Two years ago it looked as though Democratic challenger Jim Jinks had prevailed over incumbent Republican Craig Fishbein in the 90th House District race. An error discovered by a member of Wallingford’s Democratic Town Committee led to a review of the results, and a recount led to an extremely narrow re-election victory for Fishbein.
It was a good moment for democracy, at a time when the coronavirus was a major concern and a time of uncertainty about the presidential election. The aim of getting it right prevailed over partisan interests.
The 90th district is now different, with Cheshire out, part of Middlefield in, and Wallingford expanding to the east. But what is likely to be similar is the closeness of the race. Democrat Rebecca Hyland, now challenging Fishbein to represent the district, is offering an alternative that voters could find enticing.
If the Democrat wins, the Republicans on the Wallingford Town Council, which include Fishbein, will have played a role. It was a decision by the GOP majority early this year that helped inspire Hyland to pursue her political path.
Democrat Gina Morgenstein resigned following her re-election as councilor. The Democratic Town Committee wanted the next top vote-getter to fill the vacancy, but Republicans on the council appointed instead Democrat Jason Zandri, whose run for office had been derailed by a medical emergency.
Hyland spoke during that meeting, found it energizing, and afterward was asked to consider running. “Those in authority have an obligation to the people they represent,” she said recently.
In a June opinion piece for the Record-Journal, Hyland responded to the May school shootings in Uvalde, Texas, with a plea for gun safety and “a moral imperative to take action.” She presents a contrast to Fishbein’s stance as a defender of 2nd Amendment rights.
The district’s move into Middlefield could be an advantage for Fishbein, who has family roots there. He’s been knocking on a lot of doors and says the reception has been supportive. He has held the seat since 2016, taking over from Mary Fritz, a long-serving Democrat for whom a grade school is now named, and has been on the Wallingford Town Council since 2009.
On the website fishbein4ct.com, the Republican lists what has become a refrain of his guiding principles “of smaller government, lower taxes, and less interference in the day-to-day affairs of our law-abiding citizens.” He is the Republican leader on the House Judiciary Committee, a member of the Environment Committee and the Government Accountability & Elections committee, and vice-chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly Conservative Caucus.
His actions have drawn criticism and in some cases condemnation. He is one of two lawyers who are also Republican state representatives, as the Associated Press recently reported, involved in a lawsuit by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the Second Amendment Foundation and three gun owners seeking to overturn the state’s ban on certain semiautomatic rifles.
Fishbein earns credit for taking his own path. His actions show an admirable willingness to take positions not for popularity’s sake but in accordance with his convictions.
Two years ago, Fishbein’s re-election was not supported in this space, despite his having “credentials and experience” that “are truly impressive.” He was also noted for being “strong on government transparency.” A challenger ought to show that there is a compelling reason to reject an incumbent. There are voters who will feel Hyland has been able to do just that. But others will feel comfortable with the experience and work ethic Fishbein brings to his job as a legislator. It’s a difficult decision, but in this tough choice there’s reason to back a Republican.