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Local candidates ponder impact of Kavanaugh case on election

October 5, 2018

GREENWICH — As the nation awaits a vote on the confirmation of a U.S. Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, local candidates are pondering the impact of the case on their own races in the November election.

The testimony from nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the first woman to publicly accuse the federal judge of sexual assault, has spurred emotional reactions on all sides of the political spectrum.

The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Education and Counseling in Stamford has seen a significant jump in the number of hotline calls from survivors of abuse in the past two weeks, officials say. Discussions around assault and consent have increased and intensified, YWCA Greenwich reports.

“Everyone’s on fire and people are really upset,” said Joanna Swomley, a Representative Town Meeting member and founder of Indivisible Greenwich. “I sure hope it makes more people go out and vote.”

The election of President Donald Trump followed by the sexual assault arrest of a longtime RTM member prompted a wave of women — including Swomley — to run for seats in the local body in 2017. The results reflected voters’ desire for change, with 73 new RTM members elected. Many of those new members were women affiliated with the progressive movements Indivisible Greenwich and March on Greenwich.

Greenwich Democrats are now hoping a groundswell of women and progressive voters will turn out to support their candidates as a protest to what they are seeing in national politics.

But Republican incumbents in Greenwich want voters to focus on their records in Hartford. They don’t believe national politics is relevant to the state’s problems, and they say they are frustrated with Democrats for pivoting campaign discourse away from policy.

Laura Kostin, a Democrat running for state representative in the 151st District, was one of the women elected to the RTM last year. The women she has spoken with the past two weeks are “horrified” with what they have seen and heard from Republicans in connection with the Kavanaugh hearings, Kostin said.

“It has been an emotional week for a lot of survivors,” she said. “No one should have to endure this.”

Calling this a “uniting moment for women,” Kostin said she hopes more women from both parties will become engaged in politics.

“We need to put party politics aside; women’s issues don’t belong to one or the other,” she said. “Women are women, and this is an issue that has galvanized all of us.”

Fred Camillo, the Republican running for re-election against Kostin, said what Kavanaugh is accused of doing is “never OK at any age” and that sexual assault is a significant problem, but he believes people are innocent until proven guilty.

The lawmaker also accused Democrats of “selective outrage,” pointing to the reactions to accusations against former President Bill Clinton, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.

Camillo said he’s not worried about national politics hindering his campaign.

“I vowed I won’t let distractions get in the way,” he said.

Alexandra Bergstein, Democratic candidate in the 36th State Senate District, said she was impressed by Ford’s courage in coming forward to testify in the Kavanaugh case about her claims that he sexually assaulted her when they were teens.

“I respect any person, man or woman, who uses their voice to speak their truth,” Bergstein said. “Speaking up is an act of courage. And it’s the only way we can begin to eradicate the shame and fear of reprisal that women have felt for decades ... forever, actually.”

The only way to eradicate abuse of power is for the privileged to face professional and personal consequences for their actions, she said. The results of the 2018 election will show that others agree, Bergstein said.

“Women, in numbers even higher than ever before, are going to vote because we’ve simply had enough,” she said. “The nomination and potential confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh is just another example of the blatant disregard (or at best indifference) to women’s issues many of our elected officials regularly display.”

L. Scott Frantz, the Republican incumbent in Bergstein’s race, said it’s difficult to determine what is on the minds of the electorate. It’s paramount, he said, that voters pay attention to what is happening in Connecticut and to not be distracted by national issues.

“Connecticut faces severe fiscal challenges that must be addressed by the right people who know how to fix the problems,” Frantz said. “I think everyone in the state should be laser-focused on the economy and the fiscal problems we’re having and base their votes on that. It’s that important.”

Frantz said he and other Connecticut Republicans have passed legislation to help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, including a bill that makes it easier for police to confiscate weapons from accused abusers and one that allows police to arrest only the dominant aggressor in domestic incidents.

“Anybody that’s been a victim of a crime should have the ability to tell their story, but also to have a police investigation in a timely manner,” he said.

Steve Meskers, the Democratic candidate for state representative in the 150th District, said the accusations against Kavanaugh may not be disqualifying as allegations, but if proven true, would be.

Kavanaugh’s partisan statements during the hearings and his involvement in writing the Starr Report that recommended Clinton’s impeachment, Meskers said, make Kavanaugh incapable of being an impartial Supreme Court justice.

Meskers, who says he is running because of his outrage with national politics, hopes more voters are inspired to turn out.

“The electorate is electrified,” he said. “I’m expecting it may work in my favor, but it’s hard to say. The issue is turnout. The problem is that our legislature won’t approve early voting.”

Mike Bocchino, the Republican incumbent state representative in District 150, said he and the rest of the Greenwich delegation work closely with YWCA and law-enforcement officials on legislation to combat domestic violence.

“We’ve done a lot of really good work pertaining to domestic violence, yet our opponents tell us all Republicans hate women,” he said. “How is that fair?”

Bocchino pointed to his support for legislation on a pay equity bill, an act requiring insurance companies to cover critical medical procedures for women and various bills that help police combat domestic violence. That demonstrates that he and other Republicans are working for their female constituents, he said.

“We don’t have any say in what’s taking place in D.C. But we do have a say in what’s taking place in Connecticut,” said Bocchino. “And the house is on fire.”

Candidates in all three races will take part in debate at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Greenwich Town Hall.

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