Taxes, guns laws, school regionalization, the environment, questions on a wide range of topics, prompted answers from the candidates for the 26th District State Senate seat — incumbent Democrat Will Haskell and Republican challenger Kim Healy.

The two faced off at the Ridgefield League of Women Voters candidates forum on Sunday, Oct. 4.

“We had over 200 people register, with about 50 questions submitted for the candidates,” said Ridgefield League of Women voters President Marilyn Carroll. “About 135 folks ended up watching.”

The forum also featured three candidates seeking to represent Ridgefield in the state General Assembly — Democrat Aimee Berger-Girvalo and Republican Bob Hebert, both running for the 111th District House seat, and also Kennth Gucker, Democratic incumbent in the 38th District seat representing northern Ridgebury. The House candidates will be covered in a separate story, next week.

The forum is available to watch on the Ridgefield League of Woman Voters YouTube Channel at https://youtu.be/-g4DFglOCfY or by going to the RLWV Website at https://www.rlwv.org/voter-resources.

Here are some of the questions and responses from candidates for the 26th District State Senate seat, covering Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton and parts of Weston, Westport, New Canaan and Bethel.

Combined, Connecticut state and local government take 12.6 percent of personal income - would you support cutting state income tax or the corporate tax rate, and if so where would you find the revenue to do that?

“We’ve been with the majority party in our state kind of getting us into this mess,” said Healy. “I think it’s going to take a lot of time and effort and really digging into the numbers to get us out, I really would like to see us lower corporation and individual tax rates.

“Can that be done right away? Probably not,” she said.

“We’re the second highest taxed state in the country. We really need to get back down to business and figure out where the problems are. I’d love to see those rates cut…”

Haskell said the Republican tax bill passed in Washington, which lowered how much state and local taxes could be deducted form federal income taxes.

“The 10 percent limit on tax deductions had a huge impact in Connecticut,” Haskell said.

He touted a bill he’d put forward in Hartford to hold down spending by giving rewards to state employees who point out “wasteful or duplicative spending”

“That passed along bipartisan lines,” he said.

“There’s a lot more work to do ... both in Hartford and in Washington.”

How should the legislature address the lack of affordable housing in many municipalities including Ridgefield that is the result of exclusionary zoning and land use policies? And do you favor the continuation of 8-30g or would you modify it?.

“I think think we need do need to build a community that’s more affordable,” Haskell said.

“Teachers and firefighters and police officers that work here should be able to live here. Seniors should be able to retire in Connecticut. Young people that gain an education in Connecticut should be able to stay in Connecticut.

“I also believe in local control of zoning. I don’t believe those are contradictory beliefs.

“At the end of the day the best people to make Ridgefield more affordable” Haskell said, are those “who live here.”

Healy wanted the state out of that issue.

“I think the legislature actually should step away from trying to interfere with how affordable housing is brought into our towns,” she said. “I’ve met with a lot of the planning and zoning and housing people in a lot of towns in the 26th District, and they’re working to bring affordable housing into the district.”

The state’s 8-30g statute runs counter to local control, she said, and “does give more power to the developer.”

Should the state support school regionalization as a cost saving measure?

“I opposed regionalization on the very same day it was proposed,” Haskell said.

“In the Education Committee I fought to make sure that bill never received a vote in the senate ...

“What I’m for? I think Connecticut needs to do a better job of integrating computer science into the curriculum,” he said.

He also advocated making two-year community college more available.

“We should stop thinking about K-12 and start thinking about K-14,” he said.

“We need to invest in our public schools now more than ever.”

Healy took a similar stand.

“I also oppose regionalization of schools. I moved here myself and chose Wilton because of its stellar schools,” she said. “I’m not happy to pay my property tax, but understand it goes to my schools.”

Healy thought the state should help schools facing problems, but not by combining them with better-performing schools.

“We should address the problems of those schools where they are,” she said. “If inner city schools need help we should prioritize that ...

“We pay about 40 percent of our income taxes to the state and get very little of that back. A lot of it is sent to the cities,” Healy said.

“We need to leave local control where it is.”

Connecticut has laws meant to protect the LGBTQ community’s access to health care, as well as transgender students’ right to participate in school sports. Do you support these laws, or back their repeal?

“I unfortunately don’t know what those laws are,” said Healy. “... But as a mom, we have to be welcoming to everybody, no matter where they come from.

“I have two children launching off into the adult world,” she said.

“Children will make their own choices that parents may not always agree with “but we love them no matter … who they choose to love.”

Healy added, “I look at this with compassion and an open mind.”

Haskell backed LGBTQ rights.

“Connecticut is standing up for trangender students,” he said. “Once again, what’s happening in Washington matters here...

“There’s a lot more work to do here. We should talk about the fact that 85 percent of LGBTQ students have been the targets of a homophobic remarks in their schools,” Haskell said.

Inspired by “my older brother and his husband” Haskell said “I fought to provide diaper changing rooms in both men’s rooms and women’s rooms.

“It’s time to recognize in the 21st century, families don’t all look the same,” Haskell said.

If actions are taken to limit the Affordable Care Act, what should Connecticut do to stop insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions?

“Our community needs access to care more than ever and yet it becoming unaffordable,” said Haskell. “I was proud to support a bill in the senate that protects preexisting conditions ...

“One hundred thirty million Americans have preexisting conditions, and in Connecticut we’re going to make sure those aren’t discriminated against.”

Haskell said pharmaceutical companies are making more money off insulin, and 25 percent of Americans who need it now have to ration insulin.

“It’s why I fought every day for a public option,” he said.

He wants to allow small businesses to buy into the state health care program offered to state employees.

Healy also supported protections for pre-existing conditions, but raised concerns with the Affordable Care Act.

“I’d agree indeed to make sure preexisting conditions are covered. I remember when I started working, they weren’t,” she said.

“As somebody who actually did tax returns for people,” said Healy, an accountant, “right when the ACA came into play, I can tell you low income people found it very difficult to pay for their insurance policies...

“They found the deductibles were way too high,” she said. “... I found more problems with the ACA than benefits...

“I totally agree health care is too expensive. That is a beast that needs to be tackled.”

Connecticut has a reproductive rights law based on Roe versus Wade. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, should Connecticut law be changed in any way?

“In the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s death reproductive health care is not only on the ballot in this election” it is a major issue, Haskell said.

Haskell touted his endorsement by planned parenthood and the NARAL pro-choice group.

“Reproductive health care is about women’s autonomy,” Haskell said “... Rest assured I’ll fight to protect Roe v. Wade.”

“As a woman, and I have a daughter,” Healy said, “... This is especially important to me. Connecticut has protections for women’s reproductive health. I don’t anticipate or see any reason to change them.”

She didn’t share Haskell’s concern about the make-up of the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think putting another conservative justice on the Supreme Court is going have any affect on that,” she said. “They will listen to the American people.”

If elected what would you do to fight rising greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut and to protect Connecticut’s natural resources and environment?

“That is a really great question,” said Healy. “I think of the biggest environmental thing we have going on in the state is car emissions, which after March kind of declined when nobody was commuting.

“Going forward we want to look at trying create an environment in our community so we have more people working in our state and commuting less,” she said.

“I grew up near the water, and a pet project to me would be to clean up Long Island Sound.”

Haskell favored strengthening environmental protections.

“It is an existential threat to our continued existence,” he said.

“I supported the environment at every turn. I helped fashion a Connecticut Green New Deal.” This, he said, calls for phasing in a 40% reduction in greenhouse emissions.

He also backed a plastic bag ban.

“We’re going to be phasing out plastic bags here in Connecticut, thanks to a law we helped pass,” Haskell said.

The minimum wage is Connecticut increased from $11 to $12 (and goes to $15 in the coming years). Studies show supporting a family of four in Connecticut would need a wage of $28 an hour. Do you support a living wage?

“When this bill came before the state legislature, I was part of group of more moderate senators that made sure it was phased in over five years,” Haskell said.

“I was proud to support a minimum wage of $15. This is going to give 330,000 workers a raise.

“Connecticut suffers from staggering economic inequality,” Haskell said. “…What this bill does is empower more consumers to shop at small businesses.”

Healy has a different view.

“I spoke to a legislator. She told me there’s very little to support the $15 an hour. Apparently it was based on a national movement,” she said.

“I wouldn’t think having the legislature make those decisions is a good idea,” Healy added. “Why is Connecticut so expensive to live in? We have really high taxes. We have way too much regulation … There’s not enough jobs.”

She suggested improving educational opportunities might be a better way to address poverty.

“The people who are making these low income jobs didn’t get a good education,” she said.

Connecticut passed a “Police Accountability Bill.” Do you support further reforms?

Haskell began by taking on a criticism of the bill.

“This notion that the bill was rushed —for many communities this bill was long overdue,” he said.

“There was energy — we should say this,” Haskell said, “ ...It was George Floyd’s murder that caused people to march, here in Ridgefield and across the district.”

He favored “implicit bias training” and also changes regarding police records.

“Bad apples can hop from department to department,” he said.

“It wasn’t a perfect bill,” he said. “I was really grateful for information from the Ridgefield Chief of Police ... We were able to make some changes to the bill.

“You can’t march about a bill, unless you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do something,” he said.

Healy agreed with critics who said the Police Accountability Bill was pushed through the legislature too quickly.

“Twelve hours of testimony? I’d say you probably needed 12 days of testimony,” she said.

The bill was full of “unfunded mandates” that would drain police resources, she added.

“This is bill is going to defund our police,” said Healy.

“It’s killing morale.”

She thought policing improvements should be undertaken where problems have come up, in larger cities.

“Why don’t we fix the problems where they are?” she said. “We don’t have problems in the seven towns in our district.”

Haskell used some of his “rebuttle” time on the issue.

“There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation on this bill, on social media,” he said.

“It actually increases funding — $4 million in bonding...

“It doesn’t eliminate ‘qualified immunity.’ ”

Are there more guns safety measures that our state should pass? If so, what? If not, why not?

“This has been a focus of mine on the judiciary committee,” said Haskell.

“We need to ban the bulk purchase of firearms,” he said.

“I’ve talked to a lot of gun owners. They don’t need to buy more than one gun per month,” Haskell said.

“If you’re buying 30 guns, chances are you’re going to sell those guns to people who wouldn’t pass a background check.”

Healy seemed less eager to support more gun regulation.

“I believe we have some of best gun safety laws in our country.” she said.

Police should be given more opportunity to enforce the gun laws that are on the books, she said.

The Police Accountability Bill weakens the ability of police to conduct searches, Healy said.

“This will result in more illegal guns coming into the state,” she said.

“We should also look at more support for mental health and keeping guns out of the hand of criminals,” Healy said.

After appearing in Ridgefield on Sunday, the 26th District candidates are scheduled to face off again Wednesday, in a Redding League of Women voters event which will be available as a Zoom webinar at https://bit.ly/2FT2K1a or lives-streamed on the Redding League of women voters Facebook Page.