe that if we could help decrease that we could actually increase the amount of people that are providing direct services to our residents.”

Small Business

When asked what she would do to help small businesses suffering from the economic shutdown, Gauthier said that she would support a greater opening of the state from restrictions intended to limit the spread of COVID-19. “If we’ve proven that individuals can interact safely with health precautions … I believe that we should be able to open up the state more and, in that way, businesses can come back to work.” 

Gauthier said she would also support a low-interest loan to businesses who were not recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program or CARES Act funding. She proposed making childcare more accessible, saying that this would increase the number of hours people can work and the number of women and people of color in the workforce.

In addition to more short-term fixes for COVID, Gauthier also said that the government should work with industries to get rid of regulatory barriers in order to improve business long-term. “There are certainly measures that are important to provide for consumer safety, but there are also measures that prohibit new entrance into the industry and prohibit current enterings from expanding,” she said.

Conley said she’s been working toward getting job centers open on a by-appointment basis to help the unemployed find jobs or learn a new skill set. Conley said that she wants to make the Department of Labor website easier to navigate for people trying to get unemployment applications approved. 

Executive Power

When asked about the Governor’s decision to extend his executive powers through February 9, Conley said she believes that the Governor’s executive orders have been an appropriate measure to take during the pandemic. 

“I think the Governor having the ability to do executive orders as COVID can change overnight is necessary.” said Conley. 

She also said that Lamont has consulted the legislators on the orders. “I’ve had input on executive orders. I know my colleagues have had input on executive orders. If there is an overstepping, we can call ourselves in and we can override.” 

Gauthier said she believes that keeping executive power in place until February is excessive. If in July the legislature was able to gather with little notice for a special session, she reasons they should be able to make rapid decisions about the pandemic. 

“I think it would have been more appropriate for Governor Lamont to do this on a short term basis. He can always extend it,” said Gauthier.  

Housing and Zoning

Asked about what the state’s role should be in overseeing local zoning regulations, Gauthier said that if the state wants to encourage towns to adopt affordable housing, they need to provide incentives, like state grants or tax credits to developers. 

“That’s something that needs to happen collaboratively with the state and the municipalities, as opposed to just handing down a mandate from on high — you know, one solution for all of the myriad different towns.” 

Conley says that while she agrees that incentives for affordable housing are a good idea, she’s not sure that now is the time to offer them.

“In times where we have a lot of extra money incentives are wonderful,” she said, “[But] I wouldn’t want to see an incentive to have affordable housing take money away from food services.” 

Conley said she would support using any extra money the state receives from the federal government toward incentivizing municipalities to create more affordable housing. 

“I think that is an opportunity that we should take full advantage of,” she said. 

Energy

Asked whether the state should regulate electric utilities more strictly, Gauthier said the problem with Eversource was its uncertain status. 

“We act as if it’s a public utility, but it’s owned by a private company,” she said. 

Gauthier proposed bringing in more utility companies to give consumers a variety of options, thereby forcing the company to compete. The other option, she said, would be to treat the company exclusively as a public utility and tighten regulations, although she said she feared that this would be reflected on customer’s bills.  

Conley said that Eversource needed to be held to account for its lack of preparedness during the previous storms. 

“Their response time was not acceptable. And inflating the bills is not acceptable whatsoever, especially in these times.” 

She said she would support mandating that electric companies compensate individuals who lost food and medicine in power outages, mandating crew sizes and oversight on rates. 

Police Accountability

When asked what provisions in the police accountability bill should be kept or be changed, Conley said that bias training, recruitment of minority police officers and body cameras were all critical.

“I think body cameras make it safer for officers and also make it safer for members of the public, that you have that unbiased eye — the camera — to see what happened on that stop.”

Conley said she understands that qualified immunity is difficult, and she believes that many people don’t fully understand the changes being made. She said she’s open to the idea of rewording the bill. 

“Let’s have those discussions,” she said, “so that victims can have their day in court before a jury, and that officers, municipalities, people are protected appropriately.” 

Gauthier says that while she agrees with “about 90 percent” of the bill, the qualified immunity provision was going to create enormous expenses that would ultimately take money away from things like health and human services. 

“We’ll see considerable costs being pushed onto the municipalities and the municipalities having to scale back their policing efforts,” said Gauthier. “So it is a backdoor way to defund the police, but it’s not defunding the police in the way that the proponents want.”

“If elected, then I would go back and I would fix those key elements where we can continue to have accountability, continue to have transparency, but not create a substantial financial burden or liability for the municipalities and the individual officers,” added Gauthier. 

Debt obligations

When asked what her priorities are if elected, Gauthier said that one of her goals would be to get Connecticut out of debt, part of which would require renegotiation with the unions, and particularly the debt from the teacher’s pension fund.

“Once we free up that money from debt obligations … the state can start making good on its obligations to municipalities through funding their municipality grants,” she said. She proposed  investing in infrastructure, and particularly transportation, in order to attract more people to live and work in Connecticut.

Bills in the Legislature 

Asked about her priorities as a representative, Conley pointed to 20 or 30 bills she has co-sponsored in the House, some which she said she would particularly like to see passed in the next legislative session. Several are bills on women’s health — one would create an informed consent rule for vaginal exams on anesthetized women, another would outline certain requirements for a room in the workplace where female employees can go to breastfeed. 

Another bill, the Homestead Act, Conley said would prevent life insurance policies from being evaluated by a judgment creditor and increase the value of property exempt from a judgment creditor, which Conley said would prevent people from losing their houses as a result of small debts. 

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” she said, “Just waiting, waiting until we can get back into session and start moving forward on some bills.” 

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