Abortion, affordable housing, voter fraud debated among Ridgefield-area legislative candidates

RIDGEFIELD — Facing about 150 voters at a candidates' forum, 111th House District candidate Robert Hebert said his personal belief is that every life is sacred. 

“But I do understand that women and families have challenges in their life … abortion should be safe, they should be legal and they should be rare, and we need to focus more on them being rare and giving women additional options," said Hebert, a Republican candidate running to represent a district that includes Ridgefield.

Hebert was one of eight candidates who participated in a Tuesday forum, which was held at the Ridgefield Library and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Ridgefield and the library. Aside from abortion, other topics discussed included affordable housing, infrastructure and voter fraud.

All candidates running for the state legislature representing Ridgefield were invited to attend the forum. Voters submitted questions for the candidates. In addition to delivering their opening and closing statements, candidates were allotted a few minutes to answer each question as well as an opportunity to give a rebuttal. 

Aside from Hebert, who is a Republican, candidates were 42nd House District candidates Democrat Keith Denning and Republican Kim Healy; 111th House District Democratic candidate Aimee Berger-Girvalo; 24th state Senate District candidates Democrat Julie Kushner and Republican Michelle Coehlo; and 26th State Senate District candidates Democrat Ceci Maher and Republican Toni Boucher. Both Kushner and Berger-Girvalo are incumbents.

Topics included strengthening gun violence prevention in the communities; helping small businesses impacted by COVID-19 thrive; amending the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act; measures to support senior citizens; and priorities for using state funds for infrastructure.

The issues

On strengthening gun violence prevention, Kushner, whose 24th state Senate District includes Danbury, New Fairfield and Ridgefield, said though Connecticut has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, some loopholes could be closed, such as banning ghost guns.

Coehlo, her opponent, identified herself as an advocate for the 2nd Amendment and for citizens protecting themselves, but also recommended conducting background checks. 

On the topic of helping small businesses thrive and survive, Boucher, who represented the 26th state Senate District for 22 years until she was unseated in 2018, said the state has a lot of work to do in terms of regulations and overhead costs in its businesses.

“We need to train our next workforce,” Maher said. “It is incredibly important – we cannot grow the Connecticut economy without a strong workforce.”

Candidates’ opinions varied on the matter of reproductive rights. Maher and Kushner both advocated for protecting women’s right to choose. Acknowledging abortion rights have been codified in Connecticut for 30 years, Coehlo said abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and the state should make sure women’s mental and physical health are considered.

“I don’t think there’s movement here on either side of the aisle in a serious way to change any of the laws,” Boucher said, “and that goes for gay rights, that goes for gun rights … I think it’s really important for us to stand up for what we believe in… but we also have to be sensitive to other people’s points of view and talk about this in a civil manner.”

In regard to the topic of reproductive rights, Hebert said, “Abortion has been codified into law ... and in addition to that, we have the least restrictive laws — not just in the state or in the country, but in the world, so abortion really isn’t an issue in the state of Connecticut. It’s nothing we would ever vote on.”

“This is a critical time for reproductive rights,” said Berger-Girvalo, his opponent and the Democratic incumbent. “What we need to make sure is we keep the laws we have and we continue to strengthen them.”

Both Healy and Denning said government should stay out of people’s personal health decisions.

Later on in the forum, candidates for House Districts 42 and 111 were asked whether they'd abolish 8-30g, a state statute that encourages affordable housing and what they would do to support a "healthy Ridgefield affordable housing situation" if they can't abolish 8-30g. 

“I probably would if I could, but I don’t think it’s realistic,” Hebert said. “I’m for affordable housing, we need affordable housing in this town, but what we don’t need is state mandated affordable housing.”

He added the law should be amended. 

In regard to whether the Constitution should be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting, all four House candidates voiced their support — though Hebert said he supported early voting with some limitations and Berger-Girvalo brought up the issue of voter fraud.

"One of the things I'd like to point out is that, in the House alone this year, there were 23 bills introduced from across the aisle to limit voting," Berger-Girvalo said, "so it might sound like it's obvious to everyone but it really isn't ...  There are some battleground conversations happening that are full of misinformation, stories and tales about voter fraud that don't exist. If you really, really want to know what it looks like, talk to our registrars of voters."

Denning, the Democratic running for the newly formed 42nd District, which includes Ridgefield, Wilton and New Canaan, delivered a rebuttal to voter fraud claims. 

“What the Republican Party has been spreading ever since Donald Trump won was this misnomer that he won the election, that there’s widespread voter fraud ... (This decreases) the faith in our democracy," he said. "It’s time for us to take that back – there is no voter fraud.”

CORRECTION: An original version of this article incorrectly identified an incumbent in the 42nd District. There is no incumbent in this race because it's a newly formed district.