HAMDEN — The two candidates for the 17th State Senate District sparred over guns, the minimum wage, tolls, recreational marijuana, and how to jumpstart the economy during a debate Wednesday.
After answering questions for an hour, one-term Republican incumbent George Logan, an executive at Aquarion Water Company, cited his work with constituents during his first term and vowed to work on their behalf to make the state more affordable.
“Please vote for me Nov. 6 to go back to Hartford and keep the fight going,” Logan said as supporters applauded.
His Democratic challenger, Jorge Cabrera, contrasted Logan’s voting record with his own background as a union organizer in saying his opponent is out of touch.
“You’ve had a state senator who doesn’t stand with you, who doesn’t fight for you,” Cabrera said. “I’ve been fighting my whole life for working people . . . I’m a fighter. He’s not. I stand with you. He doesn’t.”
About 100 people attended the debate in the Thornton Wilder Auditorium in the Hamden Public Library.
The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Hamden-North Haven. Ray Andrewsen of WQUN-AM moderated.
The 17th District includes Ansonia, Bethany, Beacon Falls, Derby, Hamden, Naugatuck, and Woodbridge.
Logan won the seat with an 833-vote upset over 12-term incumbent Joseph Crisco in 2016.
With the state senate tied 18-18, the race could be key in determining which party controls the upper house of the state legislature.
Logan said that the state has to prioritize what will make businesses grow here, i.e. lower taxes.
Cabrera repeatedly hammered Logan’s vote for what the senator called a “bipartisan” budget deal during last year’s state budget fight. Cabrera said the budget would have undercut programs vital to working class people like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“We shouldn’t be raising taxes on our working men and women,” Cabrera said, noting only a handful of Democrats voted for the deal. “Unfortunately the budget that he voted for which was vetoed by the governor would have done just that.”
Logan said Cabrera was living in an “alternate reality.” He said that the budget would have delivered more in state aid to towns in the district, a fact disputed by Gov. Dannel Malloy as a gimmick in his message announcing a veto of the spending plan.
Cabrera also hit Logan early in the debate for voting against a ban on bump stocks passed in May.
“That is vote I would not have taken and I’m glad that bill passed and became law,” Cabrera said.
Logan said the law was an example of a “feel-good bill” and said it wouldn’t accomplish much in a state with already restrictive gun laws.
“This was an opportunity to take a stand,” Cabrera said. “Nothing ‘feels good’ about putting public safety at the forefront. That’s just something that should be done.”
The candidates also differed on tolls — Logan said he’s against, while Cabrera said he’d be in favor of “taking a hard look” at the issue, if the funds raised were secured in a protected fund and used to lower gas taxes.
A similar difference surfaced over the question of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
While not explicitly supporting legalization, Cabrera said studies have shown legalizing pot reduces opioid overdoses.
“We have to take a hard look at everything, including marijuana,” he said.
Logan disagreed, disputing the research on pot and opioids.
The state’s medical marijuana program is enough, he said, and legalization would set a bad example for children.
“We do not need to legalize marijuana for recreational use,” Logan said. “We do not need to go the extra step.”
The minimum wage also exposed contrasts between the candidates.
Logan said he didn’t support increasing it and mentioned several businesses in the district whose owners said they’d hire fewer people if they had to pay them more.
He said people would make more money if businesses had to compete more for employees.
Cabrera said it would put more money in the pockets of working people who are often working multiple jobs to make ends meet, who would in turn spend it in the economy.
“If anyone here thinks that they can make a living and support their family on $10.10 an hour, I’d like to meet you,” he said.
“I don’t really understand why the senator would be against it,” Cabrera said.
“My opponent deceives folks with the facts,” Logan said. “There are people working a second and third job just to try to maintain their standing of living. But it’s not because of the minimum wage, it’s because of the tax burden.”
“I really don’t know what he’s talking about,” Cabrera said, again referencing Logan’s vote during last year’s budget talks. “He’s taking votes that are raising taxes on working people.”