House can­di­dates take on econ­omy, ed­u­ca­tion

In­cum­bent Hard­ing faces chal­lenger Pear­son for 107th District seat

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ju­lia Perkins

BROOK­FIELD — The econ­omy, ed­u­ca­tion and the environment are the top con­cerns for the can­di­dates in the state House District 107 race, but they dis­agree on how to deal with the is­sues.

Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Steve Hard­ing is run­ning against Demo­crat Dan Pear­son to rep­re­sent the district that cov­ers Brook­field, Bethel and Dan­bury. Both live in Brook­field.

Hard­ing, who won the seat in a 2015 spe­cial election, said the state needs to fo­cus on clos­ing its bud­get gap by re-ex­am­in­ing its agree­ment with state em­ploy­ees and switch­ing to a 401K-type pen­sion plan for new em­ploy­ees.

The ex­ist­ing pen­sion plan is driv­ing the state fur­ther into debt, Hard­ing said.

“We’re pass­ing that debt onto our sons and daugh­ters and grand­sons and grand­daugh­ters, who are go­ing to find it even more dif­fi­cult to live in this state and our bud­get gap is go­ing to con­tinue to grow,” he said.

Pear­son ar­gued in­vest­ing in ed­u­ca­tion, health care and the environment will cause busi­nesses to flock to the state and im­prove the econ­omy.

He said he sup­ports clos­ing tax loop­holes for the rich to bring in rev­enue and start­ing a loan for­give­ness pro­gram for stu­dents who stay in Con­necti­cut for a cer­tain num­ber of years. Af­ter time, these peo­ple will have friends, jobs and homes in the state, Pear­son said.

“Now, you’re here for life,” he said. “That’s how we’re grow­ing our econ­omy.”

The two clashed on tolls, a mea­sure Hard­ing op­poses and Pear­son backs.

“I’m for ac­tual struc­tural changes that are go­ing to help us in the long run,” Pear­son said.

But be­cause of the district’s bor­der with New York, Hard­ing said he feared many toll booths would be in­stalled in the Dan­bury re­gion.

“Tolls would have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on this area,” he said.

Pear­son works with marginal­ized kids at Nor­walk Grass­roots Ten­nis & Ed­u­ca­tion, and said fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion, both in the district and in big­ger cities, is the best way to im­prove the state’s fi­nances. If stu­dents across the state are well ed­u­cated, they will bet­ter con­trib­ute, he said.

“Our kids go to schools in Bethel, Brook­field and Dan­bury, but our kids also go to school in Bridge­port, New Haven, Nor­walk, Water­bury,” he said. “We are part of the

107th, but we’re part of Con­necti­cut. In or­der for us to thrive here, kids ev­ery­where need to thrive, from our ru­ral ar­eas to our cities.”

But Hard­ing said his fo­cus would be on get­ting money for Bethel, Brook­field and Dan­bury.

“There is so lit­tle to go around at the mo­ment,” said Hard­ing, a for­mer mem­ber of Brook­field’s Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. “The prob­lem is, if we start giv­ing more funds to dif­fer­ent ar­eas, it usu­ally means less funds at our ex­pense and that’s some­thing I’m not will­ing to do.”

Both called the ex­ist­ing formula to dis­perse ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing to the towns ar­bi­trary and said it needed to be changed.

They sup­port Brook­field’s

$78.1 mil­lion plan to build a new

“I’m for ac­tual struc­tural changes that are go­ing to help us in the long run.” Demo­crat Dan Pear­son

“Tolls would have a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on this area.” State Rep. Steve Hard­ing

Huck­le­berry Hill Ele­men­tary School. The town plans to pur­sue a state grant to cover part of the project.

“It is crit­i­cal,” said Hard­ing, who grew up in Brook­field. “It was fall­ing down when I went to Huck­le­berry.”

Hard­ing said he fought for Bethel to earn a grant for its ren­o­va­tions to Rock­well and John­son ele­men­tary schools and will do so again for Brook­field.

Pear­son added he would lead the charge to con­vince res­i­dents to vote for the project.

“I’m go­ing to go out there and knock on doors ev­ery day,” he said.

The can­di­dates said they are strong sup­port­ers of the environment, with Hard­ing cit­ing his record in pro­vid­ing money for the lakes in the district to deal with in­va­sive species.

“These (lakes) are our best re­sources in our area and we need to do every­thing to pro­tect them,” Hard­ing said.

Pear­son said the state needs to in­vest in re­new­able en­ergy and strengthen its en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion laws, es­pe­cially in light of the United Na­tion’s re­port ear­lier this week on the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of climate change.

He crit­i­cized Hard­ing for vot­ing against a bill re­quir­ing climate-change ed­u­ca­tion in schools.

“In or­der to ad­dress any topic, we need to ed­u­cate our­selves first and that starts with ed­u­cat­ing our youth be­cause that’s the fu­ture they’re go­ing to have to go in,” Pear­son said.

Hard­ing, who added he sup­ports ef­forts to com­bat climate change, said he voted against that bill be­cause he did not want to man­date what lo­cal schools teach. In­stead, he voted for an­other bill that en­cour­aged climate change ed­u­ca­tion.

“We have our lo­cal boards of ed­u­ca­tion,” Hard­ing said. “We have teach­ers. We have ad­min­is­tra­tors. Those are the in­di­vid­u­als who should be draft­ing our cur­ricu­lum. We, as legislators, shouldn’t be politi­ciz­ing cur­ricu­lum and man­dat­ing what gets taught and doesn’t get taught.”

The can­di­dates said they are strong sup­port­ers of the environment, with Hard­ing cit­ing his record in pro­vid­ing money for the lakes in the district to deal with in­va­sive species.

Carol Kaliff / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Demo­crat Daniel Pear­son, left, is run­ning against Repub­li­can in­cum­bent state Rep. Steve Hard­ing, in the 107th House District. The two dis­cussed is­sues with The News-Times ed­i­to­rial board on Thurs­day.

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