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O'Brien, Zawistowski Engage In 2nd Debate For Suffield, East Granby State Rep. Seat

The two candidates answered prepared and audience-submitted questions at a debate Wednesday night in Suffield.

The second debate between challenger Tami Zawistowski (R) and incumbent State Rep. Elaine O’Brien (D) for Connecticut’s 61st district seat took place in Suffield Wednesday, covering topics from economic growth to open space to the death penalty before a packed audience at the Suffield Senior Center.

Zawistowski brought a message of change in government, economic growth, business acumen and empathy with the needs of local businesses based on her 16 years of experience as a small business owner in East Granby and an end to single party rule in Hartford. O’Brien emphasized her experience in local and state politics, listening skills brought on through her role in many positions in Suffield town government and the state legislature, her willingness to not simply follow the party line and a forward-thinking philosophy for the state, its economy and its legislative actions.

While the candidates had their share of disagreements and factual disputes, the discourse was remarkably respectful and that level of civility seemed to be appreciated by the audience. Charles Cahn III, headmaster of Suffield Academy, skillfully moderated the debate and kept the participants within its rules and limits, ensuring a focus on the topics at hand.

The importance and state funding of open space preservation, a significant topic and source of pride for many in Suffield as well as East Granby, was an issue where the two candidates agreed.

“Preserving farmland [and open space] keeps the community the way it is,” O’Brien said, noting that the consensus she’s heard among Suffield residents is that they enjoy maintaining the pastoral character of the town.

Zawistowski agreed with O’Brien on the importance of maintaining the history and personality of the towns in the district.

“It adds to the quality of life,” she said. “Farmland is precious.”

As for benefits for state workers and keeping the costs of such benefits in check, the answers of the two candidates were indicators of their goals and their experiences.

Zawistowski said she would start chipping away at pensions in a responsible fashion to stop them from getting out of control and becoming too much of a budget drain. She would like to focus on defined contributions versus defined benefits.

O’Brien pointed out that the executive branch of Connecticut’s government is in charge of union contract negotiations and pensions. State workers’ benefits are governed by contracts.

“All we can do [in the legislative branch] is control the budgets,” O’Brien said.

An audience question about the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements yielded differing opinions from the candidates as well. Zawistowski said she was in favor of organized, lawful movements regardless of their goals.

“I can support that,” she said.

She pointed out that the Tea Party began as an organic movement focused on taxation but has changed and become involved in social issues that were not part of its original goals. She said Occupy Wall Street, while a different movement on the political spectrum, has experienced similar issues.

O’Brien, while recognizing the right for free speech, was more negative. She called both movements distractions from more salient issues. She said the Occupy Wall Street Movement lacked goals and an agenda and said the Tea Party is a very destructive movement.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing, I don’t think it’s a good thing at all,” O’Brien said.

Bob Johnson October 26, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I’ve met State Representative Elaine O’Brien. She is a dedicated, respectful, and hard working individual. I have examined her record and she has shown the ability to work bi-partisanly and vote against her party when she believes it in not in our communities best interests. I have worked in the area for a long time and know that Elaine will put our interests first. We need more leaders like Elaine O'Brien in Hartford. She deserves re-election. -Dr. Bob
Ben Rodriguez October 27, 2012 at 04:52 AM
Elaine O'Brien is a credit to her position. She has a great background to serve and is a person of high integrity. She knows how to get work done and others need to follow her example. I recommend Elaine O'Brien for re-election.
George Beiter October 27, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I'm voting for Elaine O'Brien, State Rep, 61st District. Elaine has a proven record of service. Elaine has spent decades helping her local schools, communities and businesses. Elaine understands the balance between government mandates and fiscal responsibilities. That is why she does not always vote party line. Elaine listens to her constituents, learns the issues, and votes in the best interest of her district. With regards to education, few in Hartford understand education as well as Elaine. As a mother of three boys who graduated from our public schools, she understands. As a former Board of Education member she knows what is needed to improve our schools. Programs like: - early childhood education - early reading programs - improved teacher evaluations are just a few examples of improvements Elaine supported in Hartford to better educate our children. I would urge all voters to watch her campaign video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4c59PeLiEDE) to see what Elaine has done in her first two years in Hartford and what many community leaders have to say about her job as a State Rep. On November 6, there is one choice to support our economy, education and our community, and that choice is Elaine O'Brien! George Beiter, Suffield Board of Education
Mike Malloy October 27, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Faith, the tenor of your comments says it all. Elaine represent's a reasonable moderate voice. Tami's record would suggest otherwise. Taxpayer groups" such as the Tami's "Concerned Taxpayers of East Granby " started long before 2009 and crystalized in the tea party. If your unclear you can read all about it on wikipedia. I'm sure you saw the picture in the newspaper of Tami literally wearing "tea bag" earrings at the Ct. rally. Actually I think I saw a picture in the paper she submitted with your Republican Town Chairman Lee Sandora ? I never said Tami was on the second school committee? Though the only reason it came about was because Tami's CTEG claimed the first school project was going to cause a 50 percent tax increase on signs all over town. Remember that whopper ? I guess that sort of "fast and loose" is ok.Unfortunately it had serious repercussions. The second project left several unfunded repairs at Allgrove...which by the way Tami also opposed. I've heard the Board of Ed argument from CTEG for years. Hartford Magazine voted East Granby #1 Small Town despite the fact that it spent less on it's Education Budget as a percentage of it's overall budget then most other towns it's size. But even that is not low enough for CTEG. It never is. And it's not the BOE operating budget that was the issue anyway , it was fixing the crumbling unsafe Elementary Schools which Tami opossed which is the Capitol Budget of the town, not the BOE.. "fast and loose again" ?
Frank October 28, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Faith, Thats ironic that you would accuse some one playing fast and loose with the facts and than proceed to try and prove that Tami has no connection with the radical tea party groups. Just as we watched Tami try and squirm around the question about her blocking needed improvements at the elementary school by trying to confine her answer to her time on the board of finance. Every one knows the lengths Tami went to block this needed funding before she was on the board of finance yet she chose to dodge the question. Faith you and Tamis behavior goes beyond playing "fast and loose with the facts" you both simply are lying repeatedly.I have seen pictures of Tami not only attending the tea party rally in Hartford but dressed in full tea party regalia, including tea bag ear rings. The tea party has become a snap shot of all that is wrong in American Politics, the racism that is so prevalent at their rallies makes them appear to be the new KKK. Their my way or the highway agenda has slowed progress in Washington to a crippling halt. We do not need someone this radical representing us in Hartford, the problems she would create for our district are endless. I understand why you feel the need to try to paint Tami as someone who is not so radical but the facts are the facts.

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