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Somers has well served disparate district

In the 18th, state Sen. Heather Somers represents one of the most demographically and politically diverse districts in the state. It ranges from the shoreline affluency of Groton and Stonington north to the dairy farms and former mill villages of Griswold, Plainfield and Sterling.

Groton leans solidly Democratic — both the city and town councils are fully controlled by that party. Meanwhile, the interior of the district, which also includes North Stonington, Preston and Voluntown, was solid Trump country in 2016. While Hillary Clinton won the district’s most populated communities of Groton and Stonington with 55% four years ago, President Trump captured all the other towns, including 66% to 28% in Sterling.

Somers, 54, has twice won election to the state Senate by meeting the needs of this disparate district and not wandering too far from the political center. She played a significant role in helping lead the fight to block an unpopular state police gun-training range planned near the Griswold and Voluntown border. Meanwhile, the commercial fishing and marina industries have benefitted from her advocacy. She worked for regulation changes, for example, that are allowing commercial fishermen to unload more of their catches in Connecticut. In her first term, she navigated through the Senate a bill that reduced the state’s tax on the sale and storage of boats and this year worked with the governor’s office to keep marinas operating during the pandemic.

Granted, some of her political footwork makes us cringe. Her failure to support a ban on bump stocks, devices that can allow semiautomatic rifles to function like automatics, may have appeased Second Amendment advocates in her northern towns, but it was a poor decision. And equating, in campaign mailers, the recently approved police accountability bill with calls to “defund” police was reckless hyperbole.

It is worth noting, however, that in 2013 Somers’ predecessor, former Sen. Andrew Maynard, a Democrat, made the same political calculations when he voted against the landmark gun reform legislation passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

But on most issues, particularly health matters, Sen. Somers is a pragmatist. She has advocated to boost notoriously low Medicaid reimbursements for nursing homes and for in-home care, which contribute to low compensation for health workers.

Unlike the Trump administration, she has promoted wearing masks and social distancing and has pointed to the need for rapid COVID-19 testing to get a better handle on the outbreak.

As ranking member of the Public Health Committee, Somers, if reelected, could play a vital role in making sure the committee gets an honest evaluation of what happened to cause such high COVID death rates in our nursing homes and counter any efforts by the Democratic majority to downplay the administration’s culpability.

Working with other members of the state legislative delegation — and we see their collective seniority and political influence as critical to the region — Somers helped secure a $31.5 million public-private partnership between the state and Mystic Aquarium to assure that tourism lynchpin can flourish post pandemic.

On electronic tolls, we fundamentally disagree with Somers and her Republican Party. She continues to oppose them. We see them as the only practical method of raising the dollars necessary to upgrade the state’s transportation system and tap the wallets of out-of-state drivers in doing so.

Somers aspires to higher office. She ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014 on a ticket with Tom Foley. We note that if a Republican came forward to obtain a grand bargain on funding transportation — limited tolls in exchange for cuts in the gas tax and more town road aid — it would demonstrate the ability to get things done, something voters say they yearn for in political leaders.

On the police accountability bill, Somers said she supports the improved training and body camera requirements, but not the increased exposure to litigation for officers and new limits on searches during traffic stops. If re-elected, we urge her to work across the aisle to clean up the language to make sure it is only police who act with criminal recklessness who would face personal exposure. That was the intent.

Her Democratic opponent, Bob Statchen, 52, a law professor, member of the Stonington Board of Finance a National Guard colonel, is certainly qualified, but he has overly focused on linking Somers to Trump at the expense of laying out his detailed positions.

Somers, who on balance has served her disparate district well and would have considerable clout in her caucus if reelected, earns our endorsement in the 18th Senatorial District.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

Editor's Note: This version clarifies that state Sen. Heather Somers has won election twice: first in 2016, and reelection in 2018.

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