NORWALK, Conn. — District 143 State Representative candidates, both seeking an open seat, presented a tale of different doors in their League of Women Voters debate, as the Democrat began by saying she’s heard about reproductive rights and education concerns while out meeting constituents and the Republican reported that folks are talking about economic issues and rising crime rates.
Dominique Johnson, a Democratic Common Council member, and Nicole Hampton, a Republican who works as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist at Norwalk Hospital, are vying for the seat now held by Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat seeking election as Secretary of State. It’s a district that comprises part of Norwalk and part of Westport, having seen its lines redrawn this year in response to the census.
Video by Harold F. Cobin at end of story
Johnson repeatedly touted her Council experience as a good foundation for making a difference in Hartford and Hampton said Democrats aren’t providing the services citizens are paying for.
The pair differed sharply on “grooming” and the “insurrection” in the debate, held Monday in the Norwalk City Hall community room. They agreed that climate change is a major concern and that two well-known laws – the recently passed police accountability bill and 8-30g, a three-decade-old affordable housing mandate – need amending. Hampton characterized legalized marijuana as a threat to children and called it “a real problem.” Johnson suggested “smart drawdowns” from the State’s Rainy Day Fund to pay off pension obligations. Both supported early voting.
A question about education funding led Hampton to say, “I am a firm believer that mental health is a very important issue, right? And it always needs to be addressed. However, social emotional learning in our schools is more geared towards sexual ideology and grooming our children.”
Johnson, who would be the legislature’s only female open LGBTQ member if elected, replied, “said I think it’s unconscionable to call our teachers groomers. I think it’s a disservice to them as a profession. And I think it undervalues deeply their contributions to our community.”
Hampton said, “I was not calling our teachers groomers. I was referring to the one-party rule curriculum that has been pushed upon our teachers. I love teachers.”
Another sharp exchange developed after Hampton said the constituents she’s spoken to complain about the pandemic and inflation, and ask, “Why is there no law and order in our communities?”
Hampton said she’s been endorsed by the Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police and, “I think law and order is well needed in both communities.”
Johnson voted with her Democratic Council colleagues recently to greenlight cannabis sales in Norwalk. Hampton said, “Recovering from cannabis use is five times if not more than the supposedly revenue that we’re gonna get back from the State.”
Johnson referred to inflation being caused by “global economic issues” and said, “That is something that we need to leverage our federal delegation to really work on… At the state level, we can provide relief to people in our district.”
Johnson said she’s been proud to work with police as Council Community Services Committee Chairwoman and has recently been endorsed by the State Police Union.
Hampton said Johnson was endorsed by the Working Families Party, that wants to defund the police.
WFP “is a party for people who put in an honest day’s work,” Johnson said. “I do not support ‘defund the police.’ In fact, I support our police. There was an insurrection, where another law enforcement official lost his life in the line of duty, protecting our capital, protecting our democracy itself. This is an insurrection; my opponent denies it happened.”
“Of course, I denounce what happened on January 6,” Hampton said. “But once again, this is a question that divides the people. You know, and when I’m going door to door, not one person is talking about January 6. They’re all worried about high gas, buying groceries, being taxed at the highest rate in the nation and getting back the least amount.”
Johnson pressed, “Do you deny saying that there wasn’t an insurrection? … I think the voters deserve to have that on record.”
She added, “We have an opportunity in this district right now to make sure that we lift each other up. And I think we all feel weary of the divisiveness. I know we do. … But we’re being divided in a way that’s unprecedented, because of a lack of civility, a lack of seeing each other as neighbors.”
Moderator Jean Rabinow said much of the state’s water fails to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act and asked how the legislature can clean up the situation so residents can drink safely.
“I worry when people run their sprinklers all day, and definitely the raw sewage issue and Norwalk and you know, our state is now holding us accountable to fix that problem,” Hampton said. “Let’s tax the corporate polluters.”
She added, “No one is denying climate change. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want clean air, clean water and safe food production.”
Johnson said the Clean Water Act is under threat as the Supreme Court “gutted the Clean Air Act” and there’s a potential court decision coming this fall.
“I would go to Harford to make sure we have a Connecticut Clean Water Act,” Johnson said. “What I’ll also do is leverage what I’ve done on the Council. I proposed and garnered support for our city’s very first Climate Action Plan… You need somebody who’s able to and has a track record of advocating for this. I am your person.”
On another topic, the candidates agreed that Connecticut has free and fair elections.
While the agree that 830-g, a law encouraging communities to have at least 10% affordable housing, needs reworking, Hampton added that an alternative would be to “just rip it up and start again.”
Johnson replied, “I would say be careful what we wish for if we rip up 830-g and start over because I have heard that there are some more extreme proposals that are being offered in other parts of the state
Rabinow asked about abortion.
“I’m a mother, I chose to be,” Hampton said. “Everyone has the right to choose their own path. Thankfully, a woman’s right to choose is not in jeopardy in our city. I’ve been going door to door for months and people aren’t talking about Roe versus Wade. They’re talking about affordability, gas prices, public safety, education and parental rights. And whether they should pay their light bill or buy groceries.”
Johnson replied, “Yes, I’m hearing on the doors. We have inflation, we have cost of living issue.” But the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade is a threat and “I worry that I and all other women won’t be able to make decisions about our futures. I mean, this is an economic issue.”
Johnson warned that Connecticut isn’t “settled” on the issue because Congress may institute a national abortion ban if Republicans gain control. She said she’d support codifying Roe in the State Constitution but, “Every few years, we’re getting somebody who proposes a bill to chip away at what we already have. It is under threat in Hartford.”
“It’s already codified into the Connecticut State law,” Hampton replied. “You know, you can keep harping on it that makes you feel good, then that’s fine. But the reality is when I go door to door, no one is talking about Roe vs. Wade.”
In closing statements, both candidates agreed that it’s a very important election.
Hampton went first, saying, “I’m for public safety inclusive of everyone. We need to restore safety in our community from the youngest to the oldest. We need to stop dividing Connecticut like my opponent’s party’s been doing for years.”
She continued, “I’ll work for affordability. I think we should eliminate the meal tax, eliminate new taxes such as diesel and truck tax, expand property tax credit… I’m for parental rights and bringing the basics back to our educational curriculum. We need annual audits to make sure buildings are secure and we have enough cameras inside and out to protect our kids.”
Johnson said, “I bring compassion and respect to the work I do on the Council. And I’ve delivered results to the people of our city for almost three years now.”
She said, “There are three particular things that have been initiatives of mine. I’ve proposed and garnered support for our city’s first Climate Action Plan…. I worked to make sure that the veterans, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ folks are included in our nondiscrimination protections. And I ushered through $1.5 million of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding into our nonprofits, directly into our communities for mental health and addiction services.”
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