Milford state Senate candidates spar in debate

Republican Pam Staneski, left, and Democrat James Maroney, candidates for 14th distrrict state senator, square off in a debate at the First United Church of Christ in Milford on Monday, Sept.17.

Republican Pam Staneski, left, and Democrat James Maroney, candidates for 14th distrrict state senator, square off in a debate at the First United Church of Christ in Milford on Monday, Sept.17.

A crowd of about 150 turned out Monday night, Sept. 17, to hear the two candidates seeking to become the next state senator for the 14th District — Republican state Rep. Pam Staneski and Democrat James Maroney.

While it’s difficult to determine winners and losers in political debates, the usually soft-spoken Maroney appeared to push Staneski back on her heels at times, painting her as one who’s a close friend to the gun lobby as well as questioning her belief in human-caused global warming — a big issue in a city that’s been battered by tropical storms in recent years.

Meanwhile, Staneski questioned Maroney’s record at the State Capitol, saying that he’s was part of Democratic policies that increased taxes that “are driving people out of Connecticut — old and young.”

But to that, Maroney said that it’s time for “a new day” for Connecticut.

“The time has come for us to work together,” Maroney said. “It’s a new day for civility, and new day for businesses, and new day for students and a new day for families.”

The first question had to do with gun violence and what would the candidates do about that issue.

“We have the most stringent gun laws in the nation,” Staneski said. “I have advocated funding a (school) resource officers grant — that was shot down. And I’ve advocated funding the state firearm trafficking task force. And I’ve advocated funding state mental health services.”

Staneski waved a report to the crowd — “Our gun laws are not enforced,” she said.

Maroney said Staneski has favored the gun lobby’s push to allow assault rifle owners to buy so-called bump stocks — devices that allow an assault rifle to fire at rates similar to that of a fully automatic weapon. She was one of 34 state representatives to stand opposed to the bump stock ban in the last session.

“In Las Vegas, we had 59 people killed, but we also had 1,000 in all who were shot — all in about time it take to fry an egg,” Maroney said. “Why would you want modifications to a rifle to fire like a fully automatic weapon.”

Staneski said the bump stock ban bill was harmful to paintball enthusiasts, an argument that seemed to fall flat with the crowd. And Maroney shot back that his opponent also voted against a bill to take firearms away from people who are issued temporary restraining orders.

“It seems that you are opposed to all gun legislation,” Maroney said.

The next series of questions had to do with the state’s economy — and keeping young people in the state.

“People like to move too places with strong school systems,” he said. “We need to partner with companies to offer tax credits to help their employees pay off student loans. And we also need to do more with apprenticeships. We need to be creative.”

Staneski said she has pushed for better apprenticeship programs.

“We have put programs in place to allow our state technical schools to speed the approval process for programs — something needed to allow school to respond quickly to changing needs.”

Maroney said the GOP budget — the one that didn’t pass — would have cut more than $400 million to higher education.

“Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your priorities,” he said. “One of the biggest cuts to higher ed in the nation.”

One of the questions aged about the state’s fiscal mess, an issue that has confounded politicians from both parties.

“We have to change our direction,” Staneski said. “I know the head of a moving company and he tells me that everyone is moving out and no one is moving in,” she said. “He is always coming back with empty loads.”

Two earlier contests between the two were cliffhangers for the 119th House District. In 2012, Maroney defeated Staneski 5,998-5,528. But the tables turned in 2014, when Staneski defeated Maroney 4,423-4,272.

Maroney didn't run for the 119th in 2016; in that year, Staneski handily defeated Democrat Ben Gettinger by a vote count of 7,538-5,231.

The 14th Senate district seat has been occupied by Gayle Slossberg, 52, for the past 14 years. She announced in March that this would be her final term in the Senate.

In 2016, Slossberg defeated Pat Libero, of West Haven. The 14th includes all of Milford and Orange, the southern half of West Haven, and part of Woodbridge. She won by nearly 4,000 votes, a comfortable win.

The 14th Senate District has 21,787 registered Democrats, 13,038 Republicans and 27,969 unaffiliated voters, according to state officials. A Republican held the seat before Slossberg took it in 2004.