Newcomer Democrat Dave Rubino, a human rights lawyer with a practice in Old Lyme, is challenging incumbent Republican State Rep. Devin Carney, an Old Lyme resident and native of Old Saybrook. Carney has held the house seat in the 23rd district, representing Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, and Westbrook, since 2015.
Carney, who sits on the Transportation, Finance, and Planning and Development committees, said that “the biggest issue is how we are going to move forward from COVID.” He described the challenge as “multi-faceted,” involving public health and the economy.
“Obviously we’ve had a lot of issues because of businesses closing and people on unemployment and the budget deficit,” said Carney.
Carney said his goal is to move the economy forward in the most fiscally responsible way and to set the state budget in order despite a projected $2 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year.
“I’m very concerned there’s going to be too much reliance on tax increases or municipal mandates next year and I don’t think a pandemic is a good time to be raising taxes,” he said.
Rubino, who worked internationally on projects funded by the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, said that one of the reasons he is running now is the pivotal state of the country, a “true moment in our nation’s history.”
“We’re facing a pandemic, we’re looking at the biggest racial justice movement since the civil rights era,” he said. “We’re looking at an economic downturn that could last for a decade and we’re probably the most divided the nation has been in a decade.”
Rubino said that he has always worked in a bipartisan manner and wanted to apply that experience in Hartford.
“I worked most of my career with lifelong Republicans, lifelong Democrats and when we’re talking about bigger issues, we’re able to come to resolutions,” he said. “I think it’s important that we have leaders in Hartford who not only know how to fight those bigger fights, but also understand how to get over those divisions between the parties and work with those other parties because we weren’t always like this, this country wasn’t always like this.”
Asked how he would respond to possible 10 percent cuts in the 2021 budget to address an expected deficit in the state budget, Carney said that it would require extensive work from both sides of the aisle to find areas that could be cut.
“It’s going to require ideas from all across the political spectrum and I think one of the things I bring to the table is I have a different perspective than the majority,” he said. “It’s something that really should be a collaborative effort with each representative and each senator to try to come up with solutions because this is an issue that affects every single one of us.”
Carney said he is opposed to raising taxes to increase revenue.
“I think people are struggling and we need as much money flowing through the private economy as possible and I just think a tax hike is going to discourage a lot of people. People are hurting and it’s just not the time for it,” he said.
Rubino said that he hoped the 10 percent figure, which has been suggested by Lamont, is high. “But if not, if that’s ultimately what we’re looking at, I’d say there’s two ways to deal with budget shortfalls — one is to cut spending of course, the other is to increase revenue.”
He said that certain areas are “untouchable” particularly during the pandemic, including programs related to healthcare and economic assistance. Rubino also said that he would support unions and would not ask them for more concessions.
“Would I raise taxes? I think it depends what type of taxes we’re talking about,” he said, adding that he was in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing it as a source of revenue.
Rubino also said that the state “should and can look at tolls again.” He said he envisioned a system similar to Massachusetts and New York, where there are tax credits for residents who drive on tolled highways.
“For me, there’s a fairness in tolling because the only people using the toll roads are actually paying for the tolls, and we’re mostly a pass-through state,” he said. “The local residents will end up net neutral and the pass-through ones will end up bringing in the revenue.”
Carney said that he opposed plans for tolling as they were proposed by Lamont and would only consider a plan that did not impose any additional burden on Connecticut residents.
“I think that if you made it beneficial to Connecticut, if you reduced the gas tax extensively and made it a guaranteed wash for Connecticut residents, that’s something maybe we could look at, but that wasn’t discussed,” Carney said. “I would look into it, but that’s not what we saw at all. Every plan had Connecticut residents paying at least 60 percent of all tolled revenues.”
According to Rubino, who said that he lost power for four days after Tropical Storm Isaias, the problem of energy rates and service could be addressed with long-term planning and a hard look at how Eversource makes money.
“Companies like Eversource are purely profit driven… When they come to PURA every year to ask for rate increases, but then simultaneously increase executive salaries and decrease worker staff, this is not a solution for better energy sources,” he said. “Personally I think we should be looking longer term at this problem.”
Rubino was also critical of the Millstone power purchase agreement, saying that the state should not rely on nuclear power as a 10-year solution, but should look to transition away from both carbon-based and nuclear energy.
“To find those kinds of solutions we need some strong, comprehensive and bold policy. We need to actually look at the environmental climate change crisis the same way we were looking at the pandemic,” he said. “We cannot sit back and decide to do these stopgap, band aid measures to try to fix our problem because we don’t have time.”
Rubino said that if the state put longer-range goals in place, Millstone workers could be transitioned into new, green energy systems when the plant finally closes.
“That wasn’t done before we did the stopgap Millstone plan and that’s what I take issue with. I think we need to start thinking longer term about this stuff instead of just session by session,” Rubino said.
Carney said that every energy decision should first be evaluated by how it affects the ratepayer and that PURA should provide stronger oversight.
“Whatever we do really has to have ratepayers’ interests in mind,” Carney said. “I think there has to be a cost-benefit analysis for everything. Even though it might sound good to penalize Eversource, what if that penalty comes back to the ratepayer, what do we solve?”
Carney said that Millstone is a valuable asset to the economy in southeastern Connecticut and that shutting it down would simply force the state to switch over to energy generated from natural gas — a fossil fuel that is subject to pipeline supply issues.
“Renewable energy cannot fill that gap right now,” said Carney. If the Millstone power purchase agreement needs to be restructured, the legislature can take a look at how to improve it, he suggested. “Maybe let’s go back to the drawing board. Of course you’ve got to get everyone in agreement on that.”
Police accountability bill
“I think it was a bill that was rushed and I think that had we taken a little bit more time, we could have come up with a better product. That qualified immunity part was definitely a sticking point, not just for Republicans, but also a lot of Democrats have voted to remove that piece of the bill,” said Carney, who voted against the bill.
Carney said that he expects there will be unintended consequences with the bill, including lower recruitment and higher retirement rates.
“We need to have the best police officers possible. We want it to be a job that people want to do and I get a little worried that it’s going to be a job that people really don’t want to do and we’re going to end up with a lower quality of police officer,” he said.
Rubino said he would have voted for the bill for a number of reasons.
“I’ve been a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, but as you may not know my grandfather was a police officer,” said Rubino. “Growing up that was a great source of pride for me and our family so I want to start all of this with the caveat that I know definitively that most police officers are good, that most police officers are there to serve the common good, but that doesn’t mean we don’t address the system issues that allow these bad apples to emerge, particularly when those bad apples are leading to the disproportional deaths of people of color.”
He said he supported the qualified immunity clause because, as a lawyer, he did not believe there would be a rash of frivolous lawsuits against police officers because lawyers won’t take cases that are not profitable and winnable.
“The fact of the matter is only officers who acted in bad faith, only officers who recklessly, willfully violate citizens’ civil rights will be going through the court process in this,” he said.
“Only the bad apples will get weeded out. These things aren’t going to make it through the court system if the cases themselves are bad.”
Carney said that he would oppose any new state laws that would override local control of zoning. He compared the issue to forced regionalization of schools, which he opposed when Lamont raised the idea in 2019.
“I think local control is important. Is there room for any change? Sure, but I don’t think it should be controlled by the state. I think each community is very different in their zoning and character so I think it’s important that there is that local control piece of it. That’s why people move to a certain town,” said Carney.
According to Rubino, the votes probably aren’t there in the legislature to pass a statewide zoning law, but he said given that single family homes in many communities are unaffordable for young families, he did see a problem with municipal zoning laws and a lack of affordable housing.
“But that also affects disproportionately people of color and as somebody who has lived and worked around the world, I can tell you that the vibrancy and energy that culture brings to a community is a net benefit for all,” said Rubino. “I do think zoning laws are prohibitive and do need to be changed if it’s at a municipal level or a statewide level, it would really depend on the specifics of that piece of legislation.”
“We want as a district to have somebody who’s at the table, not somebody who is just reacting to what is coming across their plate,” Rubino said of representing the 23rd district.
Rubino said that highly-rated schools draw families to the area, but that the district needs to take a comprehensive look at how to make the region a “destination” that includes green jobs and industries.
Rubino said that he believed in healthcare for all, partly from his experiences in other countries. He said the topic can be politically divisive and he wanted to keep the conversation bipartisan and open.
“We need to discuss what these policies would be like, would it save money. We need to look at the data, and if it makes sense and how it makes sense and how it would affect our economy,” he said. “Unfortunately these are conversations that we can’t even have on a policy level because of where we stand, politically-divided.”
Carney said tax relief, environmental preservation, education and tourism are among the issues he keeps a close watch on.
“I’ve always been a strong advocate for the district,” he said. “The important part about that is when you’re going up to Hartford, you’re representing your district. There are 151 of us and I’m going to represent the four towns that sent me there.”
He said his big accomplishments have been stopping the federal rail proposal that would have “decimated” historic Old Lyme as well as stopping state forced regionalization, which had raised concerns with parents about the impact on the quality of education for their children and with property owners who worried about increases in property taxes.
“It’s important that we have somebody up there focusing on the district, with knowledge of the district, who has years of experience living in the district, working in the district, and representing the district — those years of experience and knowledge about this area, you can’t get that overnight,” Carney said.