Voters in the multi-town 8th Senate District will have their pick in this year's election of two people who are veteran candidates for state office.
The incumbent, Republican Kevin Witkos of Canton, is seeking his fifth term in the Senate and has been a state legislator a total of 14 years. His challenger, Democrat David Pena of Avon, is making his third run for the legislature and challenging Witkos for the second time.
The 8th House District covers Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and part of Torrington.
"I really do want to serve in the legislature. I think I can make a difference there," said Pena, a member of the town council in Avon. "And my opponent has been in the legislature for 14 years. That's a long time and you are not going to be as fresh as when you first took the job."
Witkos, on the other hand, stresses his seniority and leadership position in the Senate, where he is minority leader pro tem. If Republicans win control of the state Senate in November, Witkos said, he will run for the majority leader's position there.
At a candidate forum earlier in October, Witkos said a Republican majority in the Senate would give the party greater leverage in addressing the state's budget problems. In an interview, Witkos said the budget remains a top priority.
"A lot of our initiatives get voted down along party lines and if we control the Senate we can get things passed there before collaborating with the House," Witkos said.
This year, Witkos introduced an amendment to Connecticut’s constitution that would have put restrictions on the sale of state-owned open space, and that was one of the reasons he has been endorsed by the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.
The amendment did not get through the legislature. Proposed amendments to the state constitution must be passed by a super majority of members in both chambers, and while that happened in the Senate it did not happen in the House. Witkos said he will introduce the amendment again in the upcoming session and, according to state law, a simple majority will be all that is needed to get it through. If that happens, the amendment would be presented to voters in 2018.
"This amendment would mean the legislature can't approve the sale of state-owned open space in the middle of the night with one line in a 700-page bill," Witkos said. "It creates some hoops you have to go through to sell property."
Before he was elected to the Senate, Witkos represented the 17th House District for six years. He is also a former member of the board of education in Canton. Witkos is a retired Canton police officer and co-owner of Wilson's Pub in Collinsville.
Pena has served on the town council in Avon for nine years and is the lone Democrat on that panel. Earlier, he was a member of the town's planning and zoning commission. Pena has also been active in many community groups in Avon, including the Avon Chamber of Commerce.
In an interview, Pena said he wants the state to focus on helping small businesses. He has also said the state should invest in transportation improvements and find ways to foster the development of affordable housing, both of which he said would promote economic growth in Connecticut.
Pena has twice run for the 17th House District, which covers Canton and part of Avon. The first time was against Witkos in 2004. In 2012 he challenged state Rep. Timothy LeGeyt, who is running unopposed this year.
This story was changed to better explain what happened to the constitutional amendment in the legislature this year.