Republican Robert Boris is running for State Representative of the 41st district, which includes Groton and Stonington. His challenger is Democrat Aundré Bumgardner. The incumbent, Democrat Joe de la Cruz, chose not to run for reelection.
Boris serves on the Groton Economic Development Commission. He is the president of Command Technology Inc., a Groton-based software company specializing in the defense, marine, aerospace, and power industries.
He has lived in the 41st district since childhood and has a degree in economics from the London School of Economics.
In an interview with CT Examiner, Boris emphasized the importance of retaining local control in zoning and educational issues, using technology to analyze and solve problems and creating a business-friendly environment to attract companies and workers to Connecticut.
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?
BORIS: One of the first things the state should do is make economic education mandatory in high school – this is critical to your survival in the modern world. More than anything else, if you want to protect yourself, education and knowledge of the financial system is fundamental — you’re going to do a huge service and transform lives over time, because so much of everything in our world is driven by economics — access to education, access to health care, all these other things.
I have a degree in economics so I could geek out and make everyone glaze over with talk of CPI and how inflation is calculated. Inflation is fundamentally the rate at which the price of things go up — it’s not CPI, [which] is a bucket of goods that the government decides to track.
When the political class represents our current inflation rate as calculated by CPI, they vastly underestimate it — and they’re underestimating the pain that’s inflicted on the working class and the small businesses in our community, and they do it either to manipulate perceptions or just out of incompetence.
Some of these things are really a national problem. There’s only so much we can do at the state level to manage.
But on affordability, we absolutely can do that with taxes. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and in Connecticut, everybody’s like ‘we want good things,’ but the results aren’t coming from higher taxes.
Companies are leaving — we lost GE, we lost Pratt and Whitney. I can scream and yell and bang pots here, but this is serious — companies don’t leave states that are functioning well. They don’t take their headquarters to go somewhere else if everything’s good — that’s a failure and there’s only so many failures you can have in your state before you run out of headquarters.
There’s a wrong direction happening in the revenue-generating side of Connecticut, in the business friendly side of Connecticut, and we have to pay attention to it, and it’s not being addressed for a number of reasons. It’s why we’re losing population and being less competitive.
Corporate tax breaks are a little bit self-serving for companies to advocate for, but it’s part of the discussion. [It’s] not a recipe that you need to give away money to corporations for tax abatements — it’s not an either or approach. If other states are doing this, we can complain and watch jobs go, or we can do things — like when they engaged with Sikorsky to come up with a plan for Lockheed to leave some things here.
What’s more important here — that people are not talking about enough — is technology.
Technology has shifted the job market completely to remote work — especially after COVID, people could live in the 41st and work for Google in Seattle. You could attract people here based on quality of life issues — to have a house on a beautiful shoreline in a beautiful community and all the amenities they like — if we figure out some of the tax issues related to property taxes and other things to attract them here. Now you can compete for skilled workers working remotely all over the place.
There has to be another way we work together to figure out how we take the assets in Connecticut and make it more attractive for businesses to come here.
I love Connecticut, I was born here, I’m emotionally attached to here, but if you’re a company that’s creating some new wonder product, you’re looking all around for certain infrastructure, a certain quality of life, certain tax things, that are going to help you build your company.
Connecticut’s not on the top of most of those lists and we have to ask why, and how can we get to the top of that? Because that’s what’s going to create an environment for our kids after they leave school to stay in the area.
CTEx: Describe your background, what are your qualifications? What brought you to politics?
BORIS: There are general important standard things: I’m a dad, I have two teenage daughters, so I’ve experienced what it’s like to put them on the bus or drop them off to school in the morning and then worry about their well being. I have first hand experience with some of the contemporary issues we talk about – safety at school, but also the teaching agendas and getting a good education and the role of school boards and PTAs.
My family’s been in business here in Groton since I was 11, so I have specific knowledge about the business environment here and what it’s like to meet payroll here, attract talent in Connecticut, deal with the regulations — not all bad, not all good. It’s just the practical real life experience of actually doing that.
What I can bring to the table here for the 41st is an understanding of the area and a lot of practical knowledge in business — [especially] with technology. I’ve been around technology before the internet – when I was 11, I was putting together i286 and i386 machines.
CTEx: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
BORIS: My three tenets are diversity, particularly diversity of thought, eco-friendly economics, and growth and stewardship. They all tie into one another.
A distinction to be made with my approach is I really believe in decisions being made locally on all issues like zoning, school boards and other things.
I have a good degree in economics and experience running a business and that’s valuable to contribute to the community. I think that people are interested in looking at data and solving problems, and deciding if a program isn’t getting the results we want, how do we adjust it?
We’re getting beyond that sort of normative of ‘fiscal conservative’ or ‘liberal in spending.’ I just worry about what’s effective — that’s really an important kind of philosophical way that I approach things. I’m not hyper-partisan. I’m really about what is best for the community.
The most important thing is everybody’s ready to work together and get over the vitriol that we’ve had, especially in the last decade, and I’m excited to do that.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Republican party?
BORIS: I don’t know how locally things can be divided into a political party. We really all want our children to have jobs and a great education. We all want a clean environment. We all want to create sustainability. We want to attract cool industries, and we’re proud of where we come from. Democrats and Republicans have bragged about Stonington and Mystic and the charm and Paul’s Pasta and all the other things — so these are the things we have in common.
I’ve never been hyper-partisan. I don’t think problems get solved like that. I really think we have so much skill and natural resources here in this district, and if we organize them correctly and work together, we can be tremendously successful — and that’s much more important than some political agenda from outside the district.
To be honest, I don’t really identify with a political party. Let’s put it this way: I don’t find my identity in a political party. My identity is I’m from Groton, in the 41st, and I’m a resident and born in Connecticut, and these are the things that drive my loyalties and thinking.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
BORIS: Everything the state can do to promote policies that attract growth to create housing should happen. I have to look at specific things that would be proposed for the state to do but there’s a lot of things that local towns could look at — accessory dwelling units and things like that — but I don’t think the state should mandate that communities do that.
I don’t want to see Hartford tell Mystic that they need to approve ADUs in an area that the community doesn’t want them. The state can work with and set some guidelines, collect some data, and kind of help make informed decisions, but the decision needs to be made by the local communities. The character and nature of the 41st is vastly different than Litchfield or Bridgeport or other areas, so the homeowners here need to decide. When the state takes over control, bad things can happen.
Just to give one example, we had an issue here in Groton with data centers. The state decided they wanted to attract data centers to Connecticut, so they created a tax relief way that towns could approve this, and they just dropped it on the towns. The Town Council and everyone had to scramble to figure out what is this? They could approve a fee agreement in lieu of property taxes and all this other stuff — but there was no guidance and it was basically a door that opened to something that wasn’t explained from the state.
Groton came together and through a lot of unnecessary anxiety created on local townspeople, they were able to stop the approval because that’s what this community wanted. If the state had had the power to mandate that it wouldn’t have been able to be stopped at the local level.
That’s my concern about things that are, again, ‘road to hell, good intentions.’ I’m not saying everybody out there’s not well meaning but you have to look at the knock on effects. So that would have been terrible and had we had state direct control we would have had a data center in Groton and the townspeople wouldn’t have wanted it and that’s not okay.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline?
BORIS: I’m a big proponent of clean energy across the board. We don’t have any oil wells here in Connecticut, so the supply chain for oil wells is not getting fed by the local Connecticut manufacturing business base — but the supply chain for offshore wind and all the support services surely can be, so we can develop all those systems.
We already have that in aerospace manufacturing. Especially in Groton, we have Electric Boat’s sub base here. We have highly skilled [workers] and a lot of great companies here — ThayerMahan — with a lot of good knowledge base to shore up that supply chain. So, as aggressive as the state can be in that area of promoting, I think that’s great.
We need to be careful about getting out in front of distorting the energy markets to the point where you try to mandate moving away from gas and things like that. Gas prices right now are out of control. A lot of this has to do with non-preparation of production. A lot of people want to say it’s this against that, but it’s really about organizing an efficient transition to energies of the future. A reliance on a non-renewable resource like fossil fuels is economic suicide. That’s not smart. Any economist will tell you that’s not sustainable so there’s no argument there.
The question is, how do we make sure that the working class that families here don’t carry all the cost of this — $5 or $6 a gallon for gas doesn’t impact people with a lot of means, but it really does make a difference in the day-to-day expenditures of working families.
In this argument everyone wants to talk about renewable versus fossil but they don’t talk about who’s bearing the cost of the transition and it’s got to stop being the working families — that’s what makes Connecticut unaffordable.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective – are there modifications that need to be made?
BORIS: I have not looked at the legislation in depth so I can’t really comment directly. I would just say in general, especially in the 41st, police officers are members of our community and their kids go to school with everybody else.
We can improve every aspect of public service and we all want to make sure that there’s accountability and people who do wrong are held accountable. I really respect and value first responders and police officers here. I think that all of us working together can make sure that happens and that there’s trust that’s built over time.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
BORIS: A couple things. One is definitely mentorships— in the way that Electric Boat has worked with Grasso Tech to create a channel for skilled workers to have a closed loop where they come out of school with some necessary skills. There should be ways in high school that you have an on-ramp or a full way to get accreditation and healthcare services and things like that — kids leave school with a skill set that they can immediately earn money in and be engaged in the job market. The more that we can do those things, the better.
Technology and economic literacy is very, very important. We do our kids a huge disservice if they leave high school and they don’t know how to balance a checkbook or understand how the Federal Reserve works. It just leaves them susceptible to Ponzi schemes and also working in jobs that aren’t sustainable, and being taken advantage of. Especially with online learning components, you can integrate a lot of things due to the Khan Academy. I’m a nerd so I have the Teaching Company lecture series that I listen to all the time. It’s just with technology, we have so much more access to experts all over, so if you’re enthusiastic about an area, you can really learn and students can get involved.
CTEx: What are your key priorities for improving healthcare for CT residents?
BORIS: Just do something. It’s frustrating to me, the bureaucratic overhead in health care. I can give an example right now, I had sleep apnea so I was trying to schedule a sleep study — I want to get the CPAP machine. But, I had to see my doctor, who had to refer me to a sleep study and all this takes a bunch of time and there’s 16 calls. I was able to get an app on my phone that records me sleeping and tells me when I’ve stopped breathing — we already know all these things, but I had to have a doctor’s visit and they have to have a sleep study and another consultation before the insurance company will pay for the machine.
Medical records — there’s a lot of ways that we can improve the process. Part of this is sort of by design — the system is inefficient because when something’s inefficient, it means somebody’s making money in the process and they don’t necessarily want to promote efficiency.
This is another area where, when we get past the partisan vitriol, you can actually sit down and go, ‘look, this is ridiculous.’ How do we get more value for an insurance dollar and how can we make this better?
It’s kind of frustrating as an employer. It’s super expensive for health care and I wouldn’t ever imagine not providing that to employees, but it’s more and more money for less and less service. Something’s broken and the dialogue needs to change and we need to solve it.
You can have a million approaches to it but I don’t see enough conversations about solutions.
Because my business is technical data, I think more along the lines of you can save a lot of money by eliminating some of the paperwork and consolidating medical records in a way that you are securely creating a paper trail where you don’t do redundant things — you can eliminate a lot of waste with the way you intake and process data. I’m sure that there’s areas you can pick up 10-20% efficiency like that and that will that’s where it would go immediately.
It’s also going to help medical outcomes because, for a doctor to be able to access a clear, clean medical record, they can identify issues with all the information in one central place … not only is the efficiency gained, but also health outcomes — it’s exciting.
CTEx: Marijuana: is the bill as it’s written adequate, does it address social equity concerns and are there things that need to change in the regulatory framework?
BORIS: I’d start by saying one promise I’d make if I have the honor of being elected is I’ll never comment or vote on a bill without reading it thoroughly, so I can’t comment directly on the contents of the bill because I haven’t read it completely.
But, I will say about social equity and other things related to that: the Brittney Griner situation [that’s] happening right now — where the Biden administration is trying to get her out of Russia for a small amount of marijuana possession — highlights that there’s a inconsistency in how we’re dealing with that. We have people that are in prison for that same level of possession and there’s not the same level of effort being applied to their release or addressing the systemic issues related to the legacy they have to carry with them because of the way we used to treat possession of minor amounts of marijuana.
There’s a lot of work that absolutely needs to be done here. We really need to work in a bipartisan way to move things forward, address the past inequities and and have a coherent way of incorporating medicinal marijuana into our healthcare system, and in our society in a way that is balanced and healthy for the community.