Before President Barack Obama (D) and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) took the stage in Denver Wednesday for the first in a series of presidential debates, two local candidates for Connecticut's 8th Senate District participated in Patch's Voice of the Voter debate at Eno Memorial Hall in Simsbury.
State Sen. Kevin Witkos – a retired Canton police officer and new restaurant owner – and Dan Seger – a Canton business owner – answered questions submitted by Patch readers. The topics ranged from transportation, public safety and education to the economy, jobs and health care.
Moderators Sean Askham, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, Jeff Tindall, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, and Jeff Brush, editor of Simsbury Patch rotated asking questions.
Simsbury resident Amy McLean Salls came to the debate and the 16th State House District debate held beforehand to hear the ideas of new candidates who had never held public office.
"I heard ideas from Dan Seger. Maybe they weren't perfect ideas, but they were really suggestions. You can tell he was really thinking about it," McLean Salls said. "I like the fact that he really does have a concrete business life experience within the district."
She questioned why Witkos, as the 8th District incumbent, previously voted against a Connecticut jobs bill presented to the State Senate.
"I'm not quite sure you would vote against a jobs bill," McLean Salls said. "I felt like a jobs bill is to create jobs, so I don't think Senator Witkos was able to say why he voted against it. It doesn't make sense to me."
When asked whether the state's fiscal problems were because of overspending or revenue problems, Seger said, “I think Connecticut has a spending problem and a revenue problem.”
That was something that a few audience members were surprised to hear.
"To say that we have a revenue problem, that's preposterous," Paul Cocchi Jr., of Simsbury, said.
Peter Askham, who is on the Simsbury Board of Finance, said the state of Connecticut only has an expenditure problem.
"The fact of what they did last year raising revenues, we can't possibly have a revenue problem," said Askham, who came to the debate to hear the candidate's plans for "expenditure control."
He is also concerned about Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding for Simsbury because said he didn't think the town got its fair share last time.
Tom Hickey, who has lived in Simsbury for a couple years, said he came to the debate with an open mind to get a general sense of "where all the candidates stood."
Cocchi had a similar idea in mind, that he wanted to hear the candidates talk about where they think Connecticut stands.
"I liked the fiscal aspect of what Senator Witkos had to say," Hickey said. "I think that probably appealed to me more than anything else, him talking about his small business and things of that nature."
McLean Salls said that she was impressed with the "calm composure of the newcomer [Seger]."
"He doesn't get rattled. He's kind of like, 'Hey, I don't have all the answers, but I'm doing the best I can,'" McLean Salls said. "And I think that's the kind of thoughtful approach that we need."
Simsbury Community Television (SCTV) recorded the debate, which will be aired on the public access channel on a date to be determined. The two will also meet again during a Candidates’ Night at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Canton High School Auditorium, 76 Simonds Ave.
The questions posed to the candidates at the Simsbury debate:
- How do you plan to address an aging transportation infrastructure that millions of people rely on every year? Do you have a vision for improving public transportation?
- Are the State's fiscal problems the result of overspending or because of shortfalls in revenue?
- What cuts or changes do you plan to introduce in order to preserve necessary programs?
- Revenue: The state has already had a significant tax increase, how do you propose to address this issue differently?
- Pension: Connecticut has one of largest pension deficits of all 50 states, what budget measures would you implement to fund our obligations? What changes would you make for future obligations?
- Jobs: The state continues to experience high unemployment, with many running out of unemployment benefits each day. How do you plan on attracting and retaining jobs for the 8th District and the state?
- Healthcare: The federal health care act attempts to provide further access to healthcare. How do you plan to address escalating healthcare costs as access increases?
- Public safety: What you do to improve municipal preparedness, disaster response and overall public safety?