Debate Turns Heated as Cohen and Crisci Trade Barbs on Economy, Aid in Dying, and Environment

Democratic State Sen. Christine Cohen and her Republican challenger Paul Crisci (CT Examiner0

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GUILFORD — Incumbent State Sen. Christine Cohen and her challenger Paul Crisci exchanged points and barbs in a sometimes heated debate about Connecticut’s economy, aid in dying, and regulating PFAS in drinking water on Tuesday night. Cohen, a Democrat, and Crisci, a Republican, are vying to represent Branford, Durham, Guilford, Killingworth, Madison and North Branford in the State Senate.

Crisci underscored his intention to hold the state accountable for its spending and enforcement of the laws that the legislature has passed, while Cohen highlighted her work on the Environment Committee and her efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs and create a public option.

Cohen also touted the fact that the state had finally managed to pay down some of the liabilities left over from 40 years of pension debt. Cohen said this would result in substantial savings for taxpayers. 

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“What that means for the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut is about $11 billion in savings over the next 25 years. That is not a small amount,” said Cohen. 

But Crisci called Cohen’s numbers “fuzzy math,” and said that the state was relying on the federal coronavirus relief funds and a robust stock market — what he called a “hundred year storm” of revenue.

“We’re 60-some-odd-billion dollars in debt and we haven’t gotten it right yet,” Crisci said. “[The public’s] money has not been spent properly and we die a death of a thousand cuts.” 

Cohen shot back that, “paying down $5 billion in black and white in our budget … is not fuzzy math.”

She also pointed to the $600 million tax-cut package passed last year, which included an increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit and a Child Tax Credit.

Both candidates said they wanted to make it easier for small businesses to operate in the state by removing regulation, and said they wanted to see more public-private partnerships. 

Crisci said that the state was suffering an “identity crisis” that could be fixed if small businesses were allowed to flourish. 

“Imagine Yale-New Haven no longer existed. Who are we? What do we have?” asked Crisci. “We have so much to offer. This is an amazing state. Yet if you remove Yale, it looks like a wasteland.” 

Cohen said that the state had a net positive number of young professionals moving into the state last year, and pointed out the need for workforce development programs. Cohen said that the state had also seen its largest number of small business applications “in many, many years.” 

Crisci responded that the state was still missing 100,000 jobs since the great recession of 2008. He also argued that small businesses were going to find themselves responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unemployment.

“It’s nice to be in support of small business. It’s another thing to do something. We need to start giving small business the support they deserve with a plan, not just a hope and dream.” 

Cohen said that the $1 billion loan that the state took out to support its unemployment insurance trust fund during the pandemic had already been 90 percent paid off. 

“Not one penny of that is going to be on the backs of small business,” said Cohen. 

The candidates also debated affordability and the need to convince young people to remain in the state.

Cohen said that affordable housing was needed both for young people and seniors — although she said she didn’t believe that 8-30g, the state law requiring towns to have at least 10 percent of their housing be affordable — was necessarily the way to go. 

“Do I think that 8-30g is working for us? That’s always the hot button question. I’m not sure it is,” said Cohen. “I think we need to update the law and make sure that we’re looking at perhaps naturally occurring housing. Look at the different makeups of the towns. But I also know that right now we have a severe detriment, and that is that we do not have enough affordable housing here in the state of Connecticut.” 

Crisci said there were housing complexes being built, but that the necessary infrastructure, like public transportation, wasn’t there. He also said that the area needed to be more attractive to young people. 

“I don’t think we’re on the short list of young people living in Connecticut. We need to give them a reason to be here,” said Crisci. 

The debate sharpened when the topic turned to aid-in-dying.

A bill passed by the House of Representatives last year, and which could come before the Senate next year, would allow physicians under limited circumstances to assist a person with a terminal illness to end his or her life.

“If I just came down from another planet, I would swear we have a population control issue,” said Crisci. “I find it disturbing that we keep talking so much and celebrating death as we keep doing.” 

Cohen said she did support the aid-in-dying legislation after hearing people suffering from terminal illnesses and their family members give testimony on the bill last spring.

“It is truly heart wrenching to hear from the spouse whose husband has ALS, or the person who was just diagnosed with ALS … [and] other debilitating diseases that are progressing at rapid rates, that cause immense suffering as people are dying and their loved ones watching helplessly,” said Cohen. 

Crisci said he felt the state was “overstepping our bounds” in allowing physician-assisted suicide and with what he said were some governors talking about day-of-birth abortion. 

“I would encourage Mr.Crisci as well as the audience to read the legislation that was proposed so that there’s no misunderstanding about in what cases aid-in-dying would be granted,” Cohen said.

“I would ask Ms. Cohen to go read a Bible,” Crisci replied. 

Cohen and Crisci also disagreed on environmental issues.

Cohen said she was working on coastal resilience to help shoreline communities deal with flooding, and that she was talking with farmers about sustainable farming and dealing with droughts like the one that happened over the summer. She also spoke about her work on Connecticut’s “Clean Air Act,” a law passed last year to accelerate the transition to public and private electric-powered transportation.

“We are quite literally the tailpipe of the country,” said Cohen. “We are … upwind of many states. That means that we bear the brunt of many emissions from other places, and we need to do what we can to not only encourage the states around us to lower their emissions … but for the state of Connecticut to do the same.” 

Crisci said it wasn’t right for the state to be talking about carbon dioxide emissions and at the same time expanding flights at Tweed Airport in New Haven. He also raised the problem of electric buses catching fire, and pointed to what he saw as the state’s inaction on addressing the high levels of PFAS found in the drinking water in Killingworth. 

“Where is the outrage and where is the push to fix that? There are children in schools for drinking bottled water,” said Crisci. 

Cohen said that the legislature passed a bill last year phasing out PFAS usage in firefighting foam and food packaging in the state. 

“There is outrage. I have tremendous outrage over this, and I have outrage when I propose a bill on PFAS legislation and my Republican colleagues will not stand by me to pass the legislation,” said Cohen. 

The debaters touched on a variety of other topics.

Cohen said she thought more needed to be done to assist seniors, that the district should adopt an enhanced childcare program and there needed to be more focus on gun safety.

Crisci said there needed to be better communication in school districts, for there to be clearly established curriculums and that there needed to be greater focus on crime rates and policing. 

The full debate for the 12th district can be viewed here: BCTV (branfordtv.org)


Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.

e.otte@ctexaminer.com