After a visit to the Connecticut Tool and Manufacturing plant, state Rep. Betty Boukus declared that the state government's drive to retain businesses and train young people for 21st-century manufacturing jobs is paying off.
"These are hard times, and we know that. Here's a company that's expanding its plant and adding jobs. We're seeing some things come to fruition now – I want to continue that," says Boukus, a Democrat who has represented the 22nd House District for more than 15 years.
Scott Saunders, her Republican challenger in the Nov. 6 election, counters that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and the heavily Democratic General Assembly are stifling job growth.
"I'd work to make Connecticut more business-friendly," Saunders said. "We need to reduce regulations and taxes on small businesses to enable them to expand and create jobs."
Saunders and Boukus are vying to represent a diverse district whose communities sometimes have conflicting interests. Plainville is a financially stable suburb with relatively little poverty and a solid school system; New Britain is one of the state's poorest cities, suffering from nearly constant budget crises and struggling schools.
Saunders, 49, is a consultant and the vice chairman of Plainville's town council. Boukus, 69, has been the 22nd District legislator for nine terms; she defeated Republican challenger Helen Bergenty by a 62-38 ratio two years ago. In the previous race against Saunders in 2008, she won easily – 6,512 to 3,114.
Republicans are hoping for some backlash against at least two of Boukus' votes in the past term. She supported the controversial Hartford to New Britain busway and the repeal of the death penalty. Saunders contends the busway was a costly mistake, saying that Connecticut should have used the same corridor for commuter train service to serve more people for a lot less money. And ending the death penalty was simply wrong, particularly in the aftermath of the horrific home invasion and murders that destroyed the family of William Petit, a Plainville doctor.
He acknowledged that Republicans won't have the votes in the next legislature to force through any legislation, but said that electing more GOP legislators will give conservative voters a voice.
"You can be effective in the minority. You can be loud. That's what we did in Plainville last year and Republicans swept every seat on the ballot," he said.
Boukus said she wants another term to continue working on behalf of school systems and technical schools in the district.
Carefully targeted state investments in local companies can pay off by creating more jobs or keeping good-paying ones in Connecticut, Boukus said. She wants the state to continue marketing the region surrounding the University of Connecticut Health Center as a medical and biotech development zone, and she praised state economic development incentives that helped retain companies in central Connecticut.
Boukus serves as co-chairwoman of the finance, revenue and bonding committee's subcommittee on bonding. She defends the busway as an economic driver for Central Connecticut State University, New Britain and other communities, and predicted that in the long run – after it's built and operating – more residents will recognize its value.