Rodgerson, Lavielle spar at Wilton debate

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), left,
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), left, and Democratic challenger Keith Rodgerson debate Tuesday in Wilton.
The election will be held Nov. 4.

WILTON, Conn. – Comparisons were drawn and contrasts noted Tuesday as incumbent State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) faced off against Democratic challenger Keith Rodgerson in a League of Women Voters debate.

While state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Democratic challenger Keith Rodgerson agreed during the debate in Wilton on the need to improve Connecticut’s railroad lines, they disagreed sharply on the state’s gasoline tax, the things that should be demanded of health insurance companies, and the approaches to affordable housing.

Other topics concerned damage from major storms like Sandy and Irene and the proposed Constitutional amendment to allow early voting.

One question focused on the far-fetched possibility that the Affordable Care Act  would be repealed. How would Connecticut citizens then get the health care they need at an affordable price?

Rodgerson said this revealed “one big stark contrast” between he and Lavielle.

“I believe insurance companies should be mandated to provide certain services,” Rodgerson said. “I would like to see to it … that our insurance companies continue to not be able to exclude people from coverage, as someone with a lifelong issue that has led for a long time for me not even being able to have the opportunity to invest in my own private business. Just generally speaking we need to see to it that our insurance companies, they have to provide a certain level of care.”

Insurance companies should be required to provide things such as ostomy supplies and to do healthcare screenings, he said.

“Should the ACA fall apart, I would want to step in and see that our insurance mandates insure that our people get insured,” Rodgerson said.

Lavielle said she’d be surprised if the Affordable Care Act were repealed.

“People ought to be able to choose what kind of insurance they buy. They should not be obligated to buy a policy that covers everything from soup to nuts. If they do not want it, it should be their choice, and of course the pricing would be calculated according to that,” she said.

There are 70 insurance mandates in Connecticut, she said.

“While I don’t think that the scenario suggested is going to come to be, I do think that leaving that element of personal choice and leaving people’s personal business to them is one of the most important things we can do,” Lavielle said.

Rodgerson asked how Lavielle could not support providing senior citizens with the supplies they need, and used that musing to transition to a broader thought.

“I just have to question whether we share the same values, whether my representative is vouching for me or for someone else or something else somewhere else,” Rodgerson said.

“We are not Congress in Connecticut,” Lavielle replied. “We have a public finance system for politicians. I have taken those funds every time I have run for office. Every time I have taken contributions only from individuals and they are no more than $100 per individual. We can’t take money from such organizations. I certainly have no motivation, nor do my colleagues, to follow the agenda of anyone but my constituents. Sometimes these organizations have something to say, some testimony to deliver, but ultimately I don’t actually care what they think.”

Both candidates were asked what their solutions would be regarding the lack of affordable housing and developers building at higher densities than local zoning regulations allow.

Rodgerson said state statute 8-30g is antiquated and promotes sprawl. It’s important to create a consensus in the legislature to reform the statute, he said. Connecticut needs to focus on building housing density in the areas around train stations, he said, referring to Transit Oriented Development. Right now, the young urban professionals are living in places like Norwalk, making Wilton “the largest point of anemia in the county,” he said.

“If you haven’t noticed, unless your kids are living in your basement, they’re not here,” he said.

“The biggest problem with 8-30g is each of our 169 towns and cities have their own Plans of Conservation and Development in each town, which they have very meticulously structured, developed, built,” Lavielle replied. “… I do think that if towns were allowed to use their Plan of Conservation and Development to determine where they put housing it would make things more a lot more equitable and work better.”

All the mayors, first selectmen and the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) have made a concerted effort, “but so far the speaker of the house has not wanted to make any change in 8-30g,” she said. “I believe that we need to have a more concerted Fairfield County effort with all of the legislators, at least from here, working together.”

Rodgerson politely attacked Lavielle, saying she introduced an amendment to define senior housing as meeting the requirements of the law, without an affordability component.

“The various modifications that were suggested by numerous legislators from Fairfield County last year were all agreed upon by all of us in a group within SWRPA,” Lavielle replied. “… Sometimes you suggest quite a number of modifications just to have enough to justify a public hearing so that the subject can be discussed. My preference actually is to require respect for the Plan of Conservation and Development.”

Asked about what the state could do to help municipalities prepare for hurricanes and prevent property damage and erosion, Lavielle said the legislature had imposed tree trimming regulations with performance standards for utility companies. There’s been an effort to work on coastal management, “Clarifying the rights of property owners and the state in terms of hardening the seawall, physically or with vegetation,” she said. “The legislature has already done a lot of work on this, but it’s not finished.”

Rodgerson said funds secured by Gov. Dannel Malloy to help people raise their homes is critical. He said he believed in climate change and had been on the front lines in Bridgeport as an economic development director when Sandy swamped the East End with seawater.

“We need to make sure that we have capital resources available, when we have these tragedies hit,” he said. “… It’s critical for us to make what are extraordinary investments in the seawalls. In essence, we are trying to fight nature and these efforts cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. We have to make sure we have the resolve, that we’re going to make these investments to protect our way of life and these communities.”

Both said they feel it’s important to get trucks off of Interstate 95. If nothing changes by 2025, 95 percent of the traffic on I-95 will be trucks, Rodgerson said.

“We need to look to rail to see to if we can solve our needs and if we can use public monies wisely and generate as much private revenue as we can for the state,” Rodgerson said.

Lavielle said the creation of a Connecticut Port Authority during the last legislative session had made her very happy. “Some of the freight that we have can be moved through our ports,” she said.

“We don’t have a good freight rail system,” Lavielle said. “That’s a big investment, but we have got to look at it. I have also heard some interesting proposals in the transportation committee about voluntary optional express lanes where traffic can move faster. That’s not a way of getting people out of their cars, but it does help traffic.

“The ports and freight rail, I think, would make a difference, and if we ever get to the point that we can look at tramways and monorails in our largest cities, it would be a wonderful development. We’re a long way off from that. But we have that kind of population density and I think it could work for us,” Lavielle said.

Gas taxes were not such a harmonious issue.

Lavielle said she was pleased the legislature had put a lock box on the gasoline revenues to end the “longstanding practice of raiding the special transportation fund to use for other purposes at whim of legislature.”

She had introduced a bill to do that in 2012, with 27 signatures and “made a lot of noise,” she said. It was an off year, but the 2013 Department of Transportation omnibus transportation bill carried that provision, to go into effect in July, she said.

“There has never been enough money in that transportation fund to support the types of upgrades that we need to have functional rail system,” Rodgerson said, adding that “there’s a lot of political squabbling in Hartford over moving this pile of money from this bucket and back.”

Lavielle wants to cut the gasoline tax, he said. “I believe we should invest in rail; I think it’s important for Fairfield County, I think we want to disincentivize things such as auto orientation,” Rodgerson said.

“We really need to look at all of the other things that we are bonding and all of the earmarks and all of the things the state has spent money on and put transportation at the top of the list,” Lavielle said.

Another bone of contention was the ballot question to allow legislators to debate future changes in election procedures.

“I support this constitutional question wholeheartedly because I think that it cuts government regulation into the most important part of our lives, which is the decision we make with regard to elected officials,” Rodgerson said.I believe that campaign contributions, we should see the money that goes into campaigns. We should have total transparency with regards to this electoral process.”

He also said it was “absolutely critical” to expand election access to seniors.

Lavielle said she voted to allow no-excuse absentee voting. She had voted no on the resolution in question but not for political reasons, she said.

“It’s not because there is or might be more voter fraud, or less voter fraud, whatever you do,” Lavielle said. “That really has nothing to do with it in my mind. This constitutional amendment does not enable the people of Connecticut to do anything. What it does is remove language from the constitution that has nothing to do with voting. Doesn’t enable the people of Connecticut to do anything, it enables the legislature to do what it sees fit and to introduce a whole spectrum of measures.”

Those measures might someday be more restrictive, she said.

“It is actually abdicating for the folks of Connecticut the ability to vote on the precise regulations that we would have to expand voting possibilities and leaving that all to the legislative branch,” Lavielle said.

“I’m not sure what you just said but I respectfully disagree,” Rodgerson said, drawing a laugh.

“That must be hard to do,” Lavielle said, also getting a laugh.


2 responses to “Rodgerson, Lavielle spar at Wilton debate”

  1. Keith Rodgerson

    Thanks for coming up, Nancy!

  2. Norwalk Sage

    There’s a pattern here. Lavielle intelligently discusses the issues she can actually help advance for her Fairfield County constituents in Hartford, like better use of state funds and infrastructure projects with real benefits. Rodgerson likes to talk and talk about what “he” believes should happen, in areas that he or Hartford have no business in. Like repeal of the ACA, or where young people choose to live. Really? Lavielle’s record of consensus demonstrates she is in tune with the 143rd’s needs. She gets more done as a Republican than we could ever expect from a freshman Democrat who will be forced to follow that most onerous special interest group, the Hartford Democratic leadership.

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