The forum was well attended, with a crowd of probably about 150-200 filling the auditorium at Asnuntuck Community College.
Here is a selection of quotes from the congressional portion of the forum:
Simmons Home health care is a way of saving the cost of Medicare. And the best part of home health care is most people prefer it. […] So why shouldn’t we extend that part of the program, to save money and to provide quality of life.
Courtney: We are paying 84% higher costs under Medicare Part D than the VA. Now I’m a lawyer. There’s a term in the law for that. It’s called a rip-off.
This line from Courtney produced laughter and applause from the crowd.
On National Security:
Simmons: I would argue that there haven’t been a lot of lapses since 9/11, and in fact we haven’t been attacked since 9/11. And it’s clearly not because our enemies have lost interest. They have not. They are aggressively pursuing opportunities to attack us, and there have been over twenty cases since 9/11 where they’ve tried but failed.
Courtney: Nancy Pelosi, who will, I think, be heading a new Congress as Speaker of the House has pledged that within the first 100 hours of the new Congress we will implement in toto the recommendations of 9/11 commission, and it is high time for us to get this done.
On the biggest issues facing Connecticut:
Simmons: The three most important priorities for me over the next two years all involve, in one form or another, security. Economic security, homeland security and national security.
Courtney: To answer the question: what are the top three concerns that I’ve heard—and we certainly had a good discussion about health care and homeland security earlier, but I would have to say that number one, the biggest concern that people have today, is, number one, the war in Iraq.
Courtney continued in this theme, saying that the war is at the root of many concerns such as high energy costs or budget pressure on education. Simmons painted a picture of foreign threats from Iran to North Korea, and stressed the need for security and safety. He also pointed to the successful efforts to keep the Groton Sub Base open as proof of his effectiveness.
The crowd gave Rob Simmons, who showed up about half an hour late, a warm reception when he arrived. He is well-liked here in Enfield. However, it was Courtney who got the biggest applause of the night. When he mentioned Iraq, it was as if the entire crowd suddenly focused like a laser on him. I don’t know about the rest of the district, but the crowd at the forum obviously cared deeply and intensely about the war.
Both candidates gave thoughtful, nuanced answers to the questions asked, and there were hardly any attacks or mudslinging at all. I did feel the crowd tilting towards Courtney by the end of the session, but that certainly doesn’t mean that Simmons didn’t have a considerable amount of support.
Senate District 7
Sen. John Kissel (R) and former State Rep. Bill Kiner (D) bickered over how committed each one really was to campaign finance reform. Kiner said that, “Unfortunately, my opponent has not been as consistent as I am in his support of reform. He has wavered…” Kiner cited several votes that Kissel had made which Kiner claimed had served to undermine reform. Kissel initially said that “I’m not going to go for the bait of the negative campaign that my opponent throws out there,” which drew applause from the crowd, but then suggested that Kiner had not done anything for reform over the past two years (Kiner has been out of the legislature for over a decade).
However, most of Kiner’s attacks were saved for the administration, for example calling the economic development plan one that “simply gives money to corporations with no accountability at all.
House District 58
Rep. Kathleen Tallarita (D) and Susan Lavelli-Hozempa (R) spoke about higher education, security and their priorities. Lavelli-Hozempa had the idea of allowing students who had enough credits to graduate high school in 11th grade to move on to community college, while Tallarita proposed more tax relief for families with college-bound students. Tallarita bemoaned the fact that the federal government underfunds homeland security for Connecticut, while Lavelli-Hozempa said that the state of Connecticut “has done an excellent job” in preparing itself for natural disasters or terrorism.
House District 59
Karen Jarmoc (D) and Charles Woods (R) both expressed support for pro-environment policies such as the Clean Water Act and better transportation in the region. Woods suggested more local bus routes that would feed into the new rail system, while Jarmoc supported pro-business property tax reform, such as eliminating property taxes on manufacturing equipment and machinery. Woods said that he would be “a full-time state representative,” who would devote his full energy to the job and show up for every vote—a possible swipe at Jarmoc’s husband, retiring State Rep. Steven Jarmoc.
This forum was an excellent chance for people to listen to and meet with candidates, and it was great to see so many people in attendance.