Floren, Abrams face off in 149th District Debate

Livvy Floren and Marc Abrams met Monday in their only scheduled debate –Ken Borsuk

Livvy Floren and Marc Abrams met Monday in their only scheduled debate –Ken Borsuk

It was the longtime incumbent versus the insurgent candidate as state Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th) and Democratic challenger Marc Abrams faced off Monday night in their only scheduled debate.

Ms. Floren is running for her eighth term in the General Assembly and is facing an aggressive challenge by Mr. Abrams, a member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting.

With 14 years in the legislature under her belt, Ms. Floren painted herself as the trusted voice of experience the community can rely on for issues like fiscal accountability, job creation, elimination of unfunded mandates, transportation improvement, ethics, and preservation of open space.

“My experience gives me the credentials necessary to understand the problems facing our state and the governance skills necessary to seek fiscally prudent and effective solutions,” Ms. Floren said. “Now, more than ever, we need an experienced, trusted voice in Hartford to work for common-sense government.”

The debate was a chance for Mr. Abrams to introduce himself to voters throughout town, as it was broadcast live on GCTV Channel 79, and he made sure to thank his wife for her support when he noted that the event was taking place on their wedding anniversary.

“I’m running because I want to bring new ideas and a new approach to the challenges facing Connecticut,” Mr. Abrams said. “My vision of government is that we need to invest in our infrastructure and our government so we can build a stronger economy, expand our tax base and reduce the disproportionate tax burden on our community.”

The approximately hourlong debate was sponsored by the Greenwich League of Women Voters along with the Round Hill, Northeastern Greenwich and Northwestern Greenwich neighborhood associations. Questions from the packed audience at Town Hall were asked of both candidates and covered a variety of issues, such as transportation and gun law reform.

The two also discussed the state’s minimum wage, which was increased to $10.10 an hour, the highest in the country, earlier this year. Ms. Floren voted against the measure and Mr. Abrams indicated strong support for it.

Ms. Floren said she wanted an economic environment in the state that allowed people to earn more. She said that was why she had worked to bring companies like Blue Sky Studios to Greenwich and NBC Sports to Stamford and why she had been such a strong supporter of reopening Wright Tech in Stamford to provide more vocational training to prepare students for the work force. She said companies that provided more than the minimum wage are the ones that do better.

“Frankly, I think minimum is just that,” Ms. Floren said. “My focus has always been to do better. We need better than minimum wage. We need to bring industry here and companies to our region that will create sustainable, good paying jobs.”

In his response, Mr. Abrams pointed to his own record as a successful small business owner and in creating high-paying jobs through his investments. He said Ms. Floren’s position was “inconsistent” on the issue.

“I would never invest in a business that needs to have their employees go on government assistance in order to make a profit,” Mr. Abrams said. “That’s not a viable business. At a business like Wal-Mart, one of the things they do is hire you and in that package they give you instructions on how to apply for social services. By not having a minimum wage that’s a livable wage we are subsidizing big corporations. Livvy says she’s in favor of a higher wage, but she voted against it. It’s important to have the facts come out about that.”

Mr. Abrams later added that he would look to expand and diversify the state’s economy and said he could because he “understands how business works.” Making improvements to the state’s transportation plan and working on a long-term energy plan, Mr. Abrams said, would attract new businesses and new industry to the state. Ms. Floren said she viewed debt as a major problem in the state but defended long-term bonding when done correctly because it allowed people to invest in the state and “pay it forward” for the benefit of future generations.

Mr. Abrams said Ms. Floren’s record did not show her as the moderate she claimed to be, pointing out her past support for voter ID laws in Connecticut, laws that have come under attack nationwide for being used as voter suppression.

“I very much am in favor of expanding people’s right to vote,” Mr. Abrams said. “I believe in democracy. Unfortunately, my opponent introduced a law that would require people to show proof of citizenship as well as a government photo ID. The reality of that is the only ID we have currently that fulfills that is your passport. I’m very much against the idea of someone having to carry their passport to the voting booth in order to vote, and I’m very much against the idea of having a federal ID or a federal ID database. That, to me, is against democracy.”

Ms. Floren, a former longtime member of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, said she was committed to making voting easier and having more people participate in it. The bill she wrote, she said, would have mandated only a photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport.

“You need it to get into the courthouse,” Ms. Floren said. “You need it to sign into a hotel. You need it to get a senior citizen discount at the movies. I think it helps the sanctity of the vote that the people checking you in know that you are who you say.”

That stance has been widely criticized by Greenwich Democrats. Voter ID, which advocates have claimed is needed to prevent voter fraud, is a national controversy and both Ms. Floren and Mr. Abrams acknowledged there was no strong evidence of voter fraud in Connecticut. Ms. Floren added that since voter ID had been struck down by the courts it was now a moot point and that while she stood by the proposal it was “old news.” Mr. Abrams said he wished Ms. Floren had done more homework about the negative effect of a voter ID law before she had introduced it.

Mr. Abrams was also on the attack about Ms. Floren’s past vote against same-sex marriage in Connecticut. While Ms. Floren did vote in favor of civil unions when it was before the legislature, she did not vote for marriage equality, something Mr. Abrams said was wrong. Ms. Floren said her position had changed on the issue after listening to her constituents and that she would vote in favor of marriage equality if it was put before her today.

There was agreement on several issues, too, as both Mr. Abrams and Ms. Floren said they would not support repealing or weakening the state’s tough reform of gun laws created after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Ms. Floren voted in favor of the laws and defended them during the debate.

“We spent hours, days, months working on the bipartisan gun safety law that did not abridge anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Ms. Floren said. “I think we did a pretty good job of it. Could we do more? Are we going to do more this coming session? I don’t think so. In the same bill we did a very good job in increasing school security. We made all 169 cities and towns have financing when they needed to beef up security.”

Mr. Abrams said you can see results in the gun control measures and noted how they can protect women in situations of abuse.

However, the two did debate on what should be done to focus on mental health in the state, which Ms. Floren says should have been addressed in the gun laws and now can be addressed in the next term for the legislature. She said the legislature had “failed” in this regard and that it would be “the thrust of the upcoming session.”

“We need to make sure there’s funding for early diagnosis and early intervention,” Ms. Floren said.

While acknowledging that mental health was a “critical component” in cases of gun violence, Mr. Abrams said, “We do have to recognize people’s fundamental rights to privacy about their mental health. There’s a tremendous amount of people, for example, that are on very mild depression-type drugs. So I would want to craft that very carefully.”

Ms. Floren responded that federal regulations would protect people’s privacy and it was important to have a “strategy in place” for early intervention and diagnosis that would also allow for every step of the healing paradigm to completion.

The two also discussed transportation and particularly the continued traffic issues on Interstate 95.

“I think what really would alleviate it is we’ve got to have better mass transportation and get the people off the roads if possible,” Ms. Floren said. “Mass transportation has to be clean, connected, convenient, and safe, and we’re not quite there yet.”

Mr. Abrams said transportation and congestion were critical issues for the state’s economic success as well as quality of life. He accused the Democratic-controlled legislature of “doing nothing” under Republican governors to improve the transportation system people are suffering today.

“I’m not involved in the business of, ‘It’s a Democratic proposal so it’s good and it’s a Republican proposal so it’s bad,’” Mr. Abrams said. “I’m about solutions. If we don’t have a 10- or 20-year plan then we don’t have a plan and we’re always dealing from behind and trying to fix things on a day-by-day basis.”

Ms. Floren responded by saying the state had to “stop raiding the special transportation fund” and that if it did that there would be plenty of money there to address infrastructure and pay for improvements to make the roads safer. Ms. Floren put the blame with the Democratic majorities in the legislature and Mr. Abrams said that’s why it was critical that Greenwich have a seat within the majority to stop that. Ms. Floren, however, expressed skepticism that Mr. Abrams would have much say with entrenched Democratic leadership in Hartford, which she said has punished Democrats who have gone against it.

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