Connecticut Examiner sat down with Democratic State Rep. Christine Goupil, who is running for re-election in the 35th district, to represent the towns of Killingworth, Clinton and Westbrook in the Connecticut General Assembly. She is being challenged in November by Chris Aniskovich.
Goupil, who previously worked for The Prince’s Foundation, an educational charity devoted to fostering the public’s role in traditional urban design and architecture, served as Clinton First Selectman from 2017 to 2019. She won a three-way contest in 2020 against Republican John Hall and the Green Party’s John May.
Goupil told CT Examiner that balancing state and local control of plans to address housing affordability is a key concern for her as towns roll out affordable housing plans. Goupil also emphasized the need to provide in-home care for seniors and adult daycare, as well as programs for the elderly and those with special needs — issues raised in her work on the Human Services Committee. She also underscored the importance of coastal resiliency for shoreline towns in response to climate change.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What do you think makes you the ideal candidate to represent the 35th District?
GOUPIL: I truly feel as though being a public servant is one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had. I’ve worked for nonprofits, I’ve worked for for-profits. Just being able to help people and know that you’ve made a difference — it’s probably why I continue to do it.
You have people who contact you for everything under the sun. Every issue you can imagine. Some of them are really heartbreaking. Just knowing that the folks up at the state level are committed to helping and then collaborating at the local level to find solutions with people … it’s rewarding for that reason.
CTEx: What are your key priorities if you are re-elected to the legislature?
GOUPIL: I’ve been working closely with some of the existing committee chairs —both aging and housing — [on] some concerns and some working groups that were established this year … both working groups are focusing more on senior choice.
One of them is specifically on home care and trying to expand both funding and options so people can age in place, which is sort of a priority for me. We have a large senior community along the shoreline. We have a lot of retirees, but we also have a lot of folks who are struggling in their homes, and it’s kind of hidden in our community. You wouldn’t always know. So making sure that they have the option to stay in their home — because it gets more and more expensive as you transition into nursing homes and care.
The other one is … going to look at adult daycare and making sure that we have that available and expanding that as well.
Housing is a big issue. It’s very difficult to communicate to folks as to what really is the missing middle in terms of housing. And when you look at where the seniors are, you have a lot of seniors who are living in homes that they’d like to downsize but they can’t downsize because there’s nowhere else to move. The market might have been great for them to sell, but there’s nowhere for them to move that’s a smaller housing that has the amenities that they want and has an area that’s going to keep them active, like in a downtown where you walk to the amenities. I think we need to better do a better job of communicating back out to people as to what the priorities are and why.
It’s a complex conversation and I think it is not necessarily a local conversation, because when you look at housing, it crosses borders. Even school districts are shared and you need to look at it holistically. My hope is that once we get the 8-30j reports from all the municipalities in and we’ll be able to analyze that information, we’ll be able to come up with a better plan to look at where the housing gaps are in the state.
Are they based on age? Are they based on density of manufacturing? Industry? Where are they, and are they relative to transportation and all that? What you don’t want to do is relocate people far from their jobs where they don’t have family structure, they don’t have transportation. You need to make sure you’re not doing that.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing affordable housing?
GOUPIL: It’s up to the communities to decide where they think affordability should be. I think it’s the state’s job to help educate and come up with plans. When it comes time to make a decision of percentages, I think it becomes arbitrary. I think you again need to look at partnerships in the community, you need to look at the partnerships that exist.
You need to look at what your actual deficits are in terms of affordable housing and address it that way. Whether or not we will continue to do 8-30g housing, I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s the end goal. We’re going to have to look at what costs are for building that type of housing, Because right now, construction supplies are wildly expensive. It’s very difficult to get contractors. So that’s going to be a part of the conversation.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in making sure that Connecticut is affordable more generally — is there a state-level response to inflation?
GOUPIL: I think with the last session, we certainly focused on it. We did a number of things to make sure that middle-class families, working class families have access to more money, with the tax cuts with the child tax credit so I think that was the way strategically the state went after making sure affordability was in place. We expanded one of the departments that actually looks at evictions, we expanded what they’re doing and making sure people are not being evicted illegally — that’s one of the protections that’s in place as well.
So the state certainly does have a role in terms of enforcement in that direction. But whether or not the state’s going to have a role dictating how much, that’s going to be a longer-term conversation.
CTEx: What are your priorities for education?
GOUPIL: I think the schools just need more resources at the end of the day. We’re going to have a lot of retirements as we’re seeing already, they’re struggling to fill positions. So we’re working right now, this last session, again, creating pipelines, student loan [help] — all these things that are out there right now to help get the pipeline and fill jobs.
We expanded the timeline that teachers can get their certification, which will help as well, especially a lot of teachers who were struggling between the pandemic and their own home life and kids being out sick or whatever.
I’m not going to come in and say you need to teach X, Y, and Z, that’s a community’s decision and … conversation at the state level, boards of education, state Department of Education. But at the end of the day, my job is to make sure that we have the funding in place.
Clinton in particular is expanding their programming for ESL students, which, again, came out of the state budget. So I was thrilled that we were able to fund programming, because our Second-language students in Clinton has just exploded over the past couple of years. So we need to make sure we’re supporting teachers, we’re supporting kids and then supporting the family so that everybody can be successful.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the way the state has balanced its green energy goals with making energy affordable for people?
GOUPIL: That was a hard conversation because of what’s happening- – there’s MIRA, up in Hartford — the municipalities had to make a decision whether or not they’re going to invest in MIRA again. And there’s the social equity standpoint of it: you’re polluting a region of Connecticut in order to both get revenue from that energy, but also to supplement the municipalities. So I think we need to continue to take a hard look.
I don’t have the solution right now for the energy issues that currently exist, especially with the way that we deal with refuse and translating it to energy. I think we have to just continue to invest in the options of solar and others. Over at State Pier we’re doing wind turbines. We see other countries investing in it with tremendous success. You know, Canada all over Europe, they’re getting a substantial amount of their energy from those resources.
So I think that is the priority [and] that we’re going to continue to go towards it.
CTEx: What should the state be doing to make sure that healthcare is affordable and accessible for Connecticut residents?
GOUPIL: The working group, they’re going to look at Medicare and make sure that we have the funding through Medicare for the adult daycares. Again, my big concern is seniors, because it’s getting more and more expensive for seniors with healthcare, and you retire, and you don’t expect your healthcare costs to be what they are.
I think ultimately we just have to continue to work towards making sure everybody has the available resources, and that comes down to revenue through the state. We weren’t able to fund everything, but there’s a lot of programs that we were able to expand that [people] had been asking over and over and over again.
We expanded nutrition for seniors, which is great. That was a huge initiative. The interpreters for deaf, deaf blind hearing, we strengthened the standards for that and we also put funding towards that. Elder abuse, we are making sure the fines were increased for that. And we strengthened the reporting structure. Evaluating the rates of the agencies and nursing homes, and they’re going to report to the aging human services and public health committees. I know New York state is also doing a very robust look at nursing homes and what services they provide, whether or not they’re doing enough. So I think Connecticut is pretty much in line with New York state in terms of that. I think we do a pretty good job here.
CTEx: What are your thoughts about the Police Accountability Act? Do you believe it needs to be changed or amended?
GOUPIL: I just actually met with [the Clinton police chief] very recently and he had concerns about a bill that was somewhat framed the same way. I originally voted for it and after having conversations with the police chief, I went to the governor, asked him to veto it, and that one has a little bit of the same concerns as police accountability.
This is for motor vehicle incidents, and if somebody is injured in a motor vehicle incident … it comes back to being able to sue. And so in conversations with the chief and his concerns, both in terms of being able to retain his current staffing, but then also attract people to the field —- he was concerned.
Whether [the Police Accountability Law] is doing its job — I think we have to continue to look at it. I know the judicial committee two years out, they didn’t bring forward any legislation to make amendments. So they’re sort of standing by looking at it and seeing whether it’s achieved its goals. And I’m sure they’ll bring it back to the table if there’s specific things that they do need to address.
CTEx: What are your thoughts about the legalization of marijuana? Is the current law adequate, and if not, how should it be modified?
GOUPIL: I voted against recreational marijuana because there’s a whole bunch of conversations that didn’t get to happen.
In working with our police department — our police dog, Sonny … that basically makes him unable to do his job. You’ve invested in this animal[‘s] training and all that over time, and now they can’t do the job because they’ve only been trained to detect illegal drugs.
There was the transportation component —- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put out a report saying, if you’re going to legalize marijuana, these are the things you really need to do.
[The law] was pretty robust in terms of its goals for social justice, which I’m fully on board with, but I just felt as though we needed to do more.
Leadership was really fantastic. I met with them quite a few times and raised some concerns, two things in particular they did amend in the legislation. One of them is the packaging … advocating with the children’s committee chair to make sure that they were not translucent and also little-finger safe.
The other thing was some of the folks of the human services in particular here we’re concerned with the substance abuse programming in the legislation — there wasn’t going to be funding within that first year, to address substance abuse. So I said, all right, if we’re going down this path, we’re saying we’re going to get revenue from marijuana, you need to make sure you’re funding that avenue as well.
CTEX: Where do you see yourself within the current Democratic party?
GOUPIL: I have my own personal views, and I am probably a very progressive Democrat, but at the end of the day, I am the representative for the three towns and I need to represent the values and the initiatives that they expect of me. So I’m probably considered a more moderate Democrat in Hartford, in terms of the way I vote. I don’t always vote the way my party votes.