With few policy differences between them, Republican candidates facing each other in a primary in the 30th state House district are focused on electability, character and commitment to party values.
Donna Veach, a Berlin town councilor, is the party’s endorsed candidate. She was chosen in a nominating convention vote over Jim Townsley, a pastor and school founder from Southington. The two will face off in the Tuesday primary.
The district, currently represented by retiring Democratic Joe Aresimowicz, includes Berlin and a portion of Southington. Republican delegates from the two towns largely backed their local candidate at the convention.
Veach said she’s the best person to run against Democratic candidate JoAnn Angelico-Stetson in November.
“I still feel I am the most electable person,” she said.
Townsley, pastor of Central Baptist Church and founder of an affiliated school and college, said he’s also prepared to win a general election. He described himself as a lifelong Republican and questioned Veach’s party switch from unaffiliated to Republican just prior to the convention.
“She may want to win an election, but my goal is to help the hardworking people of our state,” Townsley said.
Unaffiliated to Republican
Sandra Coppola, Berlin Republican town chairwoman, said Veach has already shown that she can beat Angelico-Stetson, having gotten 1,000 more votes than the Democratic Town Council member in a local election last year.
“What it comes down to is determining who would better represent the party in Hartford, who will be able to beat JoAnn in the November election,” she said.
Veach said her values haven’t changed, only her official affiliation.
“My morals, my principles, my values and my ethical abilities, none of that has changed,” she said. “I’m the same individual with the same goals.”
Coppola said Veach ran on the Republican ticket last year even though she was unaffiliated.
“She was able to have people cross party lines to vote for her” as an unaffiliated candidate, Coppola said. “She’s been a conservative all her life.”
Criticized in sex abuse case handling
Coppola said there’s been controversy about Townsley’s handling of a sex abuse case that occurred in his church two decades ago.
In 2005, a former Central Baptist Church youth pastor, James “Joe” McCoy, was convicted on two counts of fourth-degree sexual assault involving a teen. The abuse began when the teen was 17 and attending Central Christian Academy, a school affiliated with the church and also founded by Townsley.
Townsley said when the woman told him about the abuse in 2001, he believed it hadn’t started until she had graduated high school. He immediately demanded a resignation from McCoy but didn’t contact police.
The abuse took place in the late 1990s. Southington police began investigating in late 2002 after receiving an anonymous letter about the incident.
Former parishioners join Democrat’s petition
Former members of the church, some of them youths at the time of McCoy’s resignation and others adults, signed a petition started by Angelico-Stetson calling for Townsley to drop out of the race. The petition had 74 signatures as of Thursday.
Rebecca Maxfield, the woman abused by McCoy, has also now spoken publicly in opposition to Townsley’s run for state office based on his handling of her case. Maxfield previously spoke on condition of anonymity to the Record-Journal.
Kristi Welch attended the church and Central Christian Academy in the late 1990s. She was a friend of Maxfield and said she had McCoy as a teacher, coach and pastor. Welch said she’s “disgusted” with how abuse was handled by the church and that police were never called.
Welch has been contacting other former parishioners urging them to oppose Townsley. Welch is a registered Democrat and said she’ll be voting against Townsley if he wins the Republican primary.
“I would move out of this town immediately” if he won state office, she said.
Dewah Smith, a former Central Baptist parishioner, had a son and daughter in the youth group during McCoy’s tenure. She’s among those who signed Angelico-Stetson’s petition, saying Townsley should have gone to police.
Smith said church leaders only told parishioners about McCoy’s abuse at one church service where McCoy apologized for his actions before leaving.
Townsley said the church handled the matter “legally, honorably (and) openly” and immediately asked for McCoy’s resignation after the youth pastor confessed a relationship with a woman in the church. Townsley said about 200 parishioners attended the service.
“We said if you had any further knowledge of anything, let us know” during that service, Townsley said.
In a video address posted on his Facebook page, Townsley said his opponents were raising the incident as a smear campaign.
“We did deal with it. Our goal is to help people in the state,” he said. “That’s what the campaign is all about, representing the average citizen, not just special interest groups.”
Better prepared for a campaign
Steve Kalkowski, Southington Republican party chairman, has maintained his support for Townsley and described him as a strong conservative. Kalkowski reiterated Townsley’s assertion that Maxfield never told the pastor that she was underage when the abuse began.
Kalkowski said Townsley was more prepared for both the primary and the general election.
“Jim has been ready for this for months. He has a well thought out campaign, he has a well thought out strategy,” Kalkowski said. “I think Jim is much better prepared, much better thought out.”
Townsley said he’s knocked on the door of every registered Republican in Berlin and most in Southington. The main concerns are taxation, the recently passed police bill and the “assault on culture” behind calls for the removal of statues.