Residents of the 114th House district this fall have a choice to fill the seat long held by Republican Themis Klarides, who is stepping aside after 20 years in the House, rising through the ranks to the position of minority leader. Vying to replace her are Republican Dan DeBarba, a healthcare executive, and Democrat Mary Welander, both Orange residents. The district encompasses Orange, Woodbridge, and Derby.
“I want to make sure our community has an advocate on the state level,” Welander said in a phone conversation. “I want to work in partnership with the state, so that our town will get the funding we need.”
For DeBarba, the ultimate goal is to make sure the state is attractive enough for people to want to stay because they see job- and business opportunities, especially for young families like his children’s. “Regardless of how we got here we can’t come back [from the pandemic] in a bubble,” he said, adding that the state needs to be competitive in order to thrive. “We need to make sure the economy is growing,” he said. Like most Republican candidates, he advocates for lower taxes, less wasteful spending and less burdensome regulations, although the latter does not include environmental regulation, which he supports.
For instance, he proposes to reinstate tax credits for research and development; he supports tax credits for manufacturers who offer apprenticeships. Growth should be the overriding goal. “The state needs to set a target growth,” he said, and “then we need to determine what changes would have to be made to reach that target.” For example, given the pandemic, the state should consider deferring implementation of the minimum wage raises, he suggested, even though he is not principally opposed to increase wages.
Having grown up in Wolcott, DeBarba served as a medic in the Connecticut Army National Guard. He served as president of Norwalk Hospital and Danbury hospitals before taking the position of chief financial officer of Catholic Health Services of Long Island. He was recently appointed to the Orange Visiting Nurse Association Board of Directors.
Mary Welander serves on the Orange Board of Education and is also PTA co-president of Racebrook School. As a member of the local Board of Education she participated in the recent school reopening committee, which met almost weekly this summer to ensure students and teachers could return safely to school.
Education is high on her list of priorities, especially education funding. The way the state reimburses communities for special education costs needs to be re-evaluated, she said. Special education costs are difficult to predict for school districts and notoriously difficult to budget for. “We want to make sure we can take care of all our students,” she said.
Health care will be a big issue in Hartford going forward, she said, given that the long-term health impact from COVID is hard to predict. The House was working on allowing prescription drugs to be ordered from Canada, which would lower drug costs overall. Another area that needs to be looked at is how nursing homes and assisted living centers are regulated and overseen, to avoid a scenario similar to last spring, when COVID hit them unexpectedly.
As for taxes, she pledged to advocate for her constituents. Since she lost her job as strategic planning and marketing expert for an architectural firm last spring, due to COVID, she has come to learn what it means to be a one-income family.
She is dismayed by claims made by some that she does not support School Resource Officers or local law enforcement. “Those claims are totally unfounded,” she said. As a Board of Education member, she has voted in support of SROs and also supported the police budget – all while advocating for violence prevention programs, she said.
She testified in Washington on school safety before Congress. She was one of two Connecticut ambassadors for the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that works on violence prevention programs in the wake of the Sandy Hook disaster. “We try to address problems before a weapon even enters the scene,” she said.
If elected, she would work to make sure that small businesses get the support they need, she said. She also feels that funding for Personal Protective Equipment needs to be re-evaluated.
Another issue close to her heart is the treatment of veterans after they leave the service. “We need to make sure vets get the support they need, such as through re-entry training. “They have such amazing skills,” she said. Three of her brothers are combat veterans, with one being deployed.
She wants to make sure that the communities she represents would have an advocate on the state level. She also mentioned the protection of open space as an important issue to champion in Hartford.
Two years ago Welander ran for the same position, and came within 1,000 votes or so of the incumbent, the closest anyone ever came to beating Themis Klarides.
Endorsements: Welander is being cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party. She also received endorsements by the Connecticut Education Association, CSEA SEIU Local 2001, the AFL CIO Connecticut., Moms Demand Action, The American Federation of Teachers, Connecticut; SEIU Connecticut State Council; by Planned Parenthood CT; CT Against Gun Violence, and the National Association of Social Workers, Connecticut Chapter; and by the Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association.
Dan DeBarba meanwhile is cross-endorsed by the Independent Party. In addition to Themis Klarides, he is endorsed by the Mayor of Derby, Rich Dziekan; Orange First Selectman Jim Zeoli, the Amity Republican Club, the National Federation of Independent Business; Connecticut Police Union and the Derby Police Union.
His position as CFO allows him to work remotely to a large extent, which will give him the flexibility to take on the extra duties in Hartford, he said. Until recently, his life was dedicated mostly to work and family, but he would like to diversify, and his outreach into the political realm is part of that diversifying. His wife Lynn and he have started a growing franchise business, Tropical Smoothie Café, an enterprise that makes him a small business owner in addition to a healthcare CFO.
Mary Welander grew up in South Deerfield, Mass. She made a career as theatrical electrician, which is how she met her husband, Matt Welander, at The Juilliard School. She was Master Electrician of the Drama Theater and he was Head Carpenter of the main stage. Matt went on to become faculty technical director for the Yale School of Drama in 2013. He also works as a consultant in theater design, and experienced first-hand the effect of the pandemic on the arts community. “It is heartbreaking what the pandemic does to them” she said.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent