NORWALK, Conn. – Voters got the chance Wednesday night to compare and contrast Democrat Keith Rodgerson and incumbent Republican state Rep. Gail Lavielle, who are competing for the 143rd District seat in the state General Assembly, a spot held by Lavielle for the past four years.
The 143rd comprises parts of Norwalk, Wilton and Westport. The occasion Wednesday night was a debate held in Westport and not widely advertised in Norwalk.
The debate, sponsored by the Westport League of Women Voters, co-sponsored by the PTA Council of Westport, Westport Women’s Club and the Y’s Women, crammed two districts into one debate, forcing the 143rd candidates to share the hour with 136th District Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg and his challenger, Republican Brandi Briggs.
Rodgerson and Lavielle’s differences were obvious, politically and stylistically, Lavielle with her highly polished communications-pro skills, and Rodgerson with a more direct approach and somewhat confrontational tone. This was most obvious when the discussion focused on Connecticut’s new gun law.
Lavielle said she voted for the law after receiving input from her constituents and finding they were strongly in favor. However, she said she wished there had been more time spent, that there were ambiguities that needed fixing, and that, while she would not vote to repeal the law, she would like to “make it better, particularly in the mental health section. There’s still a lot of work to do there.”
Rodgerson jumped on that statement, saying “The protections put into place need to be sacrosanct. I get a little fearful when people talk about making it better. … In 2011, when the Legislature took up high-capacity magazines, banning them, these assault-style, large-capacity magazines, our legislators didn’t stand up and call for those large-capacity magazines to be illegalized. … I believe those magazines have no place in civil society. My opponent has stated that she believes people should be able to keep these magazines legal. It’s a big point of contrast between us.”
A short while later, after speaking on another topic, Lavielle responded, saying she had supported banning the high-capacity magazines very early in the process, and that the only issue in the legislature was the “confiscation of private property.” Rodgerson shot back, “Confiscation, of course, being the possession of a high-capacity magazine.”
Most of the debate revolved around economic issues – business, taxes, jobs – and infrastructure. Both candidates scored well with thoughtful answers, with the biggest disagreement coming over the veracity of some highly publicized surveys suggesting half the people in the state want to “flee.”
Rodgerson said he disagreed, and sees a lot of development happening in the district. The key, he said, is to find a way to keep the area vibrant, a desirable place to live. He said small businesses are the key, and that losing the local businesses leads to a loss of the sense of place.
Lavielle said her constituents tell her they want to leave because it is too expensive to live here, and they cite taxes.
Both candidates spoke to the need for a strong workforce and reliable transportation infrastructure to attract and keep businesses. Lavielle held up Norwalk as an example of taking the right approach through its commitment to early childhood education.
Rodgerson said the state needs to focus on transit-oriented development to keep the younger workforce from moving to New York, and he echoed Lavielle’s emphasis of getting children an early start.
“Human capital is a big part” of attracting business, he said. “We need the same type of job training as they have in ‘red’ states, like Texas and South Carolina, and we need to have early childhood education. We can’t let residents of the cities fall behind before they even hit first grade.”
Lavielle also called for “getting our financial house in order,” and urged a restructuring of employee retirement benefits to mirror the private sector, a move, she said, could save the state $83 million a year in the short term.
To see the full debate, click here and then click on 2014 Candidates Debates for State Representative Districts (136 and 143). The 143rd candidates begin at the 1:06 mark.