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Recognizing Somers’ productive Senate record

October 31, 2018

State Sen. Heather Somers’ record of achievement in her first term serving the 18th District is impressive. That Somers, a Republican, was able to get so much done in a Senate split 18-18 is all the more remarkable. It demonstrated her ability to build bipartisan support for legislation.

The district includes Groton, Stonington, Sterling, Griswold, North Stonington, Plainfield, Preston and Voluntown.

Every year candidates fill campaigns with vows to repair or remove arcane regulations and burdensome taxes. Somers actually did so, working for regulation changes, for example, that are allowing commercial fishermen to unload more of their catches in Connecticut.

Somers helped navigate through the Senate a bill that reduced the state’s tax on the sale and storage of boats, making our local marine industry competitive with nearby states.

As co-chair of the Public Health Committee she helped remove barriers that had inhibited the use of modern telecommunications technologies to provide health services and advice. Somers also advocated for rule changes that are allowing respiratory therapists to be included in more medical procedures.

When investigative reporting by The Day and others pointed to abuses by the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative, of which the Groton Utilities in her district is a member, Somers came forward as a leader in the push for greater accountability. She played a big part in legislation that required a detailed audit, improved transparency and created a municipal electric consumer advocate. Future junkets to the Kentucky Derby, or anywhere, are unlikely given the changes.

True to her fiscal conservative roots, she fought to hold the line on taxes and spending. And while far from perfect, such efforts resulted in a bipartisan budget that restored funding for core human services while avoiding any new taxes.

Her vote against a ban on bump stocks — Somers supported an earlier version because, she said, it grandfathered as legal bump stocks previously purchased — was troubling and perhaps politically motivated to appease Second Amendment voters in the rural, northern reaches of her district. No one needs a device intended to make a semi-automatic rifle act like an automatic weapon.

But there was no partisan political gain for Somers to use her pulpit as Health Committee co-chair to expose the abuse of patients at the Whiting Forensic Institute for the criminally insane or to probe the state’s failure to provide adequate health care to inmates in its prisons.

While joining with the local delegation in Hartford to amend price-setting rules to assure Millstone Power Station in Waterford could remain competitive, Somers also pushed for changes helping Plainfield Renewable Energy compete. The biomass plant burns clean wood recovered from construction and demolition activities.

Advocating across her sprawling district, she is fighting to stop a controversial state police shooting range in Griswold and joined other lawmakers in gaining the restoration of state funds for Groton Public Schools.

Endorsing a senator with such a record would normally be an easy call, but there are a couple of things to consider.

Somers faces a strong candidate in Bob Statchen, 50, a law professor, Air Force veteran and a colonel in the Connecticut Air National Guard. Unlike Somers, Statchen’s recognition for the need for tolls to generate sufficient revenues to meet the state’s transportation needs align with the editorial stance of this newspaper. At a debate sponsored by The Day, Statchen presented himself as a pro-growth moderate Democrat who will focus on protecting access to health care.

Also giving us pause was Somers’ conduct after that debate. It was a spirited but fair exchange and her refusal to forthrightly turn to her opponent and accept his extended hand, instead offering a limp handshake and not looking at him, came across as petty. And some of the attack mailers that Somers either paid for or supported, and which tried to paint Statchen as “radical,” were way over the top and could well backfire.

But these things are not disqualifying when measured against Somers’ strong performance in office. We urge her, however, to demonstrate civility moving forward. That is what most voters want.

The Day gives its endorsement in the 18th Senatorial District to Sen. Heather Somers.

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