Heather Maguire, a Republican, is challenging one-term incumbent State Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw, a Democrat, for the 17th district seat, which includes Avon and Canton.
Maguire has served on the Avon Town Council for eight years, and chaired the council for four years. She moved to Connecticut in 1989, when she became president of the Avon Junior Women’s Club, a nonprofit that raised money for philanthropic organizations. She was a PTO president at multiple schools and has volunteered at different local organizations, including serving on the board of Avon Dollars for Scholars and the board for Northwest Catholic High School.
“I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes, get the job done, no drama mama,” she told CT Examiner. “There’s drama in politics, and that’s something I don’t enjoy, but I do like to help people and listen to people and talk to people and solve their problems.”
Maguire talked with CT Examiner about her desire to make Connecticut a less expensive state for businesses, retirees and recent graduates, the importance of local control in decisions regarding education and housing and her concerns around making sure that young people, and people in crisis, have access to care.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What are the top priorities for you if you are elected to the state legislature?
Maguire: There’s so many things, but just making Connecticut more affordable. I think the cost of living in Connecticut has really gotten to be among the highest in the nation. So that’s one of my big issues. Preserving our town government, keeping local control into the towns. Protecting our communities, keeping them safe. And one of the big things through the whole pandemic is access to mental health. Those are my four key things.
There are a lot of people that feel like, now that they’re retired, they need to be thinking about moving out of the state because they find it unaffordable. This is state taxes and going shopping — groceries, gas — it’s just a culmination of a lot of excessive expense. So I think that is really kind of at the top of my list.
I also am concerned for business owners. I see some empty retail spaces. They’re struggling, and there’s excessive taxes, I believe, on businesses. We should be doing everything we can to support businesses, to have successful businesses, and not just businesses that exist — businesses that are thriving and successful because then they can grow. People will hopefully support these businesses, but the state needs to support them by not overtaxing and making demands on their probably limited resources.
So I think making Connecticut a place where people want to stay and not move out of. My daughter just graduated from college. She doesn’t want to move back to Connecticut. She wants to go where there’s more activity — well, I think there’s plenty of activity. And this is a great state and I would love to see her come back here. I think people tend to be looking towards less expensive locations.
As I talk to people also in the community — feeling safe, keeping our community safe, giving police more of the tools that they need to protect people, being a little tougher with our criminals, on crime, so that they’re not out in three hours and stealing cars again. That is something that I think people are really reacting to. They see an increase in crimes, and some violent crimes, and people are scared. So that has not changed.
Again, really top of my list — local control. People want to have the ability to have planning and zoning, stay in their community and not be dictated by the state. They want to have a voice. They have the most vested interest in what’s happening in their community. So keeping those decisions local is important to people. I’ve talked to a lot of parents that are concerned about what kids are learning in school. And a lot of people just feel let’s get back to the basics of reading and writing and arithmetic, and want to have a say on their Boards of Education. And I hear a lot of parents wanting to talk at these meetings and have a voice. That’s what I’m hearing. And those are important to me as a candidate.
CTEx: What do you think the state’s role should be in providing affordability for Connecticut residents?
Maguire: I think they have to look at ways to reduce spending. There’s a lot of overtaxing in my humble opinion. We need to take a look at, and see, what can we do? The gas tax holiday — couldn’t we extend this? Property taxes – keeping them as low as we possibly can. But the state’s role is to do checks and balances and see where we can cut spending. How can we be more efficient? How can we do things better?
Could the state have done more for inflation? Yeah, I think cutting back on some of the taxes, extending a tax holiday, would benefit the state and residents of the state.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing affordable housing?
Maguire: From a local perspective I think we have some pretty strong planning and zoning boards. And I do think that that should come down to local control — the local communities. I believe that there should be affordable housing, but I think that they need to let the local communities direct how it’s done and where it’s done. They know their community the best, and to do a state mandate to local towns and municipalities is not really the direction that I would see this going.
CTEx: How do you think the state has done in balancing its green energy goals with the cost of electricity and gas?
Maguire: In Avon we have a clean energy commission. I know for me, it’s important to be looking at sustainability and clean energy. I was a big proponent of solar panels on our schools and municipal buildings. I think wherever we can minimize the exposure to the high cost of energy or electricity, we’re better off. It helps the bottom line.
[In Avon] we worked on putting electric charging stations in when we recently put in a village center. That was part of what our planning and zoning group wanted — is to have electric charging stations.
I think we want to work on making that available to citizens, give them opportunities to utilize and get charged wherever they’re going. I think those are some things that we’re looking for when new development may go in.
I always have supported green energy. I just want to make sure it’s affordable, finding the right balance to make sure that it doesn’t cost us more and that we’re getting a proper gain from things like solar panels.
With rising costs of energy and utilities,we need to be looking at every possible source of energy. Everything should be an option. We just have to strike the right balance.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving educational outcomes for children in Connecticut?
Maguire: I think getting back to basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. I think we’re very fortunate. Avon’s a great school system. My daughter went through there and was very well prepared. She got everything she needed out of school. My sons attended Northwest Catholic, and I feel like they were well educated. I think that you give your local boards the opportunity to educate without potentially unnecessary mandates.
Getting back to the basics — I think that’s how we’re going to compete and continue to get into good colleges. I think we have kids that are getting into great schools. I think many people are moving to the Avon area because of the schools. So I think the local boards are doing a great job.
CTEx: Do you have key priorities for improving healthcare in Connecticut?
Maguire: Well, clearly I’d like to make it available and affordable. As I mentioned, mental health is a big issue. Trying to get an appointment that’s covered by insurance is really hard. And I think with COVID people hesitated to go to the doctors and now they are playing catch-up and it’s hard to get appointments. What can we do to fix that? What can we do at a state level to help it?
I think mental health was really addressed in many ways at the last state legislative session, and I think that was a real step in the right direction. I just see it as something that’s going to be an ongoing and growing need as we have an aging society and increased mental health issues.
I see that for kids trying to get an appointment with the doctor, it’s months to wait. So I have some concerns, major concerns about that. And then there’s the overall price of insurance that makes it so hard. I had a gentleman who was talking about being an independent business owner and for him to get insurance for his family, it was exorbitant.
What can we do to help them? And again, this channels back to affordability. If we can make it affordable for him maybe to work with a consortium of other independent business owners to get health insurance at a better price, is this something that we can facilitate? So again, a big task ahead. I think nobody has the absolute answer, but the immediate need is reduction in cost and more availability.
CTEx: What are your thoughts about the Police Accountability Law? Are there modifications that you think need to be made, and what are they?
Maguire: I completely support our police officers, and I think that they need to have the resources available to do their job. Some of the nuances as far as the standards of training, I know in Avon, we have for a long time used CALEA for their accreditation. I don’t know if every town can afford to do that. It is very labor intensive. I know we’ve brought in additional staff to go through the accreditation process. I know that there’s other options through the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to get accreditation. I think that might be a little bit more reasonable.
I think we need to support the police in what they need as far as the liability. Sometimes I think it’s hard when a police officer has to make a split second decision. I think they’re very hesitant to do that now because of the potential liability that they face.
I guess my overall feeling is that whatever we can do to support and show our support for our first responders and police force, we need to do. I think I need to know a little bit more about the nuances of this entire bill. But I know from talking to some law enforcement folks that they didn’t feel supported by the state and that’s not a good place to be. So obviously more conversations need to be had.
CTEx: What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana? Do you think there are things in the legislation that need to be changed?
Maguire: I understand that a lot of our surrounding states have done it and have been relatively successful with it. I think it should come down to a town’s decision whether or not they want to sell it and where they want to sell it.
I think there should be some regulation as to monitoring if somebody is driving when they’re high and I don’t know if we really have mastered that piece.
CTEx: What is your position on the Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade? Is there something Connecticut should be doing in response?
Maguire: Connecticut has laws that are already codified for a woman’s right to choose, and I support those rights. I have no interest in changing them. I am pro-choice. I don’t support late-term abortions, but I do think that in many situations, it’s the hardest decision a woman has to make.
I believe it’s a woman’s right to choose – that’s the bottom line. It’s between a woman and her doctor. Every situation is very different — my situation is different from the woman down the street who was perhaps raped or had an incest situation, or is a young teenager that got pregnant. Every situation is different and I don’t want to play judge and jury. And so from that standpoint, I am pro-choice.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself falling on the spectrum of the Republican party?
Maguire: I think I’m a moderate Republican. I’m conservative, but I also like to listen to both sides of a situation and form my own opinion. I think every situation, every bill is going to be somewhat different. Am I always gonna vote the party line? Maybe, or maybe not.
I like to be fiscally responsible. I like to keep spending down. I like to keep our community safe. I like to let people make their own decisions. Less government involvement. Less mandates.