In a rematch of the 2018 election, incumbent Republican State Rep. Kathleen McCarty faces Democrat Baird Welch-Collins in a race to represent Waterford and Montville in the Connecticut General Assembly. In their previous contest, McCarty bested Welch-Collins by 351 votes, 51.6 to 48.4 percent.
After three terms in Hartford and six years on the legislature’s Education Committee, McCarty — who also served for 20 years on the Waterford Board of Education — said that her focus will remain on schools and students if she is re-elected.
“We are going to be more challenged to narrow the gaps in education that exist across the state. How are we going to eliminate the gap and ensure that each and every one of our students gets a quality education?” said McCarty, reflecting on additional problems posed by COVID-19. “I want to push for the state to step up its commitment to education which has been short-changed in a lot of areas.”
In addition to addressing education issues exacerbated by the pandemic, McCarty said that she hopes to introduce legislation promoting collaborations between employers and technical schools, as well the recruitment of minority teachers into every school district in Connecticut.
Welch-Collins, who works as a middle school teacher in Lebanon, said that his focus, if elected, will be on the economic recovery from COVID-19.
“What do we want the economy to look like in Connecticut in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years? It’s not going to go back to what it was,” Welch-Collins said.
He said the focus needs to be on reducing the cost of living for young people in the state, to make it easier for businesses to recover and to move to Connecticut.
“We need to have an emergency tax restructuring plan to take the burden off of our working families,” Welch-Collins said. “We are in one of the richest states in the country, so there’s no reason that the taxes need to be so high on our working families.”
He suggested that public banking should be part of the plan to diversify the tax base and bring in dollars that can be invested directly in Connecticut.
Both McCarty and Welch-Collins said that as the pandemic moves forward they hope to see the legislature more involved in policy making.
“I’m very grateful for the Governor, for what he did in the beginning,” McCarty said. “But right now, we are looking at the health data and moving these executive orders all the way to February, that’s where I have an issue. There should have been more conversation to say, ‘let’s look at it again in a month or two.’”
Welch-Collins agreed, but he also said that McCarty and other legislators should have provided more vocal leadership for their communities during the pandemic, even if they weren’t directly involved in state decision making.
“I was disappointed to see that so many legislators just disappeared and were absent,” he said. “I was very disappointed with what happened with the legislature. If I can teach a class virtually then why can’t they govern and communicate virtually?”
Renewable energy and saving Millstone
In addition to his ideas for tax reform, Welch-Collins said that the area needs a state representative who will focus on energy, and specifically how to transition the regional economy away from Millstone Nuclear Power Plant.
“It’s become clear that Millstone is going to leave. At this point, our focus needs to be on what comes next,” he said. “Waterford taxpayers deserve, and even the region, Montville included, a legislator that is going to be realistic. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and pretend we’ve saved Millstone forever … we need to move on.”
McCarty, who supported legislation in 2017 in an effort to ensure the nuclear plant would not be shuttered by Dominion Energy, said that she will continue to support the deal in place.
“I support wind and solar, but I believe nuclear has to be that transition going forward,” she said. “We need to keep the contract in place. We need to counter the disingenuous information that goes out that Millstone was the reason that your bill went up … Millstone is a tremendous asset to the state.”
Welch-Collins said he would most likely have voted for the legislation if he had been in office at the time, but that the goal now needs to be on recruiting a new company to the region to provide jobs, rather than on saving Millstone.
“Waterford and Montville need a legislator in Hartford that is going to be up there every day and say we have a problem and we need a solution. The state needs to be proactive about bringing in one of these companies that’s going to essentially keep the taxes from jumping up,” he said. “We need to keep Millstone around as we navigate the process, but we need to have representation in Hartford that sees the next steps as an opportunity.”
New revenue and new cuts
Asked how they would prioritize state budget choices — given that in August, Gov. Ned Lamont directed agency heads to plan for deep cuts to the state budget of 10% — both Welch-Collins and McCarty said they recognized that cuts to current programs would be necessary.
“Cuts are going to have to happen. That’s just the way it is,” Welch-Collins said. “The red lines are education and public safety, and public safety doesn’t mean just law enforcement. It means domestic violence prevention.”
To help pay for these budget priorities, Welch-Collins said that it was time for the state to legalize and tax marijuana.
“We are really behind the game and losing money to Massachusetts hand over fist,” he said. “It’s not going to be the magic fix in the budget, but it’s time.”
McCarty said that spending cuts, rather than next taxes, would be her priority. She suggested that the state should consider reducing the amount that it spends on overtime — especially for law enforcement and corrections officers.
“We need to keep an eye on overtime and keep looking at public-private partnerships,” she said. “There are millions of dollars of savings if we do this properly.”
Budgetary red lines for McCarty include current funding for the opioid epidemic, mental health and disability services.
“These things need to stay. We do more harm when we cut back on funding,” she said.
Police reform and the accountability bill
After the legislative session was cut short this year by efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, one of the far-reaching bills of McCarty’s third term in office — the police accountability bill — was passed in a July special session. McCarty voted against the legislation.
Welch-Collins said that if given the chance, he would have voted to approve the bill.
“I was very disappointed,” Welch-Collins said of McCarty’s vote against the legislation. “Waterford and Montville both had massive rallies in support of Black Lives Matter,” he said. “I support Black Lives Matter.”
McCarty and Welch-Collins both support efforts to revise the legislation.
“One of the requests that I’ve heard from police officers that I’m friends with is that they want the legislation to be more clear,” Welch-Collins said. “Right now there is a lot of confusion about what it means. What does it mean for their jobs, their job security and what training is going to look like. We owe that to our law enforcement officers.”
According to McCarty, a bipartisan policing bill could have come out of the legislature, if a provision intended to limit qualified immunity had been dropped from the bill pending further study.
“You could have seen a bipartisan bill if that one section was left for the task force to continue to work on,” McCarty said. “I personally was very disappointed, I would say devastated, that we couldn’t come out of that evening with a bipartisan bill … I think we lost an opportunity to bring us all together.”