NORWICH – During Wednesday night’s debate, the two candidates vying for the 19th Senate seat disagreed over how they would approach issues such as education, marijuana and early voting.
Democratic Representative Kathy Austin faces political newcomer Petro Camardella, a Republican from Norwich, in the region covering Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Lyyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Norwich and Sprague.
Moderator Sandra Loeb of the League of Women Voters of Southeast Connecticut asked questions, some of which were raised by members of the NAACP Norwich Youth Council and the NFA Young Voters Association, during the debate at the Norwich Free Academy on Wednesday.
Asked about their priorities if elected, Camardella stressed the need to cut taxes. He said the state has a surplus “over a billion dollars” and that lawmakers “would not even talk about it.”
Austin said at the last legislative session that she was “extremely honored” to agree to a $600 million tax cut, and that she is working to reduce taxes for seniors, including taxes on pensions and Social Security, and eliminate income taxes on veterans’ pensions. Retired teachers now have a cap on their income taxes. The $600 million tax cut included a reduction in the state gas tax.
“Many retirees have told me this is an important reason for them choosing to stay here in Connecticut, particularly our veterans,” Austin said.
Camardella described Austin’s response as an “alternative universe”.
Asked how the state would implement a new law legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana to prevent young adults from using it, Camardella said he is against legal marijuana, with the exception of strictly prescribed medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana will lead to the use of other drugs, he said, “and then you’re going to get stuck with fentanyl, which is a killer.” He said other countries regret the legalization of marijuana.
“We need children, young men and women, to go to church, go to school and learn trade,” Camardella said.
Austin described legal marijuana as “a new and emerging cannabis industry.” She said the state had for years imposed age limits on alcohol and that state and local law enforcement would do the same with legal recreational marijuana use for adults.
“Massachusetts has been doing this for a number of years and has effectively enforced rules and regulations,” Austin said. “I don’t see that as a problem. We have a lot of law enforcement here, and they certainly are able to enforce the rules.”
The November 8 ballot has a referendum question about whether the state constitution should be amended to allow the legislature to enact early voting laws. Candidates were asked if they supported the measure and whether they would accept the election results.
Both said they would accept the calculated results but disagreed on the state’s constitutional question.
“I think it’s important for us to have an early vote and to discuss the early voting parts,” Austin said. She added that absentee voting without excuse provides a “good methodology” for early voting.
Camardella opposed early voting and expanded absentee voting beyond the voter’s inability to reach the polls on Election Day.
“It doesn’t have to take two weeks, three weeks, five weeks,” he said. “The whole world is voting in one day. Italy just voted on Sunday. So we’ll use Tuesday, November 8. Be there. We can do it. For those exceptions, let’s make arrangements.”
Austin responded that another 46 states had early voting.
“We’re just going to join 46 other states,” Austin said.
One student asked how the legislature should ensure that schools teach mandatory black, Latin, and Native American history.
Camardilla said parents should decide what is taught in schools, and elected boards of education should implement what parents decided.
“The curriculum in schools should be the will of parents,” Camardella said. “Parents determine what their children should learn, and the Connecticut State Board of Education delivers what the parents desire.”
Austin said the legislature voted in favor of requiring that black, Latino and Native American history be taught, and in Connecticut, the state Department of Education has the authority to set the curriculum. Austin said it began introducing black and Latin studies curricula, and schools began teaching them.
“History should be taught in itself as it happened, and not as something we don’t know about,” Austin said. “That is exactly why we teach Black and Latin. The Native American curriculum would be the same. The Native American curriculum requires that the Northeastern Forest tribes get a chance to explain their history.”
“It’s not the councils that dictate,” Camardella said. “People are the ones telling the councils what we want. Once and for all, let’s get this figured out.”