HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Eight incumbent Democratic state lawmakers are among the various candidates facing challenges next week from within their party.
These legislators, including a couple veterans, are being tested on a number of issues, ranging from how they voted on the state’s 2013 gun control legislation to their stances on local political issues within their districts. In many cases, the challengers have qualified for public campaign financing, making them potentially financially viable foes.
Registered Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls Tuesday to vote in 10 other legislative primaries besides the races involving incumbents. Several in heavily Democratic cities, such as Bridgeport, are expected to be more hotly contested than the November general election, given the party’s dominance. Primaries are also being held for Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and comptroller, as well as probate judge and registrar of voters in some communities.
Colchester state Rep. Linda Orange, first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996, is facing her first Democratic primary challenge. Her 27-year-old opponent, Jason Paul, has made Orange’s vote against the gun bill a major thrust of his campaign. It’s an issue that is expected to become prominent in some general election races once the primaries are over.
“She’s clearly losing votes over this issue,” said Paul, a recent law school graduate who was motivated to run because of Orange’s vote and her statements on the issue, such as saying that she “listened to the overwhelming majority and voted no.” Paul said some of the newer parts of the 48th Assembly District are particularly upset with her vote on the bill, written after the Newtown school shooting.
“Based on the ground evidence, it has completely alienated Mansfield from her. They’re just gone,” Paul said. “They see no reason to put up with someone who is supported by the NRA.”
Orange, who received an A-minus grade from the NRA, compared with Paul’s D-minus score, contends she did not seek out the gun rights group’s endorsement. Also, she said she voted against the bill because it did not fully address mental health issues. She said she has supported earlier gun bills, including trigger lock requirements and requirements to report lost and stolen guns.
“I have supported all of that legislation throughout my tenure,” she said. “This was a bill that I didn’t support and the reason I didn’t support it was it passed anyway and I took a stand on mental health. And mental health, it’s always overlooked.”
One of the most closely watched legislative primaries involves another veteran Democratic lawmaker, Bloomfield Sen. Eric Coleman. The co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, he has represented the 2nd Senatorial District since 1995. He served in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 1994.
Coleman, 63, who announced his re-election plans late, lost the Democratic Party’s endorsement to Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden, a 45-year-old lawyer who once worked as an intern for Coleman. Both men have qualified for public campaign financing. A third Democratic candidate, former Windsor town Councilman Lenworth Walker, did not.
Wooden argues that new blood is needed at the Capitol.
“He’s been in office 32 years and a lot of people in the district feel that it is important to have some new ideas at the Capitol for our district,” Wooden said of Coleman.
Elsewhere, Ernest E. Newton II, the former Democratic Bridgeport state senator and representative who served four years in prison for accepting a bribe and is facing new charges of violating campaign finance laws, is seeking election to his old House seat. He has pleaded not guilty. Also in Bridgeport, Democratic Sen. Andres Ayala Jr. is being challenged by City Librarian Scott Hughes.
Despite the primaries, Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democrats, said the party is united.
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