Republican Jerry Labriola Jr. is running to replace incumbent State Senator Paul Formica, who decided not to seek reelection. His challenger is Democrat Martha Marx, who is running her third race for the seat.
The 20th district includes Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem, and Waterford.
Labriola is a real estate attorney and former chair of the Connecticut Republican Party. He is a former chair of the Wallingford Board of Assessment Appeals and previously served as the Naugatuck town attorney. He and his wife, Barbara Labriola, live in Old Saybrook and have four daughters and five grandchildren.
Labriola told CT Examiner that, if elected, he would work to make the state more affordable by reducing property and meals taxes and lowering regulatory burdens on small businesses. He emphasized the importance of keeping Millstone as a source of power and jobs in the region and maintaining local control in education, housing and zoning issues.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
LABRIOLA: We need a senator with a commonsense approach to the issues. Someone who’s in touch and accessible, not someone in the pocket of the extreme wing of his or her party. Being too left or right will hinder any chance of getting things done for the people of the 20th district. We cannot afford to have a partisan voice representing us when we have real issues affecting families that need solving. I want a better way for Connecticut. I want my grandkids to grow up and live here. Our oldest in Connecticut is actually starting kindergarten this week. I’ll be an advocate for our incredibly hard working middle class and those less fortunate who are struggling under the burden of high inflation.
In general, my priorities are to work to reduce property and other taxes, which are the highest in the nation, to maintain public safety, to keep our streets safe, provide affordable health care, give our kids a great education and preserve our beautiful environment. I will fight to bring and preserve good-paying jobs for our district and support our major employers such as Millstone and General Dynamics. As a small businessman myself, to reduce the excessive burdens placed on our small businesses, such as our hard hit service industry — restaurants, bars and the like — which are the backbone of our economy.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline?
LABRIOLA: Interestingly, the 20th district plays a large role in meeting the state’s energy needs and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. I’m a strong proponent of clean renewable energy, including wind turbines, fuel cells, hydrogen and of course, nuclear. I’m actually visiting our Millstone power station in the coming days. Millstone is not only an important source of jobs for the district, but it’s a big chunk of Waterford’s tax base and supplies 40% or more of the electricity to the state. As did Senator Formica, I fully support the power purchase agreement that kept Millstone open and saved 1,500 jobs.
I know some on the other side wanted to call Dominion’s bluff and let them shut down, but I’m glad we didn’t gamble with people’s jobs and livelihoods. Of course, closing Millstone would also have made it nearly impossible to meet our carbon reduction goals. And as recently reported by the Examiner, the power agreement is now beginning to bear fruit in terms of electric rates.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Republican party?
LABRIOLA: I’m pleased to have the full support of my good friend, Senator Paul Formica, who I respect very much and who has served us all well. Like Paul, I will put people over politics and take a middle of the road, common sense approach to the important issues facing the 20th district, such as lowering taxes, reducing inflation, and making Connecticut more affordable. I guess you could call me a “Formica Republican.”
But while I am running as a Republican, my focus is giving the best representation I can for all residents of the 20th district, regardless of party affiliation. I’m a consensus builder, and I won’t be afraid to reach across the aisle to work with my moderate Democrat friends — yes, there are a few of them — to achieve bipartisan solutions when possible. As many know, I was a leader in our state Republican Party prior to the Trump years, during the time of Governor Jodi Rell and Mitt Romney for President — a time when people got along much better, quite frankly. I negotiated several times with Democrat state chairman Nancy DiNardo, who is actually still there, on initiatives for the mutual benefit of both parties and the electoral process. This is an example of my approach to put aside the R and D labels and just work to get things done for the people of the 20th.
CTEx: What should the state’s role be in providing affordability for Connecticut residents? Is there a state level response on inflation for CT residents?
LABRIOLA: I think affordability is one of the biggest issues citizens are facing today and it is a top issue for my campaign. We are one of the most highly taxed states in the country and we need to focus on reducing the property and income tax for middle class and working families.
I see firsthand the struggle many young parents go through in trying to provide for their kids. I think it would go a long way in helping them if our state was to reduce the sales tax and eliminate the meals tax. Our state should not be making it harder for parents to feed their children. And our small businesses continue to face heavy regulatory burdens and licensing restrictions which drive up costs. We are sitting on a $3 billion surplus which is the people’s money, so we certainly can afford to give families, small businesses and entrepreneurs a break.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
LABRIOLA: As a real estate closing attorney, I represent many first-time homebuyers. I see firsthand the struggle they have in finding a home which meets their needs and is affordable. The problem is often just lack of inventory in terms of meeting demand, so hopefully this is something that the market will sort out on its own.
In terms of the state’s role, I favor local control over mandates from Hartford. It should be up to the residents, boards and commissions of each town, not the state, to make decisions regarding housing policy and the impact that large housing developments may have on their town. What may work in one town may not work in another — let’s keep that authority at the town level.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective or are there modifications that need to be made?
LABRIOLA: Everyone needs to be accountable for the job they do. I know I do as a small town real estate lawyer. But the police accountability legislation went too far. It was passed at 3 a.m. in the morning with, to my knowledge, virtually no input from the law enforcement community. It’s been a net negative for recruitment and retention of police officers, both local and state troopers, and a net negative for the crime rate. So at minimum, substantial modifications are needed.
I will always be a champion for our first responders and law enforcement. I’m proud to have been endorsed by the Connecticut State Fraternal Order of Police. I will work hard to give our local police the tools, training and staffing levels to best serve the public. At the same time, I will also support other common sense measures aimed at crime prevention, such as mentorship programs for youth, which can be key to putting them on a positive pathway to succeed in life.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
LABRIOLA: Giving our kids a quality education is a big priority for me. My mom was a longtime special needs educator and my daughter is a second grade teacher in New Haven. Right now there’s a growing teacher shortage in Connecticut, which needs to be addressed. As senator, I will fight for our fair share in educational cost sharing grants from the state for each of our towns.
The best way to achieve our educational goals is through as much local control as possible. It’s parents, residents and local leaders who are in the best position to decide on the approach to educating our kids — not bureaucrats in Hartford. I would oppose excessive mandates, forced regionalization and educational goals that don’t match up with the needs of our kids and what our parents want.
CTEx: Healthcare: what are key priorities for improving healthcare for CT residents?
LABRIOLA: One of my focal points is making healthcare more affordable for residents. The average insurance premium for family coverage is around $22,000 — that is the same cost as many brand new cars and is one of the many reasons why Connecticut is simply unaffordable for too many families. In fact, my wife and I paid around $30,000 for private health insurance last year. And Connecticut may be facing increases in insurance premiums averaging over 20 percent — it’s crazy.
Our state should be looking at ways to make prescription drugs cheaper, reduce the growth of healthcare costs and maintain the protections that are guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, which would be in jeopardy if the public option plan were to be implemented as being pushed by many Democrats.
CTEx: Is the marijuana bill as it’s written adequate?
LABRIOLA: In general terms I support the adult use cannabis legislation which was passed a few years ago. There seems to be some issues and confusion with the so-called social equity regulatory framework in terms of who can get a license to dispense. I’m not sure if the intended result is being achieved. I would have preferred a less heavy government approach.
One of the most important features of the bill is local control. It should be up to the residents, local leaders and zoning boards of each of our towns in the district to decide if they want to reap the benefit of the 3 percent municipal sales tax and have a dispensary located in their town, or not. For instance, there’s a pending application in my town of Old Saybrook for a dispensary located right at the I-95 off ramp, with strong opinions on both sides. We’ll see how that plays out, but the key is that Saybrook gets to decide.
CTEx: What sets you apart from your opponent?
LABRIOLA: This is an open seat and neither of us has a state legislative record, so I’d prefer at this time to focus on helping your readers to better get to know me and my platform. I believe this interview will go a long way toward that end.
CTEx: What else would you like to tell our readers?
LABRIOLA: I’d like to conclude with a little bit more about my background. My family has a long tradition of community and public service. My dad, Jerry Sr., was the first pediatrician in my hometown of Naugatuck. He actually did house calls when I was growing up. He went on to be elected to the State Senate. My brother, David, has served as a state representative from Oxford for 20 years. My wife, Barbara, was a town clerk and recently was elected treasurer of Old Saybrook. I’ve been a town attorney and a chairman of a board of Assessment Appeals.
I’ve worked behind the scenes in politics for years and I know my way around the state capitol. I have proven relationships with municipal leaders throughout our district. And I’m proud to be endorsed by a majority of our first selectmen, including Kevin Seery, Rob Brule, Ed Chmielewski, Carl Fortuna and Tim Griswold. I plan to partner with all of our local leaders, Republican and Democrat, to be the strong, independent voice in Hartford they need to best serve all the people of our district. The bottom line is that I have the skill set and qualifications necessary to be an effective state senator on day one.
Editor’s Note: Labriola said Millstone is not only an important source of jobs for the district, but it’s a big chunk of Waterford’s tax base. The word “only” was left out of the previous version of the story.
Cate Hewitt is a reporter and Associate Editor for CT Examiner. Hewitt covers planning and zoning issues.