Republican State Rep. Devin Carney is running for re-election in the 23rd district where he has represented Old Saybrook, Westbrook, Lyme and Old Lyme since 2015. His challenger is J. Colin Heffernan, a Democrat.
Carney serves as Ranking Member of the Transportation Committee and the Transportation Bonding Subcommittee. He is co-chair of the bipartisan Connecticut Future Caucus, the Clean Energy Caucus and serves on the Tourism Caucus. Carney also serves on the board of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.
He is a lifelong resident of the 23rd district and attended the Old Saybrook public schools.
In an interview with CT Examiner, Carney emphasized the importance of protecting local municipal control from state mandates and regionalization, especially in zoning and education. He said that the state should not place affordable housing requirements on towns, and that the state’s green energy goals needed to be moderated to include a range of energy sources.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What should the state’s role be in providing affordability for Connecticut residents? Is there a state level response on inflation for CT residents?
CARNEY: I think that the state should reduce taxes, including sales tax and use tax on meals and food. I think that in addition to the gas tax the state should also put a hold on the diesel tax — Republicans did propose that and it was rejected by the Democrats and that is something that trickles down to the cost of groceries, the cost of utilities and other things like that that do affect families.
I would stop the highway use tax from going into effect, which will create a mileage tax on trucks. I would give more control to municipalities in terms of how they spend their money and would reduce the income tax so that folks have more money in their pocket to spend their dollars the way they best see fit.
I think right now with the way costs are, the state has spent a tremendous amount of money, a lot of wasteful spending, especially in the last budget where the budget was increased by over 6%. I really think that the state missed a great opportunity to give more money back to the people with that budget.
And I would really try to reduce a lot of the regulations and licensing restrictions that are placed on businesses and entrepreneurs to make it easier to start a business, to be in a business or to get a job, so that we can start to fill a lot of these jobs and get people back into fields like the trades.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
CARNEY: I would let the market work itself out. The state should not be forcing any policy on our local communities regarding housing. I think there still should be restrictions based on safety, environmental [issues], but let the local communities work it out among themselves.
If there are folks that do need housing, that can’t afford it, I think we can take a look at that and see what options are available because nobody wants anybody to stay on the streets or to be unable to afford to live in the state. But like I said, let them let the market determine what those costs are, what those rents are.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline?
CARNEY: No, I think that the governor has set far too lofty goals when it comes to his carbon free energy policies. While I did support them, I think that we should be going about it in a way that uses a wide variety of energy sources, whether it’s renewable, or nuclear, or fuel cells, hydrogen, there’s a lot of options out there that can help us get to that point. I’m a strong proponent of nuclear — I think it’s clean, I think it’s affordable, and I think it can get us to the place we want to be as a clean energy leader in the country.
Having said that, we do have to be mindful of costs and reliability. If we have energy that’s too expensive or energy that is unreliable, where people are seeing rolling blackouts like we’ve seen in some parts of the country, then we have to do whatever we can to help people out.
My focus is definitely on reliability and cost. I would like to get to those carbon free goals, but it has to be balanced. I’m just concerned that there’s a lot of legislators up in Hartford that are focusing too much on getting us to this carbon free goal and not enough on how it’s going to impact ratepayers, which to me should be our number one concern right now, especially with the costs of everything else.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective – are there modifications that need to be made?
CARNEY: I think there needs to be modifications. We are not getting enough people to want to be police officers — we’re not getting enough qualified people as we once did —we have a lot of vacancies right now. People are turning to other careers. Being a police officer is a career that is wonderful public service and it’s very rewarding. And I believe the state has turned its back on public safety and our police officers to a large degree.
Republicans really helped push the conversation to actually enforce laws like car thefts, home invasions and catalytic converter thefts this year.
But the Police Accountability Bill needs to be more balanced when it comes to how police officers are represented and how much investment is made into public safety and police officers to ensure that they can have a good job, a protected job, while also being able to be trained properly and to serve the public in the best way possible.
Our goal should be safety. Our goal shouldn’t be protecting criminals. And I think that as we’ve seen in the country, there has been too much of a focus on protecting criminals than there has been on protecting victims and ensuring that our communities are safe.
CTEx: Education: what are your key priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
CARNEY: My focus is the students that I represent. I want to support the state as much as possible, but I am the representative for Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook. The educational goals in the towns that I represent are not always the same as other places, so I want to make sure that these schools are able to operate with the most local control possible.
Nobody knows what Old Lyme students need more than Old Lyme parents, Old Lyme teachers, and Old Lyme community members. The state does not have nearly as much knowledge on those students as people here so I want to make sure that our schools are able to be as free as possible for what they are required to teach.
I think there’s too many mandates, so I would look to reduce mandates on our schools.
I would definitely fight any sort of state forced regionalization or educational goals that don’t go along with what the students here need, what the parents here want. That’s my priority up there — ensuring that the schools, students, teachers and residents that I represent have a strong voice against other factors up in Hartford that would seek to change that and think that they know what’s best for our kids.
CTEx: What are your thoughts on improving healthcare for CT residents?
CARNEY: For my key priorities, one of my big focuses is on substance abuse. I want to make sure that substance abuse is something that insurance companies will definitely cover, that it is treated as the disease that it is and that we can offer the best possible help for people, similar to what we’ve done with mental health.
I propose actually tying health and education together — I proposed looking into a recovery school, which would be a high school for young people who are in recovery and it would give them the ability to focus on their recovery while also getting a high school education and I would like to see that go forward.
I want to ensure that insurance costs are not catastrophic. We need to look at how much pressure we’re putting on the medical community in terms of cost and requirements, and the goal really should be quality affordable health care.
I certainly don’t want anybody left out, so we have to look and see what’s the best possible policy to get there. I think a lot of it is reducing some mandates, and really opening up the marketplace to get less expensive insurance, if that means opening up state lines or importing drugs from Canada, which I’ve supported in the past.
CTEx: Is the marijuana the bill adequate as it’s written?
CARNEY: I believe that the government is too involved in the marijuana bill that was passed a couple years ago, which is why I voted no. What we’ve seen so far, which is what I predicted, was large marijuana companies or folks with deep pockets getting these licenses and being able to open marijuana shops.
In terms of social equity the goal of this policy should be to give folks who have actually been negatively affected by marijuana laws of the past an opportunity. I’m not sure that’s happened, I haven’t seen any final data.
I voted for an amendment that would have allowed people — once federal laws change because it’s still illegal federally — just to grow it themselves and smoke it themselves, instead of this regulatory framework that I think is causing a lot of confusion.
Should the government regulate it like alcohol? Absolutely. But I believe the government is looking at it too much from a revenue perspective rather than just letting the market figure it out.
CTEx: What do you see as your accomplishments as a legislator?
CARNEY: We passed a bipartisan budget and 2017 which created a binding cap, a spending cap, a volatility cap, which has helped pay down debt. I helped stop the federal rail from coming through Old Lyme. I helped stop various tax increases including tax increases on groceries, veterinary services, financial services and legal services.
I’ve fought for local control and ensured that our local communities still have a say in zoning and education. I stopped forced school regionalization. I’ve worked to remove the stigma and approved policies surrounding substance abuse and mental health issues. I’ve certainly worked across the aisle to pass strong policy to protect our environment, to improve public safety and public health.
I’ve worked to preserve jobs in the state through supporting our major state companies like Sikorsky and Millstone. I’ve really been a voice of reason in Hartford and like I said, I’m very well respected across both sides of the aisle, and I am someone that has always worked for the best policy possible for the state, especially my constituents, and I’ll continue to do that if reelected.
CTEx: What are your key goals if you are re-elected?
CARNEY: My main points are certainly improving the economy for the state, battling inflation, the high cost of living in Connecticut, getting people back to work and attracting businesses to the state.
Also education — ensuring that public education is strong in the towns I represent, helping students who felt left behind because of the effects of COVID get back on track and making sure that resources aren’t taken away from our communities.
Public Safety — ensuring the state is safe and that our justice system is fair, but also that people feel safe and ensure that criminals are not free to roam the streets and do harm to our communities. Transportation — work to improve I-95 and ensure that federal dollars are spent wisely on transportation projects — I’ve been on the transportation committee my whole time.
And the last thing would be really to ensure that the state government isn’t too powerful, that there is still local control in a lot of areas including education and zoning, that people have a say in what their government does. I get worried that there’s too much power at the state level and I think that having me there would ensure that local folks here have had the most protection possible from state government being too powerful.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Republican party?
CARNEY: I am relatively moderate, so I would probably be in the moderate wing of the Republican Party. Having said that, I am in leadership — I have the respect of my colleagues in my caucus and in the Democratic caucus. I work very well with folks who I may disagree with on certain issues to try to come to a compromise. I’m very fiscally conservative and I want to make sure that folks have the choice to use their money the best they see fit versus having the government make those decisions for them.
CTEx: What sets you apart from your opponent?
CARNEY: I think that my experience and qualifications are much stronger than my opponent’s. I have been active in all four communities for the last eight years, listening to residents, talking to residents, talking to businesses. I’m a part of many local organizations, as I’ve said, and really ingrained in the community. I was born and raised here. I am not a ‘party first’ person, I put people before politics. I’ve never spoken to my opponent and that’s a little troubling considering he’s had eight years to contact me. So I believe that I am more qualified, more experienced, more ingrained in the community and have taken an active role in representing the community by putting people first not politics.
CTEx: Any further thoughts?
CARNEY: I’ve been a state representative for eight years. I feel I do deserve reelection. I’ve always been there for the community I represent, whether at local events, participating in community organizations or up in Hartford. People have gotten a chance to know me. They know that I consistently put people first over politics, that I’ve been reliable, that I’ve been accountable, that I’ve been transparent, and I’ve been accessible.
I don’t just talk to talk, I walk the walk, and they know what they’re going to get with me.
I’m going to go up to Hartford and fight as hard as I can for the 24,000 people I represent. I’m not going up there to fight for a party, not going up there to fight for a community I don’t represent, I’m going up there to fight for my district.
This last budget, I read the whole thing and I know my opponent is saying that I voted against these tax decreases, for example, the property tax decrease for car taxes that actually costs the taxpayers in my district more money, because we don’t get a decrease but we’re going to be subsidizing other communities like West Haven, which had the COVID fund theft controversy — we’re going to be funding them to get a lower tax, not us.
So it takes that type of diligence, that type of wherewithal and independence that I bring to the table. And folks in these communities know that. I’m passionate about what I do. I’ve lived here my whole life. I grew up going to Old Saybrook schools with a single mom that worked three jobs, so I struggled as a kid. I think those are real world experiences and I believe I’m the only candidate that brings this stuff to the table, and I think the voters in November will see that.