McCarty Pledges to Continue Advocating for Schools and Mental Health if Re-Elected

Kathleen McCarty

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State Rep. Kathleen McCarty is running for a fifth term to represent the 38th State House district, which includes Waterford and part of Montville, saying she wants to continue to advocate for mental health and for improving schools.

Calling herself a moderate Republican who tries to bring bipartisan consensus to contentious issues, McCarty advocates for lowering taxes without cutting services – even saying the state may need to spend more on education to combat the achievement gap between districts. 

At the same time, McCarty stands behind local control of education and housing, saying the state has a role in providing access to both, but that it’s better for Hartford to incentivize than to mandate what towns do.

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In 2020, McCarty defeated her Democratic challenger Baird Welch-Collins by 345 votes, and she defeated Welch-Collins by 351 votes in 2018. This year she will face Waterford Democrat Nick Gauthier.

CT Examiner spoke to McCarty about her plans if re-elected to another term in the State House, and her comments are slightly edited for clarity.

What would be your key goals if elected to another term?

Education, mental health, the economy and public health – we began a lot of work there in the past legislative session, and we need to continue that.

I’m a strong proponent of having quality schools and education for all of our students, and I would like to look at new ways of funding our schools, and look at maintaining local control. I was pretty instrumental in stopping forced regionalization in the past, so I believe in keeping local control of our schools. But at the same time, I want to have quality education throughout our state.

The pandemic has led to some very serious issues, with pressing and debilitating mental health issues becoming prevalent in our schools. Many of our students are battling depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation. Anxiety is really rampant. Many of my suggestions were embedded in the three mental health bills we passed last session, and I want to make sure those are implemented properly.

Mental health was one of the reasons I ran initially for the legislature, and I’d like to continue to raise awareness about mental illness, to erase the stigma so people have an understanding that it’s an illness just like any other illness. 

I also want to ensure that all of our students throughout the state receive quality education. We’ve been fighting that achievement gap for so long, but we need to continue. Last session I advocated for early literacy. That’s important to make sure our early childcare programs are working to remove the barriers that exist there.

What does the legislature still need to do to improve educational outcomes for Connecticut students?

Early literacy is very important. We have to concentrate on ensuring that all our students are really reading by third grade. Once you have a student who feels successful and has a role in their education, they’re better suited to continue their learning and we avoid a lot of issues later on. So that’s an area we have to continue to work on.

Because of the pandemic, we have to go back and look at attendance issues and learning loss. Those are going to take some focus to make sure we get that right.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about parental engagement. I’d like to assure everyone that I work closely with the Department of Education and the major stakeholders, and there’s an ongoing discussion to increase parental engagement, and we’ve made some success there to restore some of the confidence and trust that needs to exist. I am a firm believer that educators are educators, but parents are the primary educators. We need to work together to do what’s in the best interest of our students.

But one of the top priorities is going to be ensuring that we have nurturing, safe schools and environments. What I mean is we need to look at our restorative practices and make sure that every student is in a position to have optimal learning. If the student isn’t prepared, they’re not going to be in a position to learn. 

I believe strongly that social-emotional learning is an important area, but I think there’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what it is, so I would like to continue to educate on that to reduce the fear. I believe we all share the same goals, so my goal would be to bring everyone together and build trust, so we do what’s in the best interest of our students.

I’ve always been someone who advocated that every child should have the resources they need, so that’s one of the reasons we’re going to be looking at the unified [Education Cost Sharing] formula. We need to have a formula that works for everyone and doesn’t create winners and losers. It may cost the state more, but in the end it will be a cost savings.

What do you think of the job Connecticut has done balancing renewable energy goals with the cost of energy?

I am very glad that we were able to have Millstone recognized for what it does for clean energy in our state, and for helping our state reach its clean air and decarbonization goals. I’ve been a strong advocate of those goals, but it is more costly, so we really do have to work together to understand how we can continue with the goals that have been set and look at what is realistic. I think the high cost of living and energy costs are interrelated.

I want to reiterate how important it is for the state to have Millstone, and I fought hard in the legislature to make sure we didn’t have a premature closing a couple years ago, and that was crucial to the state to continue with its clean energy goals. And we also know the economic benefits there – they produce close to $1.5 billion and 1,500 jobs, and for my district they bring in a $30 million tax base.

So I’m in a position where I say, yes we need to move towards clean energy goals, but also look at the time frame, because electrification of all of our vehicles is a laudable goal, but it’s going to put an additional strain on our electric grid. So we have to do it in a way that is affordable, and continue to look at where we can find efficiencies so we can accomplish both goals. 

I was pleased to have a high rating from the League of Conservation Voters, because I do believe in climate change and I think we as a state need to come together to address that. But there’s no doubt there is a cost to moving to clean energy, and I think that’s something we’re going to have to figure out together.

What do you think is the state’s role in ensuring people have access to affordable housing, and is there any policy that needs to be changed or implemented at the state level?

There’s been a lot of discussion about 8-30g, and I don’t think it’s really been all that effective in the sense that only about 18 percent of our municipalities have reached that goal [of 10 percent affordable housing].

But I am a proponent of affordable housing because I do believe our residents have the right to live in nice, affordable homes, or are able to rent them in communities that do have high performing schools – and hopefully in communities of their choice.

However, I also believe our local zoning boards know their communities, and that the approach of working with municipalities to try to incentivize them to do more with affordable housing makes more sense than a statute that doesn’t seem to have met its goal. I’m a proponent of taking a look at the municipalities’ affordable housing plans to try to find a way to work with them so their goals are accomplished

We have young people who can’t live in the town they grew up in, and seniors that can’t stay because of high property taxes, so I think it’s the right way to look at finding affordable housing for all these different walks of life, including teachers and police officers. It’s expensive to live in some communities, so I think it’s incumbent on us to find those answers – maybe look at more loan opportunities for younger residents and tax credits for first-time homebuyers.

Affordable housing correlates to quality of life, and in a state that should be able to offer that type of housing, I think we still have work to do. I think everyone has the same goal, but may have a different approach on how we look at really answering the problem. I think you do better when you incentivize, rather than coming down with a strong mandate.

What does the state still need to do to make healthcare more affordable and accessible?

I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the state, but we still have a long way to go.

Everyone should have access to good healthcare, whether it be on state or private insurance. We need to continue to work with our insurance companies, looking at high costs of prescription drugs. Last session we did a lot of work with the interstate medical licensure compact and reciprocity in licensing, and we need to continue to do that so we have the professionals actually here that can deliver.

We need to continue to work on the opioid epidemic. I’m very focused on seeing what we can do to address this fentanyl issue. Also, we have to ensure the crisis helpline for mental health services is working properly. 

I think it’s an issue that definitely needs a lot more work in the legislature. We did pass legislation to look at telehealth as a way to get people healthcare, especially in rural areas that might have as much access. The high deductible costs with long term care insurance is another big one we need to continue improving.

We also took a look at lead poisoning throughout our state, especially for children. We need to work there on clean air and clean water. It’s all interrelated. It’s hard to give a concise answer, because it runs the gamut. We have a lot of work to do.

What else should the state do to make life more affordable?

I think we’re overtaxed. I think that contributes, especially right now when you look at what we’re going through with inflation and this excessive taxation on almost everything you can think of – this new truck tax, gasoline, property, conveyance – all these taxes add up. If we could really take a stronger look at how our taxation works and start to give more relief, that could help.

We’ve talked on my side of the aisle about reducing the income tax from 5 percent to 4 percent, and I think that would go a long way. I also think we can look at efficiencies in our state government, without taking critical programs away. We’ve called for audits, and I think legislators could look at those audits as a way to find efficiencies while maintaining those programs.

I’ve been an advocate for looking at how we do our budget process. There’s a piece at the end of every budget process called the implementer where you sometimes see very expensive programs that did not go through the public hearing process. So I think looking at some of what we do with transparency and accountability in government could work.

But again, it hits on all scores. We are over-regulating and over-taxing our business community, and we really have to focus on keeping our businesses healthy.

What do you think about the police accountability law from 2020, and has there been anything that you think is effective or needs to change?

Overall I think it was positive, but there could be some modifications to it. We recognize that our police are there for safety and protection, they put their lives on the line for us daily. And I think one piece of that bill that our police and community would agree on was mental health and bias training that I think we all agree builds more confidence in our police force.

However, I don’t believe the piece on ending qualified immunity was done properly. Any time we do a piece of legislation, I think it should be open for revision or review. So I would say that is one piece we should look at. 

When we do an important piece of legislation, it’s important that we get bipartisan views and work together. And this is no exception. We have a shortage right now with recruiting police, and I think that would go a long way to help. 

What did you think of marijuana legalization, and do you think there need to be changes to how that’s being rolled out?

I always believe we can go back and improve legislation, and we did that this year with marijuana by prohibiting advertising of cannabis on billboards that were in close proximity to schools, which I think was a positive change. So I’d like us to continue to look at possible changes.

The legislation is fairly new, so I think time will tell and give us a better insight into where we might go back and make revisions.

Where do you see yourself in the Republican Party?

I guess if you could give it a label, I’m a moderate Republican.

If you go back to my record, I think it shows that I take a balanced view and look at all sides of an issue. I do the necessary homework and reading and understanding the legislation and the impact it could have on my constituents. So I think I would classify myself as a Republican using common sense, and being a voice of reason on many issues. 

I try to bring consensus to issues that may be contentious. So I consider myself a moderate that tries to do what I believe is in the best interest of my constituents. I think the record shows that I look to do what I can for them, and not just what’s the political decision.