Politeness marks first debate for Floren, Blankley

Anyone expecting volleys of lacerating quips and flaming hot rhetoric in the only local debate for the 149th District in the Connecticut General Assembly probably had never met either incumbent Republican state Rep. Livvy Floren or Democratic challenger John Blankley.

The two ended up agreeing far more than disagreeing during a debate at the Round Hill Community Center that was jointly sponsored by the Round Hill, Northwest and Northeast homeowners associations on Oct. 4. Over the course of a little more than a half-hour of debate, the two discussed issues like tolls on Interstate 95, which they both oppose, and easing highway traffic through mass transit, which they both support, but also found time to try and make their respective personalities the appeal to the voters as well. Because while they both agreed on many issues, they certainly split on which of them should be elected.

Calling herself “your voice in Hartford,” Ms. Floren, who is running for a seventh term, noted her family’s deep roots in the community and said, “I’m experienced, government-skilled and have a track record of legislative accomplishment. I understand the issues and will continue to seek fiscally prudent, commonsense solutions. … I know the process and I know the people.”

Mr. Blankley, who unsuccessfully ran last year for first selectman as his first taste of Greenwich politics, pointed to his business record, both in top financial positions at major oil and shipping companies and as the current owner of a small business in Connecticut.

He also started off making some outlandish claims, saying he could fix education, rebuild failing infrastructure and balance the state’s budget, all the while lowering taxes. Mr. Blankley quickly added that this was an idea that was literally “fantastic” because it was “complete nonsense” and warned against these kinds of broad, unrealistic promises in today’s political process.

“My message to you is that I spurn the easy option,” Mr. Blankley said. “It’s time to send a businessman to Hartford. I want to deal in reality because that’s what I’ve always done in my business career. The bitter reality is that our state taxes are not going down anytime soon. We have a debt and unfunded liabilities in this state, and we have to live with the redistribution here where our tax money is given to other parts of the state. What we need to do is look very carefully at where that money is being spent, and that’s where I will bring my business experience. I will think strategically. I will think about return on investment. I will think about cost-benefit analysis to get this engine running.”

On the state budget deficit, both candidates were asked how it would be possible to close it without raising taxes on companies and high-net-worth residents, many of whom live in the 149th District. Ms. Floren said the solution was not that difficult to find.

“Some things are not rocket science,” Ms. Floren said. “What our economy and our country need to move forward is a sense of government that is stable and competent. We need a tax code that is predictable and permanent and regulations that are affordable. These would go a long way in not only streamlining government but making it more efficient. We are looking to consolidating a lot of state agencies and commissions. They are not only too big but they duplicate services. We need to take a look at our service delivery models on every single level and make sure they’re not being duplicated eight, nine, 10 times within the same agency and across agencies. There are too many silos that have been built up and too much turfism. It just needs to stop.”

Mr. Blankley again noted his career in both major corporations and a small business and his ability to balance a budget, deal with major projects and contain costs. He said he could bring that experience to state government as a benefit.

“In any large organization, you will find ways to reduce costs,” Mr. Blankley said. “It is just the way it is, and our government is certainly a large organization. I would not go so far as to call it bloated, but it is always possible to streamline somehow.”

On the topic of power outages and utility costs, both candidates indicated the cost of burying power lines could be too prohibitive and would not be able to guarantee no outages would ever happen. They both suggested ways to lower costs. Saying that it had worked effectively in Massachusetts, Mr. Blankley said he would look at “threaten[ing] Connecticut Light & Power’s monopoly” by passing legislation allowing the municipalities to acquire power distribution assets.

“This is something we can do to regain control of our destiny when it comes to power distribution,” Mr. Blankley said.

Ms. Floren said she had proposed legislation that is in the new omnibus energy bill to require that all new subdivisions in the state put their lines underground, saving long-term costs. She added, “Power companies owe it to their customers to upgrade the infrastructure. It is probably the most antiquated and aged infrastructure of probably any utility in the United States.”

The two differed on the concept of controversial voter ID laws that require everyone voting to have a picture ID in their possession. Ms. Floren said that it makes sense, noting that you need a photo ID to get a senior citizen discount at the movies, so why not have it for voting? But Mr. Blankley said it puts too much of a burden on the poor and the elderly who might not have driver’s licenses or the ability to get them easily, while saying that it can also be used as voter suppression to keep traditionally Democratic voters away from the polls.

Both Ms. Floren and Mr. Blankley will be part of a candidates forum on Oct. 17 at 8:30 a.m. at Town Hall.

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