(This is the second of a three-part series introducing candidates appearing on Newtown ballots on Election Day, and at The Newtown Bee’s Candidates Forum October 16 at Edmond Town Hall.)
The 112th House District overlaps a southern cluster of neighborhoods in Botsford and Hattertown, and has been represented for five terms by Republican DebraLee Hovey.
Rep Hovey, who resides in Monroe with her husband and Bridgeport firefighter Paul Balsano, her son, and his two daughters, is being challenged by Democrat Robert Dombroski. Mr Dombroski is a Portland, Conn., native who spent more than 25 years practicing law in Michigan.
He relocated to Monroe with his wife and two daughters in 2003 — about halfway through Rep Hovey’s first legislative term. Rep Hovey is a native of Maine, a special education professional, consultant, and accomplished equestrian.
Mr Dombroski spent his first two years out of law school at the University of Michigan serving as an assistant prosecutor in the Upper Peninsula region of the state. He transitioned to service as a legal aid attorney covering more than a dozen counties in the region, and working for a short period beside future First Lady Hilary Rodham.
He subsequently spent 20 years in private practice before returning back to Connecticut, when his wife, Anita Gleniecki, was recruited to serve as president of Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.
Mr Dombroski is no stranger to politics, having run and lost a bid for the Michigan House of Representatives in 1990. He considers that race a personal and political success, however, because he stepped up as the first Democratic challenger in more than a decade to a previously unopposed and deeply rooted incumbent.
A self-described “political junkie,” he is as comfortable talking about the Lincoln-Douglas debates or the 19th Century political era of Bridgeport’s PT Barnum as he is about the current state of affairs in Washington and Hartford.
“As a young man, while my other friends were collecting baseball cards, I was studying political election statistics,” he said. He joined the Monroe Democratic Town Committee in 2011, and volunteered to run for the 112th District seat earlier this year, when he learned that the party had no other committed candidate.
He spent much of the summer going door-to-door meeting potential constituents, and believes he has visited nearly every registered Democratic household in the small area of the district that overlaps southern Newtown.
During those household visits in both Newtown and Monroe, Mr Dombroski said he was primarily hearing about two major concerns.
“Most folks are having serious problems keeping up on their mortgages,” he observed. “And since property values have dropped, its also affecting the towns because assessments and related property tax [collections] have dropped. This cascades down to affecting both our local schools and town services.”
He said many residents are also deeply affected by the job market.
“I’ve met more than a few former executive-level wage earners who were glad to secure jobs as big box retail clerks, and newly graduated master’s candidates taking unpaid internships or hustling lattes as baristas at local coffee shops,” he said.
He considers himself a realist, in that “no one legislator can save the world.” So if he is successful in November, Mr Dombroski said he will go to Hartford and concentrate on becoming an expert on the state’s banking and insurance industries.
“I’ll make it my business to become involved in the oversight of these financial service industries,” he said. “Since state government has the power to regulate these businesses, I want to learn to what extent Connecticut laws are being implemented, and if any abuses of the laws are being dealt with appropriately.”
The Democratic challenger said in order for the state to have “courageous regulators go after the most lofty challenges, they need courageous lawmakers to cover their backs.”
While he understands that a win in November may be a long shot, Mr Dombroski said he will consider his candidacy a success if he can “elevate the discourse on these issues of concern in the district and across the state.”
During her tenure in Hartford, Rep Hovey has served on the legislature’s Internship, Education, Judiciary, and Transportation Committees. And while 90 percent of her district is located in her hometown of Monroe, the lawmaker believes, “You can’t just represent a part of any community, and more importantly, I think I represent Newtown’s perspectives to the entire state.”
During her current term, Rep Hovey partnered with local and state officials to preserve an organization that is near and dear to her heart for many reasons — the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard.
“Besides its historical significance, the horse guard facility serves as one of the gateway experiences to folks coming to Newtown,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many people have commented on those rolling hills, barns and long stretches of white picket fence that border the property.”
When Governor Daniel Malloy put the facility, its staff, horses, and many volunteers on the budgetary chopping block, Rep Hovey admitted that she was ready to pick a fight over the proposal with the newly elected governor.
“If Newtown lost the horse guard, there would be no way you could rebuild it or reestablish it,” she said. “I know the governor was not pleased with me, but I feel his proposal [to consolidate the two state horse guard units to Avon] was very short-sighted.”
Today Rep Hovey is supporting the expansion of public access to the picturesque facility with its huge barns and rolling landscape for events like horse shows and other equestrian activities beyond the ceremonial work of the core military unit.
She said along with the recent and hugely successful arts festival, and plans to construct a public band shell and entertainment venue at Fairfield Hills, Newtown is “doing a good job making itself a regional destination.”
As a longtime authority and advocate for education — particularly special education — Rep Hovey said she is also “ready to get muddy” on behalf of Newtown’s students and educators. During her current term she and retiring Democratic Representative Chris Lyddy went to bat to help improve transparency in the local special education arena, supporting local parents with concerns in filing complaints with the state Department of Education.
Since those concerns on the part of parents of special education students came to light, she believes there have been some positive changes in the local school district, which are “helping the community achieve its desires on behalf of its children.”
She is also closely following developments regarding transportation projects, specifically the proposed realignment of Church Hill, Edmond, and Commerce Roads — another important gateway to the community just off Interstate 84 at Exit 10.
Rep Hovey is also encouraging Newtown to work more closely with its southern neighbor Monroe, collaborating when possible on projects and initiatives that could benefit both communities.
“These communities have a lot more in common lately, their chambers of commerce are certainly collaborating more,” she said. “The more opportunities we have to get leaders from both communities together at the table, the more benefits I think we’ll see coming to both from Hartford.”
Another more southerly transportation project involves improvements and the expansion of parts of the Route 25.
“I think the more efficient movement of traffic between Monroe and Newtown will have great benefits to both communities,” she said. Rep Hovey is also anxious to see some movement on a brownfield cleanup of former industrial sites to create commercial redevelopment opportunities on a couple of parcels that straddle the Newtown-Monroe border.
If she is successful in November, Rep Hovey will return to Hartford and go to work helping to streamline processes in the statehouse and at government agencies like the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“We need to get government out of the way a bit to make sure opportunities at the community level are not lost because of hold-ups in the government regulatory process,” she said. “Sweeping government intrusion is hampering growth. When companies come to initiate new projects, they run into so much red tape they often just pick up and go somewhere else.”
She is also advocating for tort reform, and looking at ways to help banks facilitate faster and more widespread delivery of mortgages and other financial support mechanisms for local businesses.
“We need to give these entrepreneurs opportunities to grow and create more jobs,” she aid.
Rep Hovey is also working to bring a more conservative perspective to the table, having recently been named state co-chair of the conservative think tank ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council).
“As a Connecticut lawmaker, you can almost forget there are conservatives out there,” she said. “Even though there has been no model legislation [suggested] by ALEC that is compatible with my constituents.”
Nonetheless, Rep Hovey is compelled to bring some of the conservative ideas from ALEC to Hartford.
“My new role is to help other legislators hear that conservative viewpoint on certain issues,” she said.
The Republican lawmaker is also concerned at the amount of taxpayer dollars the Malloy administration is devoting to new business grants and loans for select large-scale industries and commercial developments in the state.
“I’d love to believe the promises of these companies bringing a lot more jobs to the state will be kept, but historically these types of job creation numbers are gross overestimates,” she said. “I don’t believe government provides jobs — it’s the entrepreneurs and small companies in each of our communities that do that.”
If reelected in November, Rep Hovey said her immediate constituents in the 112th, as well as everyone in Newtown “can feel secure they have me in their corner.”
“Nothing will change about the way I go about things on my watch,” Rep Hovey said. “I’m still going to be a fighter.”