Sharp Contrast as Weir Faces Osten in Senate Race

Four-time Democratic incumbent Cathy Osten, faces Hebron business owner Steve Weir, the Republican candidate, in the race for the 19th State Senate District, representing Sprague, Hebron, Columbia, Franklin, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville and Norwich.

Osten, an Army veteran and long-time corrections officer and supervisor,has been co-chair of the Appropriations Committee — a key state budget committee — since  2017. She also serves as vice-chair of the Labor and Public Employees committee.

She said that she is running to make a difference and represent her constituents.

In 2019, Osten lost a bid for a 7th term as Sprague’s first selectman.

Steve Weir has owned several small businesses and is currently CEO of American Integrity Restoration, a fire damage restoration service.

Weir said he’s always followed politics and been concerned with the state budget, but didn’t get closely involved until the legislature was considering tolls as a way to raise transportation funding. Weir said he was upset that the idea was passed out of committee in the legislature despite 100,000 people signing a petition in opposition.

“You know, 100,000 people is a big number to sign up for anything, and to have that be ignored, that’s when I decided to get up and run,” he said.

“If you make it less expensive to live and work in Connecticut, seniors are going to be more secure, businesses can improve and people will want to stay,” said Weir.

Weir said his top priority if elected would be to shine a light on how the state is spending money and to look at ways to address budget deficits. According to Weir, If the state can address its budget, other concerns like high taxes and costs of living and running businesses will follow.

“If you make it less expensive to live and work in Connecticut, seniors are going to be more secure, businesses can improve and people will want to stay,” he said.

Osten said that if she is reelected, she would work to improve the state’s mental health services to help prevent mental illness from leading to prison.

According to Osten, 81 percent of female inmates have chronic mental illnesses.

“It appears to me we just changed geography from what used to be the state hospitals – many of those people are now incarcerated,” she said.

Osten also said that more also needs to be done to address mental illness among veterans, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder. She pointed to an increase in the number of suicides of both active-duty and retired service members, 

Police accountability

Osten, who voted for the police accountability bill in the July special session, said that most of the legislation was bipartisan, and that should would support further changes.

“Use of force,” she said, is a technical term that needs to be clarified. Osten said that there would also need to be changes to “use of force” guidelines, based on findings in a report on local police departments that will be released in December.

“It was clear that many of our constituents in Connecticut at large wanted to see some clarifications, and that’s where the bill came from,” Osten said.

Weir, who was a police officer in Glastonbury for four years, said that the bill was “beyond flawed.” According to Weir, ending qualified immunity will lead to more officers being sued in state court, and towns will be more inclined to settle those cases whether they’re legitimate or not.

“It may cause officers to second-guess being proactive about getting involved in a situation,” Weir said. “Do I want to put myself in a situation that could affect my livelihood, that could cause me to get sued and to put my family at risk?”

Weir said that the bill was a political response to unrest around the country, and that he thought the police in Connecticut deserve more than a “rushed bill.” According to Weir, no officer would oppose more training or body cameras, but that any bill should have been taken up in a full session, and towns would have had more opportunity to discuss the impact to local budgets.

Energy legislation

Asked about recent legislation passed in response to rising electricity bills and the much-criticized response by Eversource and United Illuminating to Tropical Storm Isaias, Osten said that it was clear that there needed to be a performance-based provision for executive compensation, which the legislature accomplished by passing the bill.

“That is one of the main things that angered people, when they saw the [Eversource] CEO making $19 million in one year and not being able to bring people back up to being fully energized,” Osten said.

Osten said that staffing is another key factor for reliable service, and that she would like to see more linemen who work in Connecticut living in Connecticut. She said that there is more work to be done on energy policy, and that she’d like to see virtual net metering, which gives customers credit for having their own power generation, especially solar arrays. Osten said she’d also like to see more large-scale and municipal solar projects, and that the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection needed to allow for great solar generation capacity to allow that.

“That is one of the main things that angered people, when they saw the [Eversource] CEO making $19 million in one year and not being able to bring people back up to being fully energized,” Osten said.

As with the police accountability bill, Weir said that the energy bill shouldn’t have been “rushed” in special session. According to Weir, the bill didn’t address some of the root causes of the power outages during Tropical Storm Isaias, and that there needed to be an emphasis on tree-trimming programs.

“They’ve had years and years to address this, so I’m not sure why we’re doing it in a second special session,” he said.

Executive power, COVID and the budget

According to Osten, Gov. Ned Lamont has done a good job of using executive orders to protect residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that she agrees with many of those decisions.

But Osten also said that the legislature needs to have more input in how federal relief funds are directed. Osten said that the Appropriations Committee, and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, should regularly discuss with the Governor the use of federal funds, and that they should ultimately approve any spending.

“Right now, we are being led by one branch, really one person,” Weir said. “I think the legislature should at least review the executive orders.”

Weir said that a lot was unknown about the virus in March, and it was reasonable for Lamont to act quickly to protect public health. But Weir said that he “vehemently disagreed” with Lamont’s decision in September to extend his executive powers for another five months. Weir said that while COVID remains a very real concern, the public knows more about how to lessen the risk and should be given more trust.

“Right now, we are being led by one branch, really one person,” Weir said. “I think the legislature should at least review the executive orders.”

Asked about COVID-related budget cuts, Osten said they have been cutting the budget for the last decade, and lawmakers have to be careful not to cut the safety net. Medicaid and Medicare line items that fund services for people in the most desperate situations, like nursing homes, are  a large component of the state budget, Osten said.

“That’s something that I think we need to augment, not cut,” she said.

Weir said he would look at the state budget like he looks at his business, by taking each line item, determining if it’s needed and if it’s the most efficient and effective way to spend that money. He said he doesn’t want to “slash and burn” services, but that there have to be ways to spend more efficiently.

Local control and affordable housing

Osten said that whenever there are changes to zoning rules coming from the legislature, it’s coordinated with municipalities, and that should continue. Many smaller, rural communities don’t have city-wide sewer or water, and until the state allows those, it isn’t possible to put more dense developments in those communities, she said.

“You can’t have large, congregate living without having a city-wide sewer system,” she said.

“In small, rural communities, much of the housing stock is affordable housing, and when an affordable housing project comes into some smaller towns, the housing stock that is built is more expensive than existing housing stock,” said Osten.

Weir said the state needs to respect the ability of towns to govern and create their own zoning rules. He said he’s in favor of inclusion, but that state programs are poorly run, and shouldn’t be counted on to direct individual towns. Weir said that towns generally are managed by the people who have the best idea of their needs.

“I don’t think anybody would have more experience and know what’s best for that city or town more than the people who live in that city or town,” Weir said.

Osten said that the state should give smaller, rural towns credit for the affordable housing options that they already have available, but that don’t qualify by deed-restriction for affordable housing, like old mill housing and smaller 1950s housing. Osten said that the state needs to look at the reality of the situation and recognize affordable housing where it already exists. 

“In small, rural communities, much of the housing stock is affordable housing, and when an affordable housing project comes into some smaller towns, the housing stock that is built is more expensive than existing housing stock,” said Osten.

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