SOUTHINGTON — A former IT executive and an educator are sharing their visions for Connecticut as they contend for the 81st state House district seat.
Democrat Chris Poulos and Republican Tony Morrison are vying for an open seat representing the district. Both have served in local government, Morrison on the Board of Finance and Poulos on the Town Council.
Crime and tax relief are prominent issues for both candidates.
Poulos cited independence from his party on statewide police accountability legislation.
“I thought it was wrong and felt it didn’t make sense that officers and chiefs were not consulted on the implications of the proposals being considered,” Poulos said in a video statement on his website.
He was the lone Town Council Democrat to join Republicans early last year in signing on to a letter to the General Assembly, calling on state officials to better address auto thefts and burglaries, particularly with juveniles.
“It took a lot of courage to stand up to my party but I thought it was critical to listen to Southington’s residents and represent their concerns,” Poulos said. “To this end, I also supported adding additional officers to Southington’s force to deal with these crimes.”
Morrison said crime, particularly auto theft, has changed residents’ lifestyles with the creation of neighborhood watches and the widespread installation of security cameras. He blamed the trend on legislation passed by the Democratically controlled General Assembly, in particular bills that raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction and the police accountability bill.
“It pushed the pendulum toward criminals rather than victims and police,” Morrison said. “The legislature has to be one of the biggest supporters of police. Right now it’s one of the biggest detractors.”
Morrison said some parts of the police bill should be reconsidered, particularly with advice from police. He praised the work of local police in combating crime but said a solution to the problem of auto thefts required legislative changes.
“We cannot contain it ourselves in Southington. You have to go to the state,” Morrison said.Tax burden, local control
Morrison said Connecticut is one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation, putting pressure on both residents and businesses. He cited LEGO, which closed its factory in Enfield years ago but has since planned to open one up in Virginia.
“Our businesses have fled,” Morrison said. “It’s not because they hate Connecticut. It’s because they don’t want to be taxed excessively.”
With the federal pandemic relief funds and other revenue sources, the state has an opportunity to help residents and cut taxes. He’s opposed to new taxes.
Poulos said he worked for expanding tax relief eligibility for the elderly, disabled and veterans while on the council. He’s also looking to make the child tax credit permanent as well as reduce the tax burden on small businesses.
“When I share my record with people, they’re very enthusiast about my candidacy,” Poulos said.
Morrison also criticized Democratic state leaders for bills that impact local zoning control. That’s led to developers being able to sidestep local zoning laws if they are building housing that the state deems affordable. Such a loss of local control can change the nature and desirability of the town, he said.
Poulos described himself as an advocate for town control over zoning issues.
“Those decisions should be made locally,” he said.Abortion disagreement
Asked about their positions last month on the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the candidates differed.
Morrison cited former Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in describing Roe as “too far-reaching and too sweeping.” He said the court made the right decision in determining that the Constitution doesn’t confer a right to an abortion and that states could determine how to regulate abortion.
“Laws are made by legislatures, not judges,” Morrison said.
Poulos shared the decision he and his wife made not to have an abortion when doctors told them their baby would likely not survive. Their girl died 10 minutes after birth.
“We made a very difficult choice that we felt was best for us,” Poulos said.
He was “dismayed” at the court’s decision, saying it took choice away from women and families.
“I stand behind a woman’s right to choose,” Poulos said.
Both candidates agreed with the state’s safe harbor laws which prevent Connecticut agencies from aiding out-of-state investigators in the prosecution of those who have had an abortion.
Morrison said he disagreed with a portion of the recent law that allows non-physicians to perform surgical abortions.Educator vs. IT executive
Poulos is a Spanish teacher at Joel Barlow High School in Redding. His path to public education started as an intern on Capitol Hill.
“That entry-level Washington work wasn’t so fulfilling,” Poulos said. He also served in the Peace Corps in Honduras. Teaching experiences there sparked an interest in education.
“A better form of service (than D.C. intern) could be education,” he said. “I could have a bigger impact.”
Poulos tries to connect his students, particularly seniors, with experiences that grow their Spanish language knowledge but also exposes them to Spanish cultures and people.
“Culturally, it was a way to help them to draw their own conclusions about diversity,” he said.
Poulos sees his Peace Corps experience, teaching, Town Council and possible state legislature work as all coming from the same drive to serve others.
“I would describe my life as a life of service,” he said.
Following his second term on the council, Democratic party leaders didn’t endorse him to run for another council term in 2021. The party’s leadership changed earlier this year and those leaders endorsed him for state office.
Morrison came to America from the United Kingdom to take a job teaching English and literature at Clark University in Massachusetts. Changing careers, he taught himself programming and worked for IT and software companies. He held various positions in charge of companies or sections of companies and worked with budgets as large as $400 million.
Morrison’s career took him to every continent except Antarctica and led him to interact with people in a host of different cultures.
“You have to be successful, you have to understand people, you have to relate, you have to understand the culture in which they work,” he said.
Observing different people, companies and countries, Morrison said he’s found that success is a result of giving people freedom. Even nominally Communist countries, like Vietnam, have realized that free enterprise energizes people.
“If you push freedom for people to make their own decisions within a framework, you get a far better result,” he said. “When people want to progress, you release the people.”
Morrison’s wife grew up in New Britain and the couple retired to Southington. He described it as an ideal town in many ways.
Morrison has served on the Board of Finance since his election in 2017.Demographics and party affiliation
The 81st state House district is entirely within Southington and currently held by Republican John Fusco, who’s not running for reelection. While Fusco has held the seat since 2016, Democrats held it prior to that year.
Democrats outnumber Republicans in town, although the margin has been closing in recent years. While Democrats had 600 more registered voters than Republicans in 2019, the gap closed to 300 in 2021.
Unaffiliated voters outnumber either party, according to state records.
Morrison said state Democrats have made decisions that have angered voters.
Poulos described himself as a “proud moderate Democrat,” with a record of working across the political aisle.
Both candidates received public campaign financing. As of the July financial filing, both had about $17,000 in campaign funds.