WALLINGFORD — Both incumbent Republican State Rep. Craig Fishbein and his Democratic opponent, Rebecca Hyland, agree that crime and the economy are among the most pressing issues in this year's race for the 90th House District seat, the first election for the newly-redrawn district.
This year, Cheshire is no longer within the boundaries of the 90th district after last year's mandated redistricting based on the 2020 census.
The western boundaries of the district were reduced, cutting out parts of western Wallingford, and expanded eastward to encompass part of Middlefield. The southern section of the district was redrawn to exclude the part of Cheshire previously in the district.
Two years ago, Fishbein narrowly beat Cheshire Democrat Jim Jinks to hold on to the seat he has held since 2016. It was a razor-thin victory by only seven votes.
Fishbein was born in New York and grew up in Wallingford, graduating from Sheehan High School before earning a bachelor's degree in marketing and a juris doctorate at Quinnipiac University. He then joined his father at the Fishbein Law Firm in Wallingford.
He was first elected in 2016 and also has held a seat on the Wallingford Town Council since 2009. He is the vice-chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly Conservative Caucus.
Hyland, who grew up in Northford, is also a graduate of Quinnipiac University, where she earned degrees in political science and psychology. She then graduated from George Washington University School of Law in Washington, DC, and became an assistant public defender in Fairfax, VA.
After moving back to Connecticut, she became a high school teacher and then, in 2020, a stay-at-home mom to her newborn son.
While Fishbein blames the Democratic majority in the state legislature for the state's economic condition, Hyland points to the issues that arose during the pandemic to explain inflation.
"The reasoning is quite apparent. Inflation is the highest it has been in decades, yet the Democrats in Hartford have relied upon federal COVID dollars and tax increases to artificially buoy an already fragile state economy," Fishbien said.
He criticized the increase in the diesel tax that went into effect last month.
"While Connecticut already had one of the highest gas taxes in the country, Democrats in Hartford raised the tax on diesel fuel, which will lead to more inflation as many of the products that we consume are transported by diesel fueled vehicles," Fishbein said. "In order to address the negative economic conditions, opposing tax increases and heightened regulation of business are a good place to start."
"Even our governor's wife admits that it is 'tough to do business' in our state, the family choosing to do business elsewhere," he said, referring to a comment Gov. Ned Lamont made last year suggesting his wife was looking into moving her business to Tennessee. Lamont later described the remark an “offhand comment” that was wrong.
Hyland said the problem of rising prices is not unique to Connecticut, calling it a national and global issue caused by a number of factors, including the challenges of a post-pandemic economy.
"There is a global supply shortage and every industry is being hit by the rising cost of goods," Hyland said. "Everyone except the wealthy has been hit hard in the last few years. While many people are struggling to stay afloat, the wealthy are taking advantage of Trump-era policies and Covid-related opportunities."
The downturn in the economy has been especially difficult for small businesses, which Hyland said need to be supported because they don’t have some of the advantages of large businesses.
"In order for economic recovery to benefit all, we need to support small businesses and the workers hit hardest by the pandemic," she said. "We need to ensure that corporations stop taking advantage of economic assistance intended for the people."
Crime also is a top issue for both candidates. Hyland points to crimes committed by juveniles as particularly concerning.
In her time working as a public defender, Hyland said she has first-hand experience dealing with young offenders.
"I've seen what works and what doesn't," she said. "The first task is to educate people on the realities of juvenile crime, rather than engaging in fear tactics that only serve to misinform people on the issues and inflame people's emotions."
The state legislature passed a bill during the last session in response to the increase of cars stolen by juveniles statewide, particularly in suburban areas during the first year of the pandemic.
The new law expands access to juvenile criminal records, allows for electronic monitoring of repeat offenders and requires shorter wait times for first court appearances.
A Republican amendment to the bill that would have allowed for more juvenile cases to be referred to adult courts failed to pass.
Addressing juvenile crime is a first step to reducing overall crime, Hyland said.
"By focusing on early intervention and intensive community-based support services, we can reduce crime and improve the outcome for juveniles who have already become involved in the justice system," she said.
Fishbein noted that crime in Connecticut has increased 41% in recent years, compared to the national average of 12%.
"An increase in crime is a quality of life matter that negatively affects everyone, except for criminals," he said. "It increases the cost of law enforcement, the cost of diversionary programs and the cost of incarceration, thereby requiring more tax dollars, and it makes people scared to leave their home...”
Fishbein was involved in the crafting of the juvenile crime legislation passed last session.
"I was able to get some criminal justice reforms put in place to roll back some of the harmful laws passed over the last decade," he said, including "overnight arraignments for juveniles that are caught stealing cars, quicker evaluation for diversionary programs, and a police officer being able to see a juvenile's criminal record more easily for the purpose of detention orders.”
"But there is more left to do, he added. "Presently, a juvenile that is arrested is adjudicated in the jurisdiction where they live, as opposed to where they were arrested. This burdens the victims and law enforcement, forcing them to have to travel to a foreign jurisdiction to address the case, meanwhile accommodating the individual who is accused of doing a crime outside of their home district.”