HARTFORD — State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she’s focused on delivering for her constituents this legislative session, and is leaving the door open for a possible gubernatorial run in 2026.
The 57-year-old, a former Groton mayor, councilwoman and businesswoman, told CT Examiner on Thursday that people have encouraged her to run for governor and that it’s past time for a woman — specifically one with business experience — to run for the state’s top political job.
“No one can really tell what the tea leaves will show us for the future, but it’s definitely something I am open to running for. I am open to a run for higher office at some point,” she said.
Somers, the chief deputy Senate Republican leader and ranking member of the Public Health Committee, said she gets approached repeatedly by people asking her to consider the role.
“It’s actually a combination of both some political leaders, some former political leaders and former commissioners,” she said. “But I think what has been most humbling is that everyday citizens are saying to me, ‘Heather, are you going to run for governor?’ It’s not partisan. It’s been from folks that are registered Democrats, unaffiliated, Independents and Republicans.”
Somers, who represents several communities in the 18th District in eastern Connecticut, also said it’s time for a woman to lead the state.
“If you are not attracting women into your tent, your tent will collapse. I have two daughters, two sisters, two nieces and a granddaughter. I also have many nieces and grandnieces. … Women in Connecticut want control over their lives, they want to control their destiny. They want to make choices that are best for them and their families. It’s important to attract those types of women to the [Connecticut] Republican Party.”
Somers also said that Republican Bob Stefanowski, who twice lost to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, could use his business background to his advantage if he runs. But, she said, “I think the Republican Party in Connecticut needs to stop repeating the same people.”
So far, the only Republican who has all but thrown their hat into the ring for the 2026 governor’s race is a woman: Republican Erin Stewart, the Mayor of New Britain.
Somers said Stewart “has done a good job as the mayor. She has been elected six times. I think to be governor is very different from just being a mayor. I think statewide experience is critically important. And I also think to be a well-rounded candidate, you really need to have business experience. And I feel that I fit all those boxes. I was the president of a manufacturing company [Hydrofera] that’s still going strong here in the state of Connecticut that employs over 100 people.”
As the owner of a startup, Somers said she understands the work that goes into running a business.
“I went through the process of trying to find financing, going to Wall Street meetings with venture capitalists and understanding how difficult it is to get a permit in the state of Connecticut,” she said. “It took us eight years to get a single wastewater discharge permit. I also understand what it’s like to make payroll.”
The company is based in Manchester and is now owned by a Swedish company.
Somers added that Lamont would be a formidable candidate, if he chose to run for a third four-year term.
“I will say that I think Lamont has done a good job, especially when he has included Republicans at the table,” Somers said. “When he includes Republicans, you can see what the good outcomes are.”
She noted the bipartisan approval of the state’s $51.1 billion two-year budget last year. That budget came with an income tax cut, and state officials have said about 1 million tax filers will benefit from the rate cuts. Middle- and working-class Connecticut residents are expected to save between $300 and $500 in 2024.
Somers said one of her biggest strengths is her ability to work across party lines, both as mayor and councilor in Groton and in the Legislature.
“In this day and age when we have such polarized politics in our nation, that in order to be able to incrementally move the needle, you have to be able to be someone who is bipartisan,” she said. “A bipartisan approach to legislation and policy is so important.”
Somers said her commitment to addressing mental health, especially in youth, will continue to be her top priority in Hartford.
Somers has won several awards the last several years for her work on mental health, and is currently working on a comprehensive mental health package that she hopes passes in 2024.
She declined to discuss the specifics of the planned bill, but said it will address truancy concerns among youth.
“It’s going to address some of the truancy issues that we have. There are great mental health issues that are being seen by our educators, and we need to look at how there can be more resources available for them for the placement of students that may need inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment,” she said. “When I talk about resources, it doesn’t mean money; it means access. You do not just want to throw money at it; that’s not my background. I don’t want to throw money at something that doesn’t work. There needs to be more access to care, access to care that these students need at an earlier age.”
Another mental health-related issue, she said, involves individuals on certain drugs being discharged from hospitals to nursing and elder care facilities.
“It’s a huge issue. It affects so many people that have Alzheimer’s,” Somers said, adding that people who need psychiatric drugs are often denied access to nursing homes because of it.
“When these long-term care facilities see that a person is on a psychiatric drug, they are instantly rejected [from living in the facility],” she said. “Stop the discrimination against those who might have mental health issues. Discrimination against those people is happening. I’ve been contacted by families begging me for help. They can’t get their parents into long-term care, even though there are beds available.”
What ultimately often happens, Somers said, is that the elderly person is forced to live with family, “and the outcomes can often be grim. It’s a bad cycle.”
Somers said the isolation from COVID-19 exacerbated the mental health crisis in the country.
“We need to get rid of the stigma that’s associated with mental health and recognize that mental health is part of your overall health. Mental health has absolutely contributed to the horrific situation with opiates and fentanyl. We need to reduce that stigma and let people know it’s OK to ask for help,” she said.
Somers also weighed in on other issues, ranging from abortion to charter schools and guns.
Regarding abortion, Somers said, “A woman and her doctor should be able to choose, but I do think that there should be limits. At the end of the day, it’s really a non-issue in the state of Connecticut. It’s codified in our state statute.”
Somers, a gun owner, said she’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and that she represents many people who own guns to hunt and for safety reasons.
“Connecticut has the strongest gun laws anywhere in the nation,” she said. “I think the ones that we have on the books now are as far as we need to go. I don’t support any more encroaching on legal gun owners’ rights.”
Charter schools, especially in communities like Danbury and Middletown, have been hot-button issues for years. The state has not seen a new charter school since 2015.
“I support public schools; I support charter schools,” she said. “I think it’s important that people recognize that charter schools are public schools. Why is it that they are taking kids from the public schools that are failing and putting them in a different environment and they are thriving? Parents should have that option. I have always said that you should not be directed where your child goes to school because of the ZIP code that you live in.”
A self-proclaimed animal lover, Somers said she was disheartened over the shooting death in her district last month of a police dog, named Broko, that was shot by a suspect. She said she’d like to upgrade the penalty for killing a police dog from a misdemeanor to a felony and to have that person pay back the costs of what it took to train the dog. Somers said the current law fines individuals who kill a dog, such as a police dog, to $10,000. It will often cost double that amount to train police canines, she said.
Somers voted against the state’s relatively new Police Accountability Act, which calls for officers to be responsible for the actions they take.
“It ties the officers hands in so many ways,” she said. “This bill was not written for the majority [of officers]; that bill was written for this very small minority of people … that do bad things. Look at the lawyers that do bad things, look at all the doctors that do bad things,” said Somers, adding that the law goes too far.