Economy Dominates Discussion In 89th District Campaign

Much has changed in state politics since 2012, the year Lezlye Zupkus won the 89th House district from Democrat Vickie Orsini Nardello.

Since that first victory, Zupkus, a Republican, has won consecutive races by wide margins, including running unopposed in 2016. After the 2020 redistricting, the 89th now includes the smaller counties of Cheshire and Waterbury along with parts of Bethany and Prospect, where both. Zupkus and Democratic challenger Kevin O’Leary own their homes.

Zupkus knows that keeping his seat and getting votes isn’t a given, but he thinks his record shows he can be trusted with the position. He voted for all 265 bills introduced during the 2022 Legislative Session, which is about 40% of lawmakers. “We have a responsibility to the people of our community (to show up in Hartford),” he says, “because they depend on us to be there for them.”

O’Leary is no stranger to the political crisis. In 2021, he entered the mayoral race for Prospect, taking on Robert Chatfield who is seeking his 23rd consecutive term. Although O’Leary failed to unseat the longtime Republican officeholder, he says it was one of the best showings for Democrats in years by the conservative-leaning Prospect.

As a family law attorney and partner at a New Haven firm, O’Leary sees many of the conflicts that lead to many divorce cases. His campaign, in contrast, wants “smart, practical” solutions that reflect the District’s demographics.

O’Leary has political experience gained by serving on the Prospect Town Council and the Inland Wetlands Commission. Husband, and father of a young daughter, he also serves as Chairman of the Prospect Democratic Town Committee. A major political concern of his campaign is the lack of funding for local emergency services, such as volunteer police and firefighters.

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“The state budget needs to prioritize funding for local municipalities to hire more police officers and increase crime-fighting efforts,” O’Leary said. He also said, “The government should work hard and provide funding for this.” In Prospect, we have a problem where we don’t know if a volunteer fire department can afford a new truck. We are buying second hand, and they are still expensive. The government needs to do more to help small towns get their share of the budget. “

Mr. Zupkus is concerned that the lack of resources, especially of the police, is contributing to the rise in crime in the state. Mr. Zupkus also feels that the government is making it difficult for the police to do their jobs, pointing to the 2020 Police Accountability Act, which he opposed. “I hear about the police who are retiring, asking, ‘Why should I risk my life?’ The protection of people in our government is not good.’

Referring to recent events, such as the killing of two police officers in Bristol, and the shootings in Hartford and Waterbury, Zupkus says, “(Democrats) are putting the rights of criminals before the rights of victims. (The police) know that 10 to 11 kids are doing this. but their hands are tied and they cannot answer them.”

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At the center of his platform is a focus on family. “If you peel away the onion, in many of these juvenile delinquency cases, there is a lack of family. We have to strengthen the family,” says Zupkus. They raise concerns about recent laws that allow children to get medical treatment without notifying their parents. “Parents should be involved in raising their children and taking care of their children,” argues Zupkus. “You have to have parental consent to get a tattoo but not to get medical treatment? The government should not interfere with children and parents and the family.”

O’Leary became interested in working on environmental issues, such as global climate change, back in law school. Now, the goal is closer. “About 70% of the town’s land belongs to the water company. “If they want to sell, according to the law they have to give it to the town first, but the town can’t afford it,” he said.

O’Leary wants to see more opportunities from Hartford for small towns to invest in preserving open spaces and “revitalizing” them for enjoyment, like Cheshire was able to do with the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, he says.

On environmental issues, like Hartford’s school bus liability, Zupkus questions the math, not the intent. “Aren’t we all Mother Nature and nature? But how will municipalities pay for electric buses? I want green energy but we need all kinds of energy. “

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Electric cars, he says, are expensive to buy but there are other costs. They ask, “How do you pay for electric cars?” Everyone wants to feel good but we have to see how it goes. “

Economic issues that affect voters are a priority for Zupkus.

“We need to make Connecticut more affordable for people to live, work and retire here. Lower the gas tax, stop trying to take any money out of our citizens’ pockets through fees and taxes. People can’t afford to put food on the table, fill up the car with gas , burning their homes and living a good life in our country,” says Zupkus.

O’Leary argues that, if Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont wins another term, it would be beneficial to have a Democratic representative to work with officials to find town funding and other issues. O’Leary advocates for greater local control over financial, school, and planning decisions.

“Government budgets must prioritize the needs of towns and ensure that small towns are distributed fairly so that public services can be carried out without the need to raise taxes and mills,” he said.

Zupkus also advocates for state autonomy but adds, “Parents should be involved in what their children learn at school, as well as any medical or psychological decisions.”

“We have to build our families, not let the government intervene.”


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