Ridgefield state reps talk politics at League forum

State Representatives John Frey, right, Michael Ferguson (R-138), center, and State Senator Toni Boucher with the League of Women Voters last Saturday at the Ridgefield Library.

State Representatives John Frey (R-111) and Michael Ferguson (R-138) listened to spirited questions and engaged in a productive dialogue with their constituents in Ridgefield at a packed community forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Ridgefield on Saturday morning.  They were joined by their Senate colleague, State Senator Toni Boucher (R-26).

Close to one hundred people filled a room at the Ridgefield Library to hear from their legislators and ask them about recent political developments.  In response to the enthusiasm, Co-Program Director, Lynda Hanley, noted, “In all the years that Ridgefield’s League has been hosting these Meet Your Legislator events, there has never been an audience of this size.”

The event began with the legislators awarding Ridgefield Playhouse Executive Director Allison Stockel a citation from the General Assembly for her contribution to the arts in Connecticut.  Ms. Stockel was recognized as an “Arts Hero” on Connecticut Arts Day on Thursday, March 2 during an event will take place at the State Capitol in Hartford.

At the onset of the forum, Ms. Hanley, who also moderated, asked questions from the League about the elections process in Connecticut and asked for their thoughts on introducing early voting and amending the Citizen’s Election Program.

“Conversations on voting rights are so important to have in this age of new technology and a changing electorate, that’s why I’ve previously introduced bills to allow no excuse absentee ballots.  Connecticut residents voted down early voting fairly convincingly when it was on the ballot a few years ago, but I think more lenient absentee ballot policies would benefit the democratic process here,” said Rep. Frey.

Another topic from the league was on the opioid crisis in Connecticut. Rep. Ferguson lamented how so many families have a personal connection to a drug-related tragedy, saying, “It is absolutely a priority for the legislature to address this urgent issue.”  He mentioned medical amnesty bills as a possible remedy for the increase in overdoses, which would take individuals out of legal jeopardy if they assisted in getting medical help to someone who is overdosing on an illicit drug.

After the questions from the moderator, a crowd of mostly Ridgefield residents lined up at a microphone to raise their concerns over national, state, and local issues with the representatives, who were eager to get a chance to have a conversation with their constituents.  The legislators fielded dozens of questions over the course of the two-hour event.  Following the conclusion of the forum, all three remained for an extra hour to answer questions from those who did not have a chance to ask them during the town hall.

The state economy and fiscal matters were of particular concern, with residents worried about how Connecticut’s unfunded liabilities and the governor’s plan to shift teachers’ pension costs to towns will affect their property taxes.  All three lawmakers went on the record as firmly against the governor’s budget proposal as well as alternative means suggested to raise revenues including instituting tolls on Connecticut’s highways or a mileage tax.

Other questions covered education funding, protecting the environment, gun control legislation, affordable housing laws, health insurance, and rights for the LGBT community.

“Politics seems to be on people’s minds a lot more than usual these days,” saidRep. Frey.  “For better or for worse, I’m glad these folks took time out of their Saturdays to attend this forum, which was a lot more crowded than when I’ve done this in past years.  I think it’s ultimately a good thing that people are more engaged with their elected representatives and current events.  It definitely helps my job to know what’s on the minds of my constituents and I thank the League for doing such a phenomenal job putting this on for the people of Ridgefield.”

“It felt like a very productive forum between an informed electorate and their representatives,” said Rep. Ferguson.  “I certainly got a lot out of it and I hope everyone who attended did, too.  Lynda and the LWV of Ridgefield put on a great event.  It ran smoothly and I was so pleased with how respectful people were to one another.”

Sen. Boucher thanked the League of Women Voters for hosting and moderating the event, which included many comments about happenings at the national level. While legislators cannot change what is happening in Congress, she said they are keeping a watchful eye for impacts on Connecticut, as well as dealing with the state’s issue.

“It’s so important that we have these opportunities to let our constituents know how state proposals may impact them,” Sen. Boucher said. “It is equally important that we hear directly from people about what matters concern them and how they would like their state leaders to respond.  I am so grateful to the League of Women Voters for their professionalism and for providing a forum that gives us this valuable opportunity to have a dialogue with our constituents.”

“The League thanks Senator Boucher and Representatives Frey and Ferguson for participating in this event where each legislator answered questions of legislative concern for the League of Women Voters of Connecticut and for audience members who asked questions,” said Ms. Hanley.  “A special thank you goes to the legislators for staying longer than the scheduled time to make certain that all questions from the audience were addressed”.

Anyone who was unable to attend the event but would like to speak with Reps. Frey and Ferguson can reach them any time by contacting 800-842-1423.

Sen. Boucher can be reached by contacting 800-842-1421.

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