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Col. Bob Statchen chose pandemic help over campaigning for state Senate

I caught up with Col. Bob Statchen of the Connecticut Air National Guard on Friday, just after he had come off a three-month federal pandemic assignment that kept him from managing or participating in his campaign for the Senate seat in Connecticut's 18th District.

"I'm back in the game!" Statchen, the endorsed Democrat in the race, announced Thursday on Facebook.

Statchen is a Stonington resident who has been with the National Guard 23 years since leaving active duty as a service attorney in the Air Force. In his regular job, he manages law students who provide pro-bono legal assistance to low-income entrepreneurs and small businesses in a program at Western New England University School of Law.

I was curious about his unusual experience as a candidate silenced by volunteer military service, as the country rumbled first with a health crisis, a floundering economy and then racial turmoil.

Statchen is still working on pandemic relief efforts with the guard, but the nature of his assignment has shifted to state authority that allows his campaigning to resume.

"It was frustrating," he said about the campaign moratorium that began in early April.

He said he chose to accept the assignment, knowing that rules about political activity would disrupt his campaigning, because "it was the right thing to do .... that is why we join the guard."

Statchen spent the early unfolding of the pandemic in Connecticut helping, with many others, to organize and implement a pipeline for a statewide distribution of personal protective equipment, gowns, masks, shields and cleaning supplies, from central warehouses to front-line responders at hospitals and nursing homes.

Statchen said the guard's young troops seemed especially proud to help.

"This will help them stay in for 50 years," he said. "They understood the importance of it."

He added that he has long been proud of the guard, which he calls a state civilian militia with roots that predate the Revolutionary War. In his years of service, he has been called overseas, on tours in Bosnia and Saudi Arabia, and responded to emergencies in Connecticut, while training the rest of the time on weekends.

For the time Statchen stayed off the campaign trail, his campaign was managed well, he said, by staff and volunteers.

As he returns, he is learning, like all the other candidates in the strange pandemic election season of 2020, that a different kind of campaigning is required.

He doesn't expect to be knocking on doors anytime soon, and robust phone banks are being developed. Zoom and Facebook chats are planned.

Statchen ran the same race two years ago, trying to unseat the incumbent, Republican Sen. Heather Somers of Groton, who is seeking reelection this year.

He said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, was one of the first to call him after his defeat in the last election and told him he lost his first race, too.

Statchen said his daughter, Kate, 14, was the one who persuaded him to run again when he was waffling. "She looked at me and said, 'If you don't run again, my take is that you try something once and if you fail, you don't do it again.'"

She has the right instincts, Statchen said, and "I didn't want to disappoint her."

Statchen said he is eager to get back on the trail in an election year he believes is crucial, in a time when "our democracy is in jeopardy in many ways."

As we spoke, news feeds were filled with President Donald Trump's latest legal attack on Obamacare, during a pandemic. Statchen noted that the percentage of people without health insurance dropped from 9.4% in Connecticut to 4.9% from 2013 to 2016, an improvement the state can't afford to lose.

Republicans are trying to suppress the vote, he said. Racial inequalities have been highlighted by the pandemic.

"This is a really important time in our history," he said, noting the importance of policy decisions not just in Washington but in Hartford and in town halls around the state.

"It makes our state representatives, our selectmen and people on boards and commissions that much more important," he said. "All of that is a line of sand against the chaos coming from Washington."

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com 

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