In her third run for the 20th district state senate seat, Democrat Martha Marx is competing against Republican Jerry Labriola Jr. In the last two elections she was narrowly defeated by Republican Paul Formica, who did not run for re-election this year. The district includes Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem, and Waterford.
Marx is a city councilor in New London in her second term and serves as chair of the council Public Welfare Committee. She is a career visiting nurse and is president of her union, AFT Local 5119 VNA SC Registered Nurses and Home Health Aides. She is endorsed by the Working Families Party.
Marx is a lifelong resident of the 20th district. She told CT Examiner that she will be a voice in Hartford for the working class people in the district especially on healthcare issues. She emphasized the importance of defending reproductive rights, increasing affordable housing, and passing a public healthcare option.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTex: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
MARX: From the very beginning, it’s been a very grassroots platform for me. I got into politics because as a nurse for 38 years — especially as a visiting nurse — I saw how our public policy and healthcare policy work and how they don’t work. It got very frustrating to be caring for people and seeing that their needs weren’t being met, so that has always been my number one goal of why I decided to get into politics.
I have a strong voice. I’m a very good negotiator, a very good listener. I know the people of the 20th district very well – that’s why I’m running for my third time. I wouldn’t be running again if I didn’t truly want to be up in Hartford. It’s not easy to run for office. What I hope to do when I get there is to help the working class people of the 20th district. I feel we don’t always have a voice up in Hartford and it’s getting more and more difficult for many people, especially the working poor. I also want to continue to improve health care because it needs a lot of improvements.
CTex: Where do you see yourself in today’s Democratic party?
MARX: I see myself as a Working Families Democrat. I am running for office because I truly care about working people. I care about the people that are doing construction, driving our buses, teaching our children, keeping our towns and state safe, putting out fires, caring for the elderly in their homes — those are the constituents that I truly feel need in a louder voice in Hartford. I’m also an empathetic Democrat. Empathy is lost in this world with many people in politics. It’s what I do every day of my life and it’s what I really plan to take up to Hartford,
CTex: Describe your background, what are your qualifications? What brought you to politics?
MARX: My background is that I’ve lived in the 20th district for almost all of my 59 years – UCONN for four years, then New York and Boston each for a year and then came back. Raised my four children in New London, grew up in Waterford, so I know the 20th district. I’ll make 150 phone calls and I know at least 10% of them no matter which town I am calling. I know what street they live on and what the houses look like. I know the history of every town in the 20th district – it’s very important for your state senator to know what your district is and who the people in your district are.
I feel that I am more than qualified. I actually sit with people every day and hear what their needs are. I have negotiated at least five contracts with my union, very good contracts. I’m a very tenacious negotiator, but you do have to reach to the other side and listen to the other side. What makes excellent contracts is when both parties walk away and are happy — that’s what has to happen more up in Hartford.
I serve on the City Council. Every meeting that I go to I learn something new, every policy that I read I learn something new. I am just so excited to be the next state senator and to be able to vote on policy and create policy that truly helps the 20th district.
CTex: What sets you apart from your opponent?
MARX: I honestly don’t know my opponent. He doesn’t have any of his platform online or on social media. He hasn’t come out with any statements about choice or about guns. After Uvalde he didn’t say anything. After Roe v. Wade was voted down by the Supreme Court, he didn’t have a statement. All I know about him is that he’s from Naugatuck and he was chair of the Connecticut Republican Party and that he was the first chair of the Republican Party to endorse Marco Rubio.
What sets us apart is that people know who I am. I have name recognition now. I have campaigned tirelessly. This is the third time – I’ve already made 8,000 phone calls. I am there for people to ask me questions. I’m there to listen to people, what their concerns are. So I know the district and I don’t think my opponent does.
CTex: What issues are you focusing on in the campaign?
MARX: There’s quite a few of them. Why don’t I pick two? One of them is transportation, [which] is incredibly important to the 20th district.
In New London, I found out that our Smart Rides, which is our micro transit bus was not taking our seniors or anybody for less than a half a mile, and it stopped being free on August 1. This might not be huge for all of the 20th district but it’s very big for New London. I assumed it was going to continue to be free right through November 30, just like all the transit in Connecticut, but the micro transit was excluded. I listened to my seniors — they called me and I immediately got on it. I held a Public Welfare Committee meeting and we met with the parking authority and the mayor and they changed it so that now it will pick up at .5 miles and it’s free through at least November 30. It just shows that I’m quick with my action.
One of my biggest issues right now is choice. My father was an obstetrician and gynecologist. There was eight of us children. My mother was Irish Catholic so we obviously went to Mass every Sunday. When the priest at our church St. Paul’s in Waterford would start discussing abortion back in the 70s, when it first became a right, my father would stand all of us up and the eight of us, with Mama on the end, would walk out of church because he told us how important it was for women to have a choice, for women to have a right to have a planned pregnancy, and that abortion kills many women. For decades, I have held signs saying “don’t take away our birth control” when funding was going to be taken away from Planned Parenthood. I have gone to many rallies and supported women’s reproductive rights, and I have continued to do that through this massive crisis of the overturning of Roe v Wade.
Don’t think that they’re not going to try to take away our right for contraception because it is what their next step is. Even though abortion is codified here in Connecticut, it was codified in the United States of America and it no longer is — so we must have people in state office that believe a woman has the right to a planned pregnancy and to reproductive care. It’s all about health care. I can’t believe that in 2022 I still have to stand up and be an advocate. I thought that in the 70s that we were done with this, but we’re not and I’m afraid we’re never going to be done.
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?
MARX: Affordability comes in so many ways. It’s taxes, it’s inflation. Inflation is worldwide right now, it’s just not in Connecticut, it’s just not in the United States. Much of it is because of the war and with oil prices and with natural gas that gets shipped from Ukraine and from Russia. But it’s also because of COVID and what it has done to closing down the plants and all that.
This past session, the lawmakers did an excellent job cutting $600 million in taxes from the budget. I also would work tirelessly to try to get the car tax to be more progressive. If you own a 2015 Camry in New London, it shouldn’t cost you more taxes than what it costs in Waterford.
I would extend the child tax credit. I would continue to make meals free in the schools. The lawmakers in the last session put $30 million to that so that the kids are getting meals free. A school lunch costs $3.25 in the elementary school — it’s not like when I went to school and it was 25 cents — and it’s $3.75 at the high school. The meals are much healthier and better than when we got fish sticks on Fridays, but that is a lot of money for families to do every week. When you send the kids to school, they should get fed at school, and it would be nice if the state would pay for it, so that’s something I would do.
Suspending the gas tax was very good, but the whole landscape has changed because of the infrastructure legislation and because of the Inflation Reduction Act – that’s going to truly change the way many things get funded here in Connecticut.
Funding for low income people for gas for this winter needs to be looked at. Lawmakers wanted to look at that during the last session but voted it down, but now it looks like it’s a sexy thing to bring it back up. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program just got brought up this past week because Eversource wanted to start cutting off people right now and the legislature just said no because there’s already a moratorium from November to May. Eversource also didn’t even tell people about their options for a payment program — it was just, “We’re going to turn off your gas or shut off your utilities.” This is a company where the top five people make $31 million — you would think they would know how to send a turn off notice that was fair and then didn’t need a bunch of lawmakers to tweak it.
I see that every day. I am in the homes with seniors who have to order gas or oil and they tell me what it’s going to cost and that they’re not sure how they’re going to do it. When I win, I’m going to continue to work as a nurse so I am going to have a lot of accountability out there when I’m walking into their houses. I’m going to work tirelessly and this is what I want to do, these are the people that I want to help.
CTex: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
MARX: Honestly, I am so well versed and have such firsthand knowledge on housing because I walk into homes every day. I’ve been in some of the most gorgeous mansions along the shoreline and I have taken care of veterans who have had to live in a hotel room for a year because they couldn’t find housing. I take care of people who have three generations in a three bedroom apartment, and then I take care of people that can afford a beautiful new two bedroom apartment.
Housing is what gives people a sense of confidence. It helps with their health care, with their being able to just have a positive attitude and to look at life with a sense that they’re going to be okay. Housing shouldn’t take up half of your income. I see the negative effects of poor housing all the time. The state has to help with housing.
What we have on the books now hasn’t really worked. We’ve left it up to the towns to expand affordable housing into their specific towns and that hasn’t really happened. We thought that the accessory dwelling units was really going to be a first small step and many of the towns did not pass that. We need to look at mixed-income housing based on what a person makes, but we also have to entice towns to want to have mixed income housing in their towns. I honestly don’t know why they wouldn’t want diversity – it’s what makes the world wonderful — not just ethnic diversity but income diversity, age diversity. It’s just so positive for a community, but for some reason, there’s many towns that are afraid.
The state has to do a better job because there’s 85,000 affordable housing units that we need in Connecticut and you can’t put those all in the cities. The state isn’t going to help the cities with [that] because the state wants the suburbs to start doing some of the affordable housing. So it’s a conversation that has to continue. We had to ask some really hard questions of people. There was just a lawsuit in Woodbridge that might completely change what happens moving forward, and we’re gonna have to wait and see what happens with that.
Housing is huge and the 85,000 affordable housing units are for the teachers, the firefighters, the police officers, the nurses, the paraprofessionals. We just have to really worry about our veterans too – they shouldn’t have to live in a hotel for over a year before they get housing, and many of them do and they’re tired. They’re not going to come testify in Hartford when this has to be debated, but I will be their voice when it’s time for that to be debated, because I see it all the time. It’s heartbreaking.
CTex: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline?
MARX: The goals have to go more towards clean energy. We have a high reliance on natural gas and that’s all because of the ISO New England and I’m not going to get into all those acronyms.
I think this summer has proven to everybody that climate change is real. I just heard a report that within 35 years, people aren’t going to be able to live in some countries and some states. We have to lower our carbon footprint, which means we have to use more solar, more nuclear, more wind. I hope that we listen to what the DEEP commissioner has been telling us for the last few years and that we try to change the way we use energy. There isn’t time to just keep kicking it down the road. We have to start working harder.
CTex: Is the police accountability legislation effective or are there modifications that need to be made?
MARX: I don’t know all the nuances of the police accountability bill. The immunity that a lot of the police officers were worried about has proven not to be – it was kind of a false narrative when it first got passed. It’s very difficult right now to be a police officer. Police officers do a lot of good for our towns and our cities and there are some bad apples, but there’s a lot of very good people that are police officers and my heart goes out to them. It’s really hard to go to a job every day and try to serve a community when people are looking maybe badly upon you. With the community policing and the police officers getting out onto the streets more and meeting the community, I think that is fantastic.
Sometimes I think, what would it be like if I had a camera on me every time I interacted with every patient? It would be very stressful. I’m not saying that they do need body cameras, but maybe we have to ask a really hard question and everybody else look at what they are doing with their profession.
The police accountability bill has started the dialogue. But sitting and watching a video with HR is not what I call diversity training — that’s included in healthcare. We need to sit around the table and have some really hard discussions where it’s safe. People have to admit that there’s a problem and be willing to change.
CTex: What are your key goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
MARX: We’ve been working on education for such a long time. I remember when Sheff vs. O’Neill was passed and that was supposed to be the silver bullet that fixed everything, and it hasn’t.
We have to take some of the funding of schools away from towns and bring it more to the state. It’s not fair to the small towns that might have a special education student or might have such a small classroom that it’s very difficult for them to fund their education. Then you have the cities like New London that have so many children that they have to educate and so many children with special needs, and it’s not working.
I don’t think I have the answer, but I certainly have had many an opportunity to talk to young parents, and they will tell me what they think needs to happen, as well as the teachers and administrators. All I can say is that I’m going to listen to them and try to make it better. I mean, why are teachers not teaching? Why are school psychologists leaving the profession? Because they’re not getting the respect and they’re not getting paid what they deserve.
CTex: Healthcare: what are key priorities for improving healthcare for CT residents?
MARX: I’ve seen all the good that’s happened in health care, especially with pre-existing conditions and children staying on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26. The expansion of Medicaid has changed people’s lives but it’s still too expensive and too difficult for many people to afford. I believe we need a public option, I want universal health care. I work for one of the monopolies here in Connecticut and they’ve done some good but there’s a lot that isn’t good. The cost has not gone down, the cost has gone up.
I will go to Hartford – I will be the strong voice for the people who can’t afford the copays. It is so confusing, it’s so hard and it takes so long to get a doctor’s appointment, and mental health needs so much work. I’m just going to go up there with a very open mind. I know I’m going to have to work across the aisle with healthcare. We have to make it better for the people because nobody is happy.
CTex: Is the marijuana bill as it’s written adequate?
MARX: I supported the legislation that those communities that have been affected by the war on drugs should be able to prosper from the sale of legal cannabis. I don’t know how the actual license applications are going. I know that Massachusetts tried to do the same thing and you’re going to end up with the big companies – like every industry has the companies that are already there and have money to invest to start up here in Connecticut. Then you’re going to have smaller local people that I hope are successful. I know it’s hard to get financing, because it’s not legal federally. We’re going to watch and see what happens.
CTex: What else would you like our readers to know?
MARX: People know who I am. I’ve lived in the 20th district for 59 years. I’ve cared for the 20th district. I’ve raised my children in the 20th district. I have a lot of family here and I love it. We are a very diverse district, the towns are all very different from each other. Five of the towns are along the coast and we have to save our coastline and really make sure climate change is addressed. We have to look at the income inequity in our district and make sure everybody is getting a fair share of how we’re prospering here. We have a lot of development going on – New London is having a renaissance and what happens in New London will spread throughout our district. I know I am the person that the 20th district should send to the senate to work across the aisle – I have to do it all the time in my job as a union leader. I will do it when I get to Hartford and I know I will make the 20th District proud and I hope they consider me on November 8.