Oct. 25, 2016
Candidates for the 53rd House District agree the region should better utilize local universities and both say their opponent’s party is determined to discourage change at the state level.
Democrat Susan Eastwood and Republican incumbent Samuel Belsito are competing to represent the 30,000 residents of Ashford, Tolland, and Willington in the legislature.
Belsito, a Tolland resident of 48 years, won the seat in a special election in 2013. Previously, Democrats had held the seat for 40 years.
As a long-time tuxedo shop owner, and former cost accountant at United Aircraft-Pratt & Whitney, Belsito said the state has lost its place as the leader in insurance and manufacturing aircraft.
If elected, Belsito said he would continue fighting to improve the state’s business climate. Connecticut should emulate other states that encourage business growth through tax breaks, he said.
“We can have a good manufacturing climate,” he said. “We need to look at states that are looking ahead with good salaries and move ahead with them.”
Belsito has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from Nichols College and Western New England University.
In 2011, Belsito was elected to the Tolland Town Council. He also has served on the town’s conversation group, and the elders housing committee, and Foodshare. His state committee assignments are in education, appropriations, and planning and development.
Belsito said he would continue pursuing a bill he wrote on his second day in office, which would add a new program at the University of Connecticut for special-needs children by developing their strengths.
Belsito also is passionate about cutting state employee overtime. He also supports saving state funds by requiring state employees to work for four years at a certain wage before that amount is reflected in their pensions, he said.
Belsito said he has met a lot of good state politicians, though some have “no concept of what is going on.” He argues a large majority of Democrats fail to enter budget season with the intent to negotiate.
With limited state entitlements, towns in the 53rd District must propose “super-efficient” budgets, he said, adding that only essential capital improvements should be approved during the state’s financial crisis.
His challenger, Susan Eastwood, said that as a Board of Finance member in her hometown of Ashford she helped cut the town’s mill rate this spring and believes further cuts should be made.
However, Eastwood also said the town should implement energy efficiency measures that would create a spend-now, save-later, mentality.
Eastwood served on the Ashford Planning and Zoning Commission from 2007 to 2011 and has been a director and consultant with Clean Water Action since 2009.
Eastwood also focuses on women’s rights. As a board member of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women since 2013, she also advocates for victims of family violence, she said.
Social issues became Eastwood’s focus while earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wyoming, and a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Kentucky.
Since 2004, Eastwood has served as chairwoman and co-chairwoman of the Ashford Democratic Town Committee.
She currently serves on Ashford’s Clean Energy Task Force and founded the Conversations for a Green Connecticut in 2006.
To improve the job market, she plans to promote a new program to attract UConn startup companies to operate within the 53rd District. She believes this program would improve the tax base and attract high-paying jobs.
While campaigning, Eastwood discovered a large number of residents in the 53rd District affected by failing concrete foundations and pledged to support homeowners in their quest for reparations.
Eastwood said she would use her research from her co-written book about the culture of farming to promote local farmers.
She said the Republican Party habitually votes against the budget and other bills intended to improve the state’s economic status, adding that her opponent is “very proud to be in the party of no.”
In the presidential election, Belsito said he is supporting Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and Eastwood said she is backing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Belsito said Trump would be an objective president and transparent to the American people, while Eastwood said Clinton has a progressive approach and applies rational problem-solving methods she trusts.