Although candidates for the newly formed 42nd State House district Keith Denning (D) and Kim Healy (R) largely agree on topics including early voting, affordable housing and lowering energy costs, their approaches to tackling these and other complex issues were contrasted during a League of Women Voters Candidates Debate held Oct. 20 at Town Hall.
Denning, a Wilton resident, has been a practicing certified registered nurse anesthetist for the past 38 years, while Healy, also a Wilton resident, is a CPA and former auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers who was elected to the Wilton Board of Selectmen in 2021.
The newly formed House District 42 includes Wilton, Ridgefield, and New Canaan.
The debate was one of five held during the evening – including three races for the State House and two for State Senate.
When asked what she would do about the state’s lack of affordable housing, Healy said the controversial 8-30g affordable housing statute “has failed in its objective.”
“8-30g allows developers to override local planning and zoning laws if the community does not have 10% of its housing stock as affordable, as defined under state law,” Healy said. “It was passed 30 years ago – but the majority party in our state refuses to amend or repeal it.”
“I was an active member of Connecticut 169 Strong, which helped organize rallies and informative forums all over the state to let people know what the legislation was – which was to actually push through even more affordable housing last session,” Healy said.
“When it comes to affordable housing, the way that the criteria are presently, there has to be… it has to be derestricted … ,“ Healy said, losing her train of thought momentarily. “In Wilton we are evaluating our housing stock to see which homes will fit the affordable category, except without the deed restriction. And therefore we would have a better feeling of how our town is doing, outside of the 8-30g rule.”
Denning called the lack of affordable housing in Fairfield County a “crisis.”
“We have ASML coming with a new $200 million development [office location] in Wilton – they want to bring in 1,000 new people to work there,” Denning said. “Where are these people going to live? It costs a lot of money to rent a home, to buy a home, to pay your property taxes in this part of Connecticut – and these people want to live near where they work.”
“I think 8-30g has failed in its objective – if it had worked, we would have had plenty of affordable housing by now,” Denning said. “What is not working, though, is the state’s management of finding housing for people in areas where they want to live and work. We need to find solutions where towns can work with developers to build housing that people can afford. And that those towns will welcome into their communities.”
Denning said without adequate supply of affordable housing, the state will have a hard time attracting businesses, as their employees will have nowhere to go.
“Our governor tells us that he wants to bring new companies in – and when new companies come in, we don’t have places for their employees to go live,” Denning said. “Until we get serious about figuring out where we are going to welcome people into our communities, and find them places where they can live, we are not going to address our tax situation or our economy seriously.”
On the topic of early voting, both candidates agreed that it is time for Connecticut to catch up with the other states, a majority of which already have early voting in place.
“The more people who vote in a democracy the better off we are with getting peoples opinions and representation,” Denning said. “I am for a wide variety of early voting options. As far as times of day and days of the week – as long as we consider the cost burden this could put on the towns [I am supportive].”
“I know that Stephanie Thomas, who is running for secretary of state, is working on resolving this issue – and wants to look at what is happening nationwide,” Denning added. “We are one of only four states not offering early voting. I think we can learn a lot from those that have already adopted it. I suggest that we do so, and I hope you all support this measure on the ballot.”
Healy agreed that the state “should have some form of early voting.”
“It is, I believe, safer,” she said. “I would like to see it potentially offered on the Saturday before an Election Day – if Election Day could not become a holiday, which I think is a better solution.”
Healy, however, added that she is “really concerned about the cost to implement extended voting – if it is done much more than a day or two in advance of Election Day, we would need to ensure we have very strict regulations integrity surrounding security of the ballots and signature validation.”
“I would want to get a lot of input from the residents of Connecticut and see what their feelings are about this,” she said.
On the topic of women’s reproductive rights, Healy said she is pro-choice.
“I believe that women must be able to make all healthcare decisions on their own – and with their doctors,” she said. “The government should never interfere with anyone’s medical or health decisions.”
“You’re going to see a lot of national rhetoric around this issue – and in this race I don’t see it as being relevant,” she added.
Denning said in his view someone calling the issue “national rhetoric … is a weakness.”
“We are not safe from the Republican Party on Roe v Wade or any other state level issue,” Denning, who is pro-choice, said. “The Republican National Party has an agenda that they plan on running to the states – and for anybody to say they are pro-choice – where are you going to support choice? Are you really going to make sure that Medicaid is covering it if Medicare or insurance doesn’t? And how restrictive are you going to be? Is this something that a doctor and his patient are going to have complete control over?”
“I have been involved in the procedure of abortion in my healthcare practice,” Denning added. “It is never a situation that is easy. It is never a situation that does not have tears and suffering by all parties. I don’t think you can take this position of anyone – other than a Democrat who says they are pro-choice in all circumstances.”
With regard to the state’s rising energy costs and how to contain them, Denning said the current situation js due mostly to energy deregulation passed by the Republicans in the 1990s – as well as rising fossil fuel costs.
“Our current energy situation was an attempt to drive electric rates down by opening up electric markets – so we could buy from whoever was creating at the cheapest cost,” Denning said. “This was back in the 1990s when electricity was fluctuating pretty low.”
“We should have learned from the 1970s when we had our first Arab oil embargoes,” Denning added. “America has never gotten off the cocaine of oil, or the heroin of fossil fuels. We need to vote nationally, and on the local level, to do anything we can to adopt renewables – solar; wind, especially off the sound; geothermal – and give tax credits. when we can, for people who cannot afford it.”
He said the transition to renewables needs to take place “as quickly as possible, to not only protect our environment but also get us energy independent from those who produce oil, including Russia.”
Healy said in her view the best way to get resident’s energy bills reduced is to remove the rows of state fees that are tacked onto each and every bill.
“As you know, we have the third highest electric rates in the U.S. – [and] we have the largest number of added fees to our bills, by our Connecticut government,” Healy said. “I would like to see them pull those fees out and have those expenses run through our state general spending budget.”
Healy said the fees account for “almost 20% of our [electric] bills,” and are used to support public policy programs, including “hardship programs, energy efficiency programs,” and “for meeting certain environmental goals.”
“And, unfortunately, everything in our state costs more,” Healy said. “And it’s reflected in our utility costs: Salaries, land costs, repair costs, taxes – all of that gets passed onto us, the rate payer.”
The debate was moderated by members of the New Canaan High School Debate Team. It was broadcast only – there was no live audience.
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