Forum for for 35th Senate, 8th House revolves around rural issues
By Suzanne Carlson
Open space acquisition, farm protection, and the promotion of local businesses over national chains were some of the concerns posed to candidates for the 8th House and 35th Senate Districts at a forum Wednesday hosted by the group Save Open Space Coventry.
35th District candidates Democrat Susan Eastwood and Republican Sen. Tony Guglielmo appeared with 8th District candidates Democrat John Murphy and Rep. Tim Ackert at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon.
The 35th District comprises 13 towns, including Ashford, Coventry, Stafford, Tolland, Vernon, Union, Willington, and part of Ellington. The 8th District includes the towns of Coventry, Columbia, Tolland, and Vernon.
Each candidate was asked their position on preserving the rural character of area towns, supporting local business and agricultural producers, and open space protection.
Save Open Space hosted a similar forum between Guglielmo and Eastwood in 2010 and endorsed Eastwood as a result. On Wednesday, Guglielmo, who won by some 10,000 votes over Eastwood in the last election and is now looking to secure an 11th term, touted his experience as co-chairman of a legislative committee on rural land and his work to promote local dairy farms.
He listed a number of existing programs and subsidies tailored to small farms, but said that success relies on adequate funding.
"Sometimes it's just a shell, so we've got to kind of really refocus on the basics," Guglielmo said, before criticizing multimillion-dollar tax breaks to large corporations such as Cabela's and NBC Sports, which could be channeled into local businesses and agriculture.
"No one I talk to thinks it's a good idea except for those who sponsored it," he added.
Guglielmo, who lives in Stafford, also serves as a ranking member of the legislature's Labor and Public Employees Committee and its Public Safety Committee, and is a member of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding and the Program Review and Investigations committees.
Eastwood has served on several local conservation groups including Ashford's Planning and Zoning Commission, its AgVocate and Open Space Committees, and the Ashford Clean Energy Task Force.
She agreed with Guglielmo that small businesses tend to provide better-paying, more stable jobs than big-box chains, and said she would work to promote marketing for such companies so they can find new retail venues and expand sales to increase their contribution to the local economy.
"We want vital, growing communities with great quality education, healthcare for everyone, and, of course, a beautiful rural quality of life," Eastwood said.
Ackert, who owns Ackert Electric in Coventry and is running for a second term, has served on the Coventry Zoning Board of Appeals and the Vernon Economic Development Commission, and worked on the Coventry Plan of Conservation and Development.
Towns receive a substantially higher return on dollars invested in farmland and small businesses compared with residential property, and "75 percent of the jobs are by small businesses, we need to keep that in mind, and a farm is a small business," Ackert said. "If you look at where do you invest your dollars, it's.in small businesses, it's in our farmlands, it's in land preservation, because it costs the town a small amount of dollars to keep that."
Murphy, who has been endorsed by the environmental groups Sierra Club and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said he's worked with several local community organizations to fight big-box development at Exit 67 off Interstate 84 in Vernon.
The area is located at the headwaters of the Tankerhoosen River, a wild trout management area, and Murphy was adamant that business interests should not be allowed to trump environmental concerns and the preservation of local rural character.
"All good things in our towns start with responsible development," Murphy said. "As for resisting the efforts of national chains, until we change the way we raise revenue for the towns in our state, towns depend on growing the grand list."
As a result, Murphy said it's essential that strong local zoning commissions control development with a clear vision for their town.
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