The two candidates vying for the 34th House District seat laid out their ideas and agendas for the three towns in the district, East Haddam, East Hampton and a portion of Colchester, during a debate Thursday night at Nathan Hale-Ray High School in East Haddam.
Republican Melissa Ziobron and Democrat Chris Goff took part in the “Voice of the Voter” debate that was sponsored by The Haddams-Killingworth Patch, the East Hampton-Portland Patch, the East Haddam Business Association and moderated by Local Editor Wendy Vincent. Tim Csere of Mather & Pitts Insurance Agency acted as official time-keeper.
A third candidate, William Devine of East Hampton, was unable to attend the debate.
The nearly hour-long event gave both candidates a chance to tell local voters about themselves and showcase their philosophies on how they would deal with issues such as the state budget, taxes and local development.
Goff, of East Hampton, has served on that town’s Board of Education and Town Council. He said in those roles he dealt with “difficult situations” that gave him the kind of experience to serve in the legislature.
The former economic coordinator for East Haddam who also served on that town’s Board of Education, Ziobron said she grew up in the district, loves the area and is eager to work on its behalf.
Both said they have children currently enrolled in public schools in the district, Goff’s in East Hampton, Ziobron’s in East Haddam.
Ziobron quickly and deftly laid out one of her main goals in seeking public office: To tackle fiscal issues she believes are hurting the district and the state, especially the growing state budget deficit, a theme Ziobron hit on time and again throughout the debate.
“Clearly our state is not going in the right direction,” she told about 100 people who attended the event. “We’re spending money we don’t have. We need to send someone to Hartford who will stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ We have something seriously wrong at the state capital.”
Goff said he wants to bring his experience, including eight years on the East Hampton Town Council, to Hartford and that he’s proud of the decisions he’s made on the council, even controversial ones.
“I would not have changed anything I’ve done. I did what was best for the town with the facts on hand.”
One of the first questions posed to both candidates was how they would address two major vacant sites in town, Johnsonville village in the Moodus section and t Both sites previously have been the focus of development proposals that have stalled.
Goff said in the case of Johnsonville “We need to figure out what the seller’s intent is, do they want to sell or do they want to renovate?” He said the issue is a local one that town residents should be involved with but “I’d be happy to get involved and help out any way I can.”
Ziobron said she would take a more proactive role in seeking developments for Johnsonville, which she said has sat vacant because of difficult permitting issues. She said Johnsonville is “definitely a local issue, but I think a state rep can do more than stand back and watch the wheels of progress turn.”
Both candidates also said the vacant Sunrise Resort property needs to be secured and put to better use. Ziobron said the site has become an “attractive nuisance” to squatters and vandals. Goff said he would look into state resources that might be available for the redevelopment of site.
Questions during the debate came from ones supplied earlier by Patch readers and by audience members at the event.
Some of the other issues the two candidates were asked to tackle included:
Would you support so-called “sunset” provisions for state initiatives or programs:
- Ziobron said she supports such provisions as a way to make sure programs are operating efficiently.
- Goff said he believes that when programs are not operating efficiently they should be eliminated.
What qualifies you to serve in the state legislature:
- Goff said his eight years of experience on the East Hampton Town Council, where he helped develop the town’s website. He also said he has served as an American Red Cross volunteer instructor, and a disaster relief volunteer who volunteered in New Orleans in 2002.
- Ziobron said her work on the Board of Education to promote a three-school district in East Haddam was one of her proudest endeavors, including her resignation from the board when she realized its estimate for the work was $10 million shy of the budget and her successful effort to get town voters to support spending the additional money on the project. She also said she has been a tireless champion of helping local businesses.
How would you control spending locally and on the state level:
- Ziobron said her top concern is the state budget and that the legislature has passed “record tax increases and yet we still have a deficit.” She questioned Gov. Dannel Malloy’s travels abroad and the return on such an investment and said she would support spending freezes because “it’s that dire, our situation.”
- Goff said he’d like to work with town leaders on shared or combined resources to continue providing effective and cost-effective services, particularly ones for small businesses to help them grow. He said if elected he’d also review the longevity payments some state employees get.
How would you work to lower taxes:
- Ziobron said “you’ve got to lower spending and lower taxes. I just think we need to have somebody up in Hartford who is willing to take a stand.” She said the Malloy administration has raised too many fees and taxes.
- Goff said “we need to lower spending, we know that, we need to cut spending and we need to promote more business growth, whether it’s on the state level or local.” He also said he would look at “eliminating the new taxes that were put in place recently” and that there are “other ways to close gaps and reduce taxes.”
One of the last questions seemed to take both candidates off guard: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you as a candidate:
- Ziobron said she thinks some people might believe she is a rigid conservative. She said while she’s a fiscal conservative, she is a social moderate Republican. But she said she won’t back down from an issue she believes in. “I’m a fighter. I have been my whole life.”
- Goff said some people might view him through the lens of his years on the Town Council in East Hampton, a governing body that has seen its share of controversies in recent years. “The decisions that I made 100 percent were based on information and facts.”