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O'Brien, Zawistowski Debate for 61st District House Seat

Residents of East Granby, Suffield and (parts of) Windsor had the opportunity to hear their district's state representative candidates discuss local and statewide issues.

While many area residents stayed home to watch Barack Obama and Mitt Romney engage in their final Presidential debate Monday night, a crowd filled the East Granby community and senior center to hear 61st district Democratic incumbent Elaine O’Brien and Republican challenger Tami Zawistowski debate a variety of local and statewide issues.

The debate, held at the East Granby Senior and Community Center, was marked by relatively civil discourse, even when one candidate disagreed with interpretations of facts presented by another. Focuses of the debate included the economy as well as town and state budget management, bipartisan cooperation for the good of the community, the death penalty and more.

The format featured questions written by one of the two candidates that was then offered to the other candidate by Moderator Mark Hann. The asking candidate then followed up with a response.

Zawistowski, an East Granby business owner, farmers market organizer and member of the East Granby board of finance, kept things light the beginning of the debate, opening with a line that drew laughs from the crowd.

“I feel like the opening act for the presidential debate,” she said.

One of her major motivations for running was simple: Zawistowski is dissatisfied with how politics are playing out in Hartford and want a bipartisan legislature in place.

“It's time for a change,” she said. “Gov. Malloy doesn’t need any more friends in Hartford.”

The first question posed, from Zawistowski to O’Brien, asked for the best way to get out of a budget deficit, whether that action is to raise taxes or decrease spending.

O’Brien replied that a balance between the two concepts, as well as generating state employee concesions, would produce the best savings.

“It takes a combination to take things where they need to be,” O’Brien said.

Zawistowski replied that two of the three items mentioned by O’Brien — decreasing spending and employee union negotiations — had not caused much of an impact on the budget.

The death penalty was another contentious issue. Zawistowski called it a necessary legal and judicial tool than needs to be applied judiciously. Whereas O’Brien said she was definitely anti-death penalty, noting that she believed the state should not be in the business of executions.

Hann, president of debate sponsors the East Granby Chamber of Commerce, held a steady hand as facilitator of the discussion. He provided equal time for both candidates and enforced the debate rules, allowed extended time on particular hot button issues and additional responses and rebuttals.

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