There was no clear winner and multiple questions were left unanswered following a debate between incumbent Republican Jason Perillo, seeking reelection in the 113th District, and Democrat Adam Heller, Thursday night at the Plumb Memorial library.
Mixed opinions were expressed by those in attendance — some felt the debate was productive but others, such as Alderman Jim Capra (R), felt the debate wasn’t fair.
Before the debate began, index cards were passed out for those who wanted to ask questions of the candidates with the condition — set by the Shelton Voters Network — that all questions must be directed to both candidates.
Carpa posed two questions but both were put aside, along with those of others that did not meet the requirement. And Carpa’s questions — “Why are you best prepared to be our state representative in Hartford?” and “Shelton is a very pro-Republican city and loves low taxes, how can you ensure you will keep taxes low for us in Hartford?” — met the requirement.
Judy Carey of the Shelton Voters Network said if the questions were discarded with those directed to one specific candidate, is was most likely an accident.
Capra said he was disgusted by the way the debate was organized and other audience members voiced similar views following the candidates’ closing statements. Alderman Anthony Simonetti (R) said he also had a question that was not answered by the candidates.
Opioid crisis in New England
Both Perillo and Heller addressed a number of state issues, including the ongoing battle with opioid abuse in New England, gun control, and taxes.
Perillo said he has already supported legislation designed to limit the amount of drugs a doctor can legally prescribe to a patient, as well as increase the availability of the opiate antidote Narcan.
Heller and Perillo said they are in support of a more in-depth form of drug education in schools across the country but more specifically Shelton.
Perillo said, along with the continuation of limitations placed on prescriptions, he would like to eliminate the state Board of Education to allow local boards to make decisions for their districts because they know the community and the students.
“This can’t be done from 50,000 feet away in an ivory tower in Hartford, it can’t be done that way and shouldn’t be done that way,” said Perillo.
He added that he would also like to place restrictions on the way people in recovery receive payments from their insurance companies.
“In Connecticut there are a lot of recovery centers and insurance companies that like to pay the patient directly. Think about that for a second, these are long expensive stays, some can be up to $10 to $20 to $30,000,” said Perillo. “Someone who’s just out of recovery should not be sitting on their couch with a $30,000 check. It’s a recipe for disaster…”
Perillo said he’s already begun to look at a way to limit legislation from having insurance agencies pay patients directly. Instead they will pay their provider.
Heller said he agrees that one of the biggest problem in the opioid crisis is the availability of the drugs and the lack of education for young people.
“I bet many people don’t know that you can drop off your excess prescriptions to the police station and that will keep them out of the hands of young children or anyone else who could abuse the drugs. They’re then disposed of properly. The better the education we have, the better decisions we can make. We can’t ignore a problem that exists all around us. Children are already exposed to it.”
Both candidates said they’re in favor of a citizen’s right to bare arms and agreed that a more thorough evaluation needs to be done to assure that only people capable of handling firearms have them in their possession.
“Mental health needs to be taken into more consideration, educational processes need to take place so that the people who should not have their hands on them, don’t. And those that do, know how to handle them properly,” said Heller.
Perillo said there needs to be more focus on the interstate trafficking of handguns.
“That’s how you do it,” said Perillo. “Senate Bill 1060 didn’t touch that at all and quite frankly that’s primarily a federal issue because the trafficking of guns across state lines is a federal offense.”
Taxes, minimum wage, and the economy
For the people of Shelton in the audience, and arguably both candidates, the largest issue of discussion was taxes.
Heller said he wants to reduce the burden of taxes, especially on middle class workers and plans to do so by attracting businesses to start and stay in Connecticut.
“I don’t think lowering wages will increase the spending at our local stores and businesses. Telling workers it’s their fault the economy is bad is detrimental… Are there reforms we can do to pension plans? Absolutely. Are there questions about benefits that should be addressed? Sure… We should not put it on the backs of employees to solve the policy issues we’re having. We need to make sure we’re encouraging our local businesses to grow. We need to make sure our education system is such that when our students leave school they have the skills that employers want, so they stay local and businesses stay local as well… I think we have a taxation problem, but I think if businesses are earning money and doing well I don’t think the slight increase in taxes will cause a termination of employment. I think it’s causing uncertainty within the market which certainly is something to look at. The way we solve this is by making sure the middle class is working, that’s always worked for this country. We need to bring more jobs to Shelton…”
Perillo said the way the state will generate additional tax revenue is by getting more people paying taxes, not additional taxes.
“I understand the gentleman’s point that state employees can’t bear the burden of the state’s economy on their shoulders, but neither should taxpayers. You can’t tax yourself way out of a bad economy. Increasing taxes on small business owners and corporations and employees does not get companies to hire more workers.”
Perillo expanded on the topic and said there are four key ways to address the spending in Connecticut: Get rid of the income tax, conduct more thorough investigations of who will receive Medicaid, decrease the amount the state borrows for projects, and address the state employee unions because the state cannot afford them.
When asked how he would defend low taxes as a Democrat when a Republican has already been so avidly fighting to maintain a low tax rate, Heller responded by saying he also wants to maintain a low tax rate because it is the reason he moved to Shelton five years earlier.
“I represent the city of Shelton and I will bring their voices up to Hartford with me if I am elected,” said Heller.
Perillo responded by saying he’s seen candidates in Heller’s position take similar stances, but then agree with Gov. Dannell Malloy once in Hartford. He then posed two questions: Why are businesses leaving the state and why are businesses that are staying, not hiring?
“The answer is, predictability. We have seen in the past six years is promises not being met. Promises of no new taxes… You never know what will happen with taxes or whether you will have to lay off employees,” said Perillo.
Perillo closed the debate by restating his deep Shelton roots, the work he has already done to make it a better city, and how grateful he would be to have the opportunity to continue to do so in years to come.
“This isn’t a job like any other. I wake up in the morning and I go to Hartford and I just feel good about what I do and I believe, most of the time, what I’m doing is what the folks who elected me would want me to do.”
Heller closed by saying he thought it was productive and that he would like to be elected in order to work towards making the state better.
“I hear a lot, especially from the Republicans about how we have to fight Malloy, fight this, fight that. We’re not supposed to be fighting, we’re supposed to be working for the people that we’re representing and that’s why I want to go to Hartford.”