MADISON — Candidates vying for the 101st district seat agreed on many issues Wednesday, Oct. 17 including paid leave, building state revenue and keeping young people in the state, while attempting to separate their platforms by age and experience.
Republican incumbent Noreen Kokoruda and Democratic newcomer John-Michael Parker were posed questions from the debate’s host, the League of Women Voters of the East Shore, for about an hour. Some questions came from audience members, who packed the meeting space.
“I think it's time for my generation to step up and take some responsibility and I want to work hard to ensure that families, and grandparents, and young people, are able to stay in this place that they love,” Parker said.
He said that the legislature needs more millennials to represent the makeup of Connecticut and of Madison and Durham.
“If we want to think about a state that's going to be more effective and exciting for millennials, then I think we should see more millennials in our legislature,” Parker said. “I think it would be really exciting to have a young person, a millennial, representing us in Madison, who can get up there and think really personally about some of these issues and the solutions it's going to take.”
Kokoruda agreed that the legislature should look like Connecticut as a whole. That means grandmothers like her need to be represented too.
“I've lived in town for 40 years. I've been you. I've moved here as a young mom ... now I'm a grandmother and in between I was a small business executive, I ran the Shoreline Foundation,” Kokoruda said. “I'm really proud that us old women have somebody championing for them too. Your life experience is worth something and I think it's valuable and I think we have to understand that.”
The candidates were asked about their stance on topics ranging from school safety, taxes, electronic tolling, the state budget and healthcare.
Both expressed similar beliefs on school safety — that there’s room for improvement — but offered differing approaches.
Parker said he would like to see a ban on “ghost” guns and tighter regulations on assault weapons in the next legislative session. A former teacher, he said schools should be loving, caring, hopeful places for students to grow.
“Often this issue can be deeply politicized, and it ought not to. What more important issue could we be working on than ensuring that our students could live happy and healthy lives in the buildings and institutions that we create for them to do that,” Parker said. “And to be clear, I've talked to many folks in our towns who are gun owners, who are law abiding citizens, and who say we want to ... have a conversation about how we're ensuring common sense gun regulations for all people.”
Kokoruda has focused more on keeping teachers safe and did not stipulate whether she would support tighter gun regulations. She said we need to focus on mental health programs that need better funding, and promote social-emotional learning in schools.
“Our children are coming to school angry ... Their trauma is being translated into our teachers being injured on the job,” Kokoruda said.
Both candidates said they would be in favor of a fair electronic tolling system and agreed that Connecticut residents should be charged a discounted rate and if tolls go up, that the gas tax should go down.
“I know tolls are a big topic right now and I'm not going to say I'm totally opposed to them. But it's a tax,” Kokoruda said.
Although it’s not exactly what she wanted, she said she will support the constitutional amendment on the November ballot for a transportation lockbox that would prohibit lawmakers from using the state transportation fund for anything other than transportation purposes.
“If they could guarantee you the money from tolls would only be used to fix our roads, to fix our bridges, to support Shoreline East, Metro North, I think most of us would support it. We need guarantees,” Kokoruda said.
Parker said he will also vote in support of the lockbox amendment.
“My frame on this issue is less as another tax, and more of a usage fee. And that should apply equally to people wherever they are, whatever companies they are, using our roads. And of course we should do it fairly and reasonably and looking out for people in our state,” Parker said. “We're missing out on a significant revenue stream and an industry standard.”
Both candidates said they support the other November ballot constitutional amendment question, which would require public hearings on bills to authorize the transfer, sale or disposal of state-owned properties, such as state parks, forests and conserved lands to non-state entities.