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Article Published September 22, 2020

LaPorta Challenging Cohen for 12th District Senate Seat

By Jesse Williams/Zip06.com

Though traditional campaigning has largely been made impossible since March due to virus-related restrictions, incumbent Democrat Christine Cohen and Republican challenger Joe LaPorta have been making their cases for Connecticut’s 12th District State Senate seat, which stretches from North Branford to Killingworth.

Cohen, a small business owner and former Guilford Board of Education member, won the district seat in 2018 after the retirement of Ted Kennedy, Jr.

LaPorta, an engineer and first-time political candidate, is hoping to flip the 12th red for the first time since 2005. He lived in Waterbury for many years, moving to Madison in 2017.

LaPorta has made economic issues a priority, promising to block any new taxes and prioritize local autonomy, while Cohen has cited both her advocacy for local business owners as well as her legislative record on health care and social issues.

LaPorta, an electrical engineer, is currently employed by Eversource—something he noted “is probably the worst thing I can start off [with].”

“I’m not some big executive in a cushy office. A lot of times I’m out in the field and I walk around looking like a human traffic cone,” he said with a laugh.

After announcing his candidacy in January, LaPorta said he was disappointed to only have a couple months to get his name out and speak face-to-face with voters before all semblance of normal campaigning disappeared.

“It’s been an experience,” he said. “The ups and downs—it has been interesting.”

LaPorta described his campaign as a “small, family operation” (his wife serves as his deputy campaign manager) and said he had hoped to have many opportunities to sit down with voters and knock on doors.

“It’s a whole different ballgame now,” he said.

While he said he has respect for Cohen, LaPorta described his motivation for running as having more to do with her votes and policy, which he claimed don’t reflect the needs or wants of voters in the district.

“I don’t want to see this district...go down the wrong path,” LaPorta said.

Taxes that he said hit 12th District residents hardest—ones that hurt “job creators” and seniors specifically—have been imposed by Hartford, and LaPorta promised to focus on mitigating these things that increase the cost to live on the shoreline.

“It’s hurting young families and seniors the most,” LaPorta said. “People in my age group are saying, ‘I can get more for my money in another state and live more comfortably there.’ And seniors are saying, ‘I don’t know if I can stay in my home.’”

Other places where LaPorta said he saw a disconnect between voters and legislators include immigration policy, regionalization of school districts, and public safety.

Combining school districts by region in an initiative that LaPorta cited as something he would oppose as bad for the district, saying it would harm people who made “life decisions” based on schools in the area.

“The more local control we have, the better off we are,” LaPorta said.

Cohen, who owns Cohen Bagels in Madison and formerly worked for Stanley Black & Decker, said she’s still a businessperson at heart, and it is from the business community that she has heard the most since the pandemic shuttered dozens of restaurants and shops back in March.

“I’d say 90 percent of my constituent service work revolved around labor questions. It was constant, just trying to get people the help they so desperately needed,” she said.

Getting answers from both the state and federal government to assist local workers and business owners stay afloat, or more recently, get back on their feet has taken precedence over other more abstract regulatory work, she said, especially with a legislative session suspended in the spring. Working directly with people and the “shared experience” and struggles of the district have been what has grown the most in her 18 months as a senator, she said- both before, but especially during the pandemic.

“This is really everybody experiencing very similar situations together, so many people experiencing what it was like to be out of work,” she said. “Or mak[ing] decisions about our children.”

Being a small business owner herself has been one of the most important of those connections, Cohen said, as she has interacted and spoken to people along the shoreline.

“It gives people confidence that I understand, and I am right there with them,” she said.

But Cohen said she understands residents still want to see legislative work, and cited her record in Hartford, specifically extending telehealth benefits and working to cap the cost of insulin during a special session this year.

“All of these things were going to be worked on whether or not there was a pandemic,” she said, “but through the pandemic we realized there was an emergent situation.”

Cohen also referred to the racial justice movement following the many killings of Black Americans by police officers across the country. A bill to address police accountability, which Cohen supported, passed the state legislature in a special session this August.

“Again, that goes back to community connection, and recognizing that many of us are just looking for a brighter future for generations to come,” Cohen said.