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Hebron Republican challenges Osten in 19th District

Steve Weir of Hebron, 46-year-old Republican challenger to incumbent state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, is optimistic about taking the 19th District seat in November, saying his initial impetus for running revolved around Osten's support for tolls and what he saw as her lack of concern that 100,000 people had signed a petition against the levies.

"That's what made me think our legislators are not listening," Weir said in an hourlong interview Monday. "One hundred thousand people is a big number."

Weir grew up in Glastonbury, where he earned an Eagle Scout designation, but has spent the past two decades in Hebron raising three children with his wife, Allegra. This is his first run for public office, though he was previously appointed to the Hebron Zoning Board of Appeals.

Weir was a communications major at the University of Connecticut but dropped out after 2½ years. He had a landscaping business for a time after college and now runs a Glastonbury firm with about 40 employees called American Integrity Restoration that provides disaster restoration and cleanup services.

Despite the pandemic, Weir reports knocking on a lot of doors in the 19th District, which spans Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Norwich, Sprague and a section of Montville.

"It's been a really pleasant experience," Weir said, though he admitted people have different responses when he typically shows up not wearing a mask, even though he makes sure to back off 6 to 10 feet from the doorstep. "I've been overwhelmed by the response."

Weir said he has found the top concern of residents has been the cost of living and high taxes in Connecticut.

"Property taxes are doing nothing but going up," he said.

Other topics that typically come up, he said, include the police accountability bill that passed in the General Assembly this year and concerns over the return of students to schools despite COVID-19 pandemic challenges.

Weir, a former Glastonbury police officer, said he saw the police accountability bill, passed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests after the killing in Minnesota of George Floyd that led to charges against four officers, as an "anti-police bill." He acknowledges some aspects of the measure, such as the call for body cameras and more training, were unobjectionable. But he disagreed with the removal of qualified immunity for police that could leave them vulnerable to lawsuits. He also said that preventing officers from asking car passengers for ID could impede their ability to find illegal weapons, drugs and those being sought on warrants.

"It's a terrible bill," he said. "You're taking a tool away from the officers to help keep our community safe."

Concerns about schools in the midst of the pandemic are mixed, Weir reported, with some people worried about students returning to in-person learning while others were hoping for a more full return to normalcy.

Weir has objected to the blanket emergency powers the legislature bestowed on Gov. Ned Lamont, saying he would prefer that lawmakers reconvene periodically to review specific items to see if restrictions continue to be necessary. He pointed to gyms and restaurants that were "hanging on for dear life" as Lamont delayed reopenings.

"We need a legislative voice," he said.

As for the minimum wage, Weir said he didn't believe in overpaying for basic skills such as scooping ice cream, so perhaps there needs to be a "training wage" for young people who are still learning job skills.

"You don't want to make it so unaffordable you drive up the price of a McDonald's hamburger," he said.

Weir added that there should be more attention put on a "living wage" that allows people to be awarded with higher pay as their skills increase.

When it comes to affordable housing, his philosophy is to offer state assistance only when a town specifically requests it. "I'm always in favor of leaving as much control as possible on the local level," he said.

The state shouldn't mandate affordable housing, he added, in rural towns where the sewer and public water infrastructure will not support it.

Weir acknowledged that Connecticut's business climate could be better, but said the government really can do nothing to create jobs; that's up to the private sector. "My belief is the role the government can play is reduce the costs of government and reduce the burden of regulation," he said.

One thing the state government could do to help would be to address the cost of electricity and energy in general. The state has some of the highest energy costs in the nation, and Weir contended that very little is being done to hold the lid on costs; most decisions are adding to the burden on businesses.

He sees similar neglect when dealing with the state budget, which is expected to incur a shortfall of about $2 billion by the end of the fiscal year. He believes the state must look at spending to have any realistic chance to balance the books.

"This didn't happen overnight, and it's not being cured overnight," he said.

Weir said other nearby states are financially healthy, so he doesn't know why Connecticut couldn't be equally blessed if it made the right decisions.

"People say you can't compare government to a business, but I disagree," he said. "I'm worried about the health of the state."

Weir said the government for many years failed to address infrastructure problems, and he doesn't believe implementing tolls will necessarily solve problems with the state's roads and bridges. Funds have been diverted before, he said, so why think this time would be any different?

"There's a lack of discipline, a lack of accountability," he said. "I think we need a new perspective on how government works. ... If you don't deliver, you don't deserve to hold the office."

l.howard@theday.com

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