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Dems Clash Over Character, Experience In Senate debate

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Chris Murphy and Susan Bysiewicz take part in a Democratic Senate debate at Central Connecticut State University. Photo by WTIC's Matt Dwyer.

Chris Murphy and Susan Bysiewicz take part in a Democratic Senate debate at Central Connecticut State University. Photo by WTIC’s Matt Dwyer.

By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz agreed Thursday on many of the same ideas for jumpstarting the nation’s flagging economy, but clashed over who is better qualified to be Connecticut’s next U.S. senator.

The two Democrats met in their first face-to-face debate since Murphy, the state’s 5th Congressional District congressman, received the endorsement of the Connecticut Democrats at this month’s state convention. The debate at Central Connecticut State University was sponsored by WNPR-FM, the public radio station. The pair previously appeared at a forum in Westport on Wednesday night.

Bysiewicz continued to tout her “Accountability Plan,” which, among other things, calls for reinstating a transaction tax on certain Wall Street trades and using that money to help struggling homeowners, something she said is needed to help turnaround the housing market. Bysiewicz also repeated her accusations that Murphy has been too cozy with the financial services industry, pointing to campaign contributions he’s received from investment banks and his vote on a how hedge fund income is taxed _ suggesting he’s not the advocate he claims to be for the middle class.

But Murphy shot back, accusing her of using a “tired attack line for the last year-and-a-half that hasn’t worked.” He said he has actively worked on Wall Street reform legislation and chastised Bysiewicz for accepting campaign contributions from the financial services industry as well. Also, he said citizens’ groups that have been critical of Wall Street are backing his campaign.

Murphy said the Aug. 14 primary battle among the Democrats comes down to “one candidate who talks about change and one candidate who has really done it.” A couple times, Murphy spoke of his record in Congress and as a former state senator and how it’s “not just a plan on my website you can look at.”

Murphy said the state and nation are in a “desperate need for job creation” and “it’s not a time for learning on the job” when voters choose a new senator.

Both candidates are hoping to ultimately fill the seat being vacated by the retiring U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent. Last week, the state Republicans endorsed former wrestling executive Linda McMahon as their candidate for the second Senate election in a row. Former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays qualified to challenge McMahon in the primary, however.

During Thursday’s debate, Murphy and Bysiewicz agreed on various ways to address the nation’s budget deficit and fix the economy.

For example, both candidates said the federal government needs to focus more on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Murphy said it would provide a much-needed boost to the struggling construction industry. Also, he said construction costs are the lowest in a generation. Both candidates also agreed that a public-private infrastructure bank, where private investors could receive a financial incentive to contribute capital, could help pay for the work.

“We should be making a massive investment in roads, and bridges and construction,” Murphy said. “Republicans in Congress are holding that up, they’re stopping that. In fact, many don’t think the federal government should be in the business of building roads any longer.”

But Bysiewicz said the delayed transportation bill and other key pieces of legislation are examples of dysfunction in Washington and the need to reform Congress. She took issue with Murphy blaming the House Republicans for the impasse.

“We can’t just blame the Republicans. We have to say, `Hey, how can we get work done in Congress,”’ she said. “What we need is people who are willing to stand up to corporate interests.”

Murphy said he agrees Congress does need to change more. He said he fought to overhaul how members of Congress enforced the ethics rules affecting themselves and their colleagues. As a freshman, he helped to create a citizens’ ethics panel to investigate members and recommend punishments.

When Ned Lamont, a past U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidate and one of the two panelists at Thursday’s debate, asked why the two candidates were running, both mentioned one of their two probable opponents _ McMahon, the former CEO of WWE, formerly known as World Wrestling Entertainment _ as one reason. McMahon lost in 2010 to former Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal after spending about $50 million of her own money. Her company’s programming was a key issue in 2010, but McMahon has said she’s proud of her business record and the WWE.

Murphy said he couldn’t “allow someone like Linda McMahon buy the election,” while Bysiewicz said, “I’ll be darned if I’ll let someone who sells sex and violence and pornography for a living be our next United States senator. We need to send the right woman to Washington.”

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