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Formica, Marx disagree on minimum wage, police accountability bill in 20th Senate debate

Three-term Republican incumbent state Sen. Paul Formica and his Democratic challenger Martha Marx, candidates for the state senate’s 20th district, shared the stage Tuesday night for a live streamed debate at the Garde Performing Arts Center in New London, and tackled issues such as the police accountability bill, minimum wage, marijuana, racial equality and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The debate began with a question from moderator Lee Elci about the police accountability bill that passed in special session this summer. Formica voted against the bill.

Marx, a registered nurse who works as a visiting nurse and lives in New London, said she would have voted for the bill and supports the controversial provision to roll back qualified immunity for police officers. She said she thinks police need more accountability.

“We all have to be held accountable for everything we do, in every job,” said Marx.

Formica stood by his decision to vote against the bill because of the qualified immunity provision. He said he agreed with the majority of the bill, including an increased need for training, but thought that rolling back qualified immunity would leave officers and municipalities vulnerable to “frivolous lawsuits.”

“It will not only take good police officers and put them at risk, it will put communities at risk financially,” he said.

Formica and Marx also disagreed on the issue of minimum wage.

Formica noted that he was “likely one of the only job creators on the stage” and said he understood the complexities of employment and payroll. The senator owns the Flanders Fish Market in East Lyme, which he operates with two of his daughters.

Formica said that minimum wage “is not meant to be a livable wage” but a starting wage, and proposed the idea for a “training wage” for teenagers entering the workforce.

Marx argued that many people are living off of minimum wage in Connecticut.

“There are a lot of people - mostly women - who are trying to live on a minimum wage, feeding children and putting food on the table,” she said. She said that for those people, an extra $40 or $80 a week could be life changing.

“You just don't understand what the people out there, low income people, are struggling with every day,” Marx said.

At his restaurant, Formica said that very few of his employees earn minimum wage but that not all businesses can afford to pay higher wages. Raising the minimum wage, he said, has “a payroll ladder effect” that not all small businesses can afford to climb.

Marx noted that the minimum wage issue is not isolated to employees of small businesses, but effects employees of large corporations and hospitals. Both candidates recognized the concern that technological advancements, such as kiosks and self-checkout machines may potentially drive businesses to lean on technology over labor if they have to raise the minimum wage.

On the issue of marijuana, the candidates agreed that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea. Formica noted that it will bring revenue to the state and that there is an opportunity for Connecticut to be a leader in the industry, while Marx took a healthcare approach, saying that she has seen medical marijuana help many of her patients and wants it to be accessible and affordable for all.

Marx said that she thinks medical and recreational marijuana should be decriminalized and made accessible especially to those most negatively impacted by the war on drugs.

Both candidates advocated for more “creative” plans for affordable housing. Marx said she supports a complete overhaul of zoning regulations to improve access to affordable housing, while Formica did not say he supports such an overhaul.

Toward the end of the debate, the candidates commented on divisiveness seen across the nation this election season. Both condemned the stark divide down party lines.

Formica, at many points during the debate, lauded his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. He said he hopes people can come together, across the nation and in the state, to find solutions together.

Marx said that the divisiveness is a direct result of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and said it will be lessened by a new administration in the White House. She criticized Formica for not denouncing Trump, to which Formica responded that he has often criticized things the president has said or done.

The candidates also discussed voting. Marx said she wholeheartedly supports the option of absentee voting and early voting and criticized her opponent for opposing early voting. Formica said he thinks that early voting makes sense but voted against the legislation because it wants a more concrete plan to make it happen. 

In his closing statement, Formica noted that we are living through “challenging times” that he said require strong leadership.

“Now, more than ever we need leaders in Hartford who have the experience not only to lead but to communicate, to elaborate and who are willing to work together to focus on people, not politics,” he said. “Leaders willing to stand on principal and integrity, service and compassion.”

Formica said that he has a proven record of such service and an ability to work across the aisle.

Marx began her closing statement by saying that she believes her opponent favors politics over people. She also brought up issues with Eversource and the need to put consumer interests ahead of corporations.

If elected, she said she plans to stand for people over politics.

“I am a person that advocates for people, I fight for people, am tenacious, I know the 20th district,” she said. “I want to get up there, work for you and make sure that you have affordable housing, that you have living wages and that you have safe environments.”

 

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