Gauthier Pitches Getting Money Out of Politics, a Nonprofit Approach to Energy and Healthcare

Nick Gauthier

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Nick Gauthier, a Waterford native who works for the town’s Senior Services Department, is running to unseat four-term incumbent State Rep. Kathleen McCarty to represent the 38th State House district, which includes Waterford and part of Montville.

Gauthier told CT Examiner that he considers the specifics of policy above party line. Gauthier said he believes he can find solutions on issues that have a broad consensus but are made to seem divisive because of a fixation on divisions between political parties – issues that include abortion, the shift to renewable energy, healthcare, and limiting the influence of money in politics.

In an interview with CT Examiner, Gauthier said that high costs of energy and healthcare in Connecticut stem from systems that allow private companies to turn large profits on what should be public utilities. Universal health coverage and municipal utilities, he said, would take profit out of the equation and lower costs.

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Gauthier, who is cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party and Independent Party, sat down with CT Examiner to talk about his goals if elected to the State House. His responses have been edited slightly for length.

What is your platform, and what are the key issues you would focus on at the State House?

Protecting fundamental rights – abortion rights and a woman’s right to choose being chief among them — and they are under attack right now. I am pro-choice and my opponent is anti-choice. She voted against House Bill 5414, which protects abortion and abortion-seekers in our state, and to me that’s an unacceptable vote that endangers women and girls in our state.

I’ve seen other legislators bring up that we might need to further codify abortion rights in our state constitution, which would require a supermajority vote of the General Assembly. So every single vote matters in the General Assembly, to have as many pro-choice votes there as possible.

Access is also important, because you can have a right on paper, but it doesn’t mean anything if there’s no practical access to it. Even before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, there were states in this country where abortion was already inaccessible because there were no clinics or health care providers in the area. So whatever we can do at the state level to uphold community health clinics and health centers within our state is important.

Healthcare is certainly a big issue, and what I think we need to do is move away from our for-profit healthcare system as it is, where we have massive corporations that are the primary health insurance providers that make a huge profit off our healthcare needs, and they get in the way of people being able to afford to see a doctor.

The other main thing is workers rights overall, to make it easier for people to join and form unions, to negotiate in their workplaces for higher wages and better benefits and safety, and their basic rights as workers.

I’m also cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party, and they are all about policies like paid family medical leave, which is great as a concept, but the actual implementation needs to be strengthened so more people have access to it.

What should the state do to make healthcare more affordable and accessible?

I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people who are paying thousands in private insurance premiums, but then still not seeing a doctor because either the copay or the deductible is way too much, and that’s unacceptable. I don’t think anyone’s healthcare needs to take a backseat to some corporation’s profit. Healthcare needs to be about healthcare and not profit.

I think we need to move to a universal, not-for-profit coverage system for everyone. And when it comes to prescription costs – we’ve put a cap on insulin costs, which is a good start, but I think we need to go a lot further with that. It’s certainly important that people be able to afford insulin, but there are any number of prescriptions that people are not able to afford.

You also have ridiculous situations on the provider side, like the situation at Windham Hospital where they’re trying to shut down the maternity ward – because that’s the business decision, not a healthcare decision. Obviously people in that area are still going to need maternity services, but they’re making a business decision. And that’s what a business does, it makes a profit. To me, those two are incompatible.

We need to decommodify the whole system, but we should definitely start with insurance. I think there are practical steps we can take. We have a very strong public system already for state employees, who are in a publicly-funded healthcare pool. There have been bills in the past to include all municipal employees on that same system. If we can do that, why not all people?

If you take the profit out of the equation, all of that money that is going towards a return on investment to shareholders and paying millions of dollars to corporate executives, that can all be put towards healthcare, or at least making sure that costs on individuals are not nearly as high.

What do you think about the job the state has done balancing clean energy goals with the cost of energy?

We need to be going fully for investment in clean energy. For me that’s an all of the above approach – everything from wind, solar, hydro, even geothermal for heating, and nuclear all need to be a part of it. Both of my parents spent the bulk of their careers at Millstone, which I am very supportive of.

But at the same time, because of the rates Eversource charges us, especially the delivery fees, we’re paying way too much for our energy. We have municipal utilities in the area in Groton and Norwich, and from what I understand people’s electric bills are lower than the rest of us who pay to the private corporation Eversource. So that might be another area where we look at treating our energy needs as public utilities, as public goods.

But as a state, we definitely need to heavily invest in all of the above when it comes to green and clean energy, and that includes making sure Millstone operates as long as it’s safe to operate.

What are your goals for improving educational outcomes and mental health for students?

With mental health, healthcare costs and coverage is really the core. If everyone is guaranteed health care and can see a doctor when they need to, that definitely will help. But within the schools, it’s making sure there are mental health professionals, social workers, counselors within schools.

But the biggest problem with funding our public schools – and we’ve seen this from Scheff v. O’Neill – is the funding model. For me, that’s the fundamental problem in how we have such vast inequality in our public schools – that schools are funded primarily on local property tax. 

So if there’s a town that has a high property value and high property tax base, then you have well-funded schools, you can pay your teachers well. And that’s fantastic for those towns that have that, but we shouldn’t have situations where you have radically different opportunities in the next town over – where the school is funded in a radically different way just because of their property tax base.

I think we need to think about how we can move away from funding schools in that way, and move more towards a universal model, meaning statewide funding of our public schools so that we have equality of opportunity.

We shouldn’t be locking into place those inequalities where the outcome of your education is based entirely on your zip code. We’ve had so many back and forth discussions about revenue sharing and changing the funding formula to make it 5 percent better. But the core of the problem is that we rely on local property tax. There’s no magic wand to just create that if you don’t have it, but if we work together, we can equalize school funding.

What role do you think the state should have in providing affordable housing?

That’s something that I’ve worked on in local office on the Waterford RTM.

The state needs to play a big role in affordable housing. Again, if we think of housing as a profit-making system and ways in which we can entice private developers to come in and build housing, we’re going to run into the wall of, well, if nobody’s making a profit, they’re not going to do it. So what are other funding models that can work?

In Waterford, right around the corner here, we have the AHEPA buildings, which is a nonprofit that we partnered with in the past to build affordable housing for seniors. Because they’re a nonprofit organization providing some of the funding, that makes it so that we can build something that is actually affordable for people.

What really got me in reviewing what the state’s definition of “affordable” is for our area – a one bedroom I believe starts at about $1,250 a month, which is really not all that affordable. So I think we need to look at different funding models like nonprofits, but some of that funding should come from the state as well, so that towns can build actual affordable housing and not have to rely on a private developer coming in and trying to get to a point where they’re making a profit.

What are your thoughts on the police accountability law passed in 2020, and are there any changes that need to be made?

I definitely want to see more mental health professionals involved in our public safety response. I know in New London and Waterford, we’ve made partnerships with state mental health services. In New London they actually do ride-alongs with officers and spend time responding to calls with officers, and I think that’s a great idea. And I believe officers in Waterford have the ability to call in a mental health professional to the scene.

Armed officers are great for responding to violent and dangerous situations, but I think there are nonviolent situations, mental health situations, where people really don’t have anywhere else to turn, so they call 911 in a situation where it would be better if a mental health professional could show up.

I think in some ways we’re putting too much on officers. They get trained in mental health protocol, but that isn’t their primary profession. They handle those situations the best they can, but they don’t have the background of a social worker or trained mental health professionals. So anything we can do to have more mental health professionals helping our public safety services, I think that’s a good approach.

What are your thoughts on marijuana legalization, and are there any changes that need to be made to how that is being implemented?

Overall, I am 100 percent in favor of that, for the primary reason that people should not be locked away for personal use of marijuana. I’m very disappointed that my opponent decided to vote against it. We don’t need to be locking people away and spending our resources on locking people away for using something that most people acknowledge is safer than alcohol.

It’s also a personal freedom issue. If we say people at a certain age have the right to choose to drink alcohol, then people should have the same right to choose whether to use marijuana.

What we need to do better is, now that we’re setting up a regulatory process and an industry for the legal sale of marijuana, the social equity aspect needs to be a lot better. I’m very disappointed that a lot of those who seem to be getting the contracts are those who are already coming from a background of high wealth, and how it’s really just immediately become corporatized. 

The whole point was supposed to be that people in the communities that were most hurt by the war on drugs by being licked away for marijuana possession and use in the past, they were supposed to be able to get to the front of the line to be made whole by being able to sell it in a legal and regulated way. That is not happening nearly as much as it should, and those who already have a stronghold, maybe in another state, are just dominating the market. It’s kind of a Walmart-ization of legal cannabis sales in our state, and that is disappointing.

Where do you see yourself in the Democratic party?

For me, it’s all about policy. 

My really number one issue and concern is money in our politics. Like we just talked about with marijuana legalization, those with the most money seem to be the ones controlling the process. That happens with healthcare, it happens with pharmaceuticals, it happens with fossil fuels and trying to transition away to green energy. Too often money dominates the process.

So if we agree that we need to eliminate money from our politics, if we agree that people should have healthcare, if we agree we should transition away from fossil fuels to green energy, if we agree workers should have fundamental rights in their workplaces – it doesn’t matter to me what party you are, if we agree on the policies, we should be working together.

What frustrates me is how elections are talked about as a horse race, Republican vs. Democrat. But you look at the issues – abortion rights are considered controversial because the Republican Party holds one view and the Democratic Party holds another, but if you look at where people stand on the issue, it’s very one-sided that most people support abortion rights.

Editor’s note: In the short introduction we edited out mention of “bipartisan” solutions between Democratic and Republican parties at the request of Gauthier, who emphasized that the broad consensus was not a matter of political parties and did not have to include both parties.