PROSPECT — For the past 18 years, Democrat Vickie Nardello has represented residents in the 89thHouse District as their state representative. Nardello is seeking to make it two decades of service, but standing in her way is Republican challenger Lezlye Zupkus.
Nardello, 61 of Prospect, was first elected to the office in 1994 and has held the seat, which represents Prospect, Bethany, and a portion of Cheshire, since. Over the years, Nardello, who is a retired public health dental hygienist for the Hartford school system, said she has become a point person for her fellow legislators on energy issues. She has served on the Energy and Technology Committee for years and has co-chaired the committee since 2009, a committee assignment she described as a privilege. She also serves on the insurance and public health committees.
Among the reasons Nardello is seeking a 10th term in office is landmark legislation, including the storm response bill, the merger of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protect, and the health care exchange that will go into effect in 2014. Nardello said she wants to help oversee such bills to make sure they are implemented properly.
“I appreciate the privilege that I have the ability to shape public policy in this manner,” Nardello said.
This campaign was not the first time Zupkus, 46 of Prospect, considered throwing her hat in the race for the 89th District. She was going to run in 2008, however the adoption of her second daughter from China took precedence. Then again in 2010, but her children were still young. However, over those years, Zupkus’ feeling of unhappiness with the direction of the state persisted.
Zupkus, the director of development for the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation, said there’s no one in Hartford fighting for the middle class and the average person and she wants to be that person.
“I just have always felt personally that no one’s fighting for me up in Hartford,” Zupkus said.
Although this is Zupkus’ first venture into a state race, she isn’t a stranger to politics. She has served on the Prospect Planning and Zoning Commission, as fundraising coordinator for former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s campaign, and has been a member of the Prospect Republican Town Committee for the past 14 years.
When it comes to the state budget, Zupkus said the legislature needs to use common sense principals, such as not spending more than is taken in.
“I think the people are overburdened with taxes,” Zupkus said.
Recently, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office projected the state is on track to end fiscal year 2013 with a $27 million deficit. The projected deficit is less than 1 percent of the budget.
If it were to get above 1 percent a special session would be called to deal with it, explained Nardello, who added 75 percent of the budget is fixed costs leaving only 25 percent for legislators to adjust.
“The biggest problem for Connecticut is we depend on capital gains income,” Nardello said.
Capital gains income is very unpredictable and fluctuates, Nardello said, which makes the budget fluid. She said she would like to make capital gains income a discretionary item that could be put in the state surplus or used for one-time expenditures. Doing so, Nardello said, would make the budget more stable.
Zupkus’ answer to the projected shortfall is to cut wasteful spending in the budget, and she pointed to the $600 million New Britain to Hartford busway that is currently under construction — a project she felt the state can’t afford at this time.
“I think we need to use common sense,” Zupkus said. “We don’t do this in our households, so we shouldn’t be doing this at the state level.”
As Election Day nears, the state’s unemployment is nearly 9 percent and higher than the national average, according to recent figures.
To help spur the economy and grow jobs in the state, Nardello said the legislature must create demand.
“We have to adopt policies that create demand,” Nardello said.
For example, Nardello said, adopting policies on the use of renewable energy would create demand more for renewable energy industries which would equal jobs.
Nardello said it’s also important for the state to invest in new technology companies, knowing the risk that some of them might fail, and reduce healthcare and energy costs to help businesses free up capital.
Zupkus said the state was recently voted the most unfriendly business state. She said the state needs to be more business friendly to encourage businesses to stay, come, and grow in the state.
“They’re what our state and our country was built upon,” Zupkus said.
Aside from economic issues, Nardello said storm response is another vital issue facing the state.
Tropical Strom Irene and the snowstorm last October, left hundreds of thousands of people without power for a prolonged time. Nardello said the power outages had a tremendous impact on the state’s economy. Nardello said the state needs to ensure new performance standards for utilities are being followed and utility companies are held accountable especially given the unpredictable nature of weather.
“We need to be prepared in advance,” Nardello said.
For Zupkus, repealing the abolishment of the death penalty and the Risk Reduction Earned Credit program are high on her list of important issues.
The legislature voted last session to abolish the death penalty and passed the Risk Reduction Earned Credit program. The program allows criminals, including violent criminals, to be released early from jail if they exhibit good behavior while incarcerated. The law was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year following two separate incidents involving prisoners released from jail early and were charged with murder.
Zupkus said she will work to repeal the abolishment of the death penalty and end the early release program.
“We need to hold criminals accountable,” Zupkus said. “We need to start standing up for the victims.”
On a local level, Zupkus felt the most important issue facing the 89th District is jobs.
“People are hurting. We have to stop the wasteful spending,” Zupkus said.
Zupkus said the state needs to encourage growth rather then implement regulations, like requiring sick pay leave for companies with 50 or more employees. The sick leave bill, Zupkus argued, will make companies just above the threshold layoff people, while keeping companies just below the threshold from hiring.
“We need to bring common sense principles back to Hartford,” Zupkus said.
Nardello said by going door to door in the district she’s found the issues residents are most concerned about vary from people to people. In Cheshire she’s heard a lot of concerns about education, in Prospect the topic turns to spending and taxes, while environmental issues tend to be the focus in Bethany, she said.
There isn’t one single issue that stands out locally, Nardello said. The issues center on what’s most important to the person she said. If someone’s unemployed that person talks about jobs, she said, while the person without health care wants to discuss health care.
If elected, Zupkus said she will bring common sense principles, a business-friendly approach, and fresh ideas to Hartford and be a voice for the people in the legislature.
Nardello said she brings the ability to make independent decisions based on carefully reviewing issues and a bipartisan work ethic to the position.
The Energy and Technology Committee is one of the most lobbied committees in Hartford, Nardello said. She said she’s used to dealing with lobbyists and standing up to special interest groups.