Where They Stand

The race for president has commanded most people’s attention this fall. But the ballot for Nov. 3 has a local contest of interest. Two years ago, Democrat Maria Horn narrowly unseated Republican Brian M. Ohler as state representative for the 64th district. Both are back on the ballot, which is already in the hands of vote-by-mail residents.

We asked both candidates to weigh in on issues of significance to the Twin Lakes community. Both candidates were emailed the same set of questions and each responded promptly via email. Questions centered on recent power failures, poor cell service, boating rules, weed control and general advocacy in Hartford for the Northwest corner. Here are their responses, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

What are key issues and your priorities for the Northwest corner? 

 Maria Horn: The state’s strong public health metrics, which are central to restoring our economy and keeping our communities safe, is at the heart of everything we do. My top priorities are to reduce costs of prescription drugs and other medical costs and increase access to mental and physical health care. We will focus on the environment, including waste management and recycling and take on big issues like climate change and clean air and water. 
Brian M. Ohler: I am fighting for policies that are fiscally accountable and socially responsible. This balanced and equitable approach is the reason I’ve been endorsed by both the Republican and Independent Parties, as well every major pro-business and pro-growth organization in Connecticut. I’m always conscious of the delicate balance that exists between the people and our precious environment. Any development must be thoughtfully executed and well planned. Any adverse or unnecessary impact to our area’s beauty and allure will not be tolerated.

How are you qualified to address these priorities?
Horn: Before I ran for office in 2018, I had a background in finance, law, and nonprofit leadership. Those skill sets, including a focus on details, collaboration, and advocacy, have served me well, and landed me on three major committees: Appropriations (where I am a vice chair), Environment, and Judiciary.  That combination enables me to focus on complex problems, which I look forward to addressing as your state representative.
Ohler: As a lifelong resident of the Northwest Corner and a fifth-generation son of North Canaan, my family and I have a deep-rooted connection to the families, businesses, and the land that surrounds us. After high school I served in the U.S. Army from 2001-2013, doing three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve also had the honor of being a volunteer firefighter/EMT and fire service Chaplain in my hometown of North Canaan. When I returned from the service in 2013, I felt the state wasn’t what it used to be. It was and remains far too expensive to live here and raise a family, even to retire. I was the State Representative here from 2016-2018, narrowly losing by 90 votes in the last election. While the loss stung, I never wavered. I stay committed and involved in our area just as I always have. 

What about your experience as a lawmaker or personal history should give us confidence that in Hartford you will be an ally and an advocate for the lake and for those who own property on or near the lake?
Horn: In our region in particular, our environment, including clean water, air, and wild green spaces, is not just a sacred trust we hold for future generations, it is an economic driver. It underpins many businesses and farms in the region, and it is driving our current demographic shift, which is bringing more young families to the area, many of whom are drawn here precisely because of its beautiful and healthy physical environment. My husband and I both grew up in rural areas (in Ohio and Pennsylvania) and it has always been important to us to give our kids access to natural spaces. 
Ohler: I grew up on Twin Lakes. My childhood summers were spent on South Shore Road with family and friends. My fondness and love for Twin Lakes was solidified at an early age when I became certified in cold water rescue and safe boating. From that point on I knew that the lake and those who live on and around the lake were truly a part of me. Those who bought a home or property near the lake bought it for the same reasons as to why I have sworn to protect it; its beauty, allure, history, and future. We must protect it for future generations. I will defend it, just as I have for defended our nation and state.  

Will you make yourself available to the TLA leadership as we navigate state laws and seek advice and changes that members want in order to improve the quality of life on and near the water?
Horn: Of course.
Ohler: I take immense pride in my ability to immediately and substantively connect with constituents, who deserve action and answers in a timely manner. I have the honor of being named an Environmental Champion by the CT League of Conservation Voters, a title I earned through my hard work and advocacy for a better planet. 

Do you agree that TLA members, who live in the area and pay dues and devote many volunteer hours to lake management, have a significant stake in the lake and proper standing to seek to curb noise, excessive speeds and erratic boating behavior, and get timely process of applications for treating invasive weeds?
Horn: You are significant stakeholders and caretakers, and your expertise and experiences should be a valued part of preserving the health and beauty of our lakes. At a minimum, we should make sure that the processes through which you seek permission to treat invasive weeds are transparent and give you adequate notice, and explanations, so that the best treatment options can be available to you in a timely way.  I’ve heard from several residents in the Twin Lakes area recently about safety concerns and increased noise problems on the lakes, and I’d be very happy to have further conversations about how best to handle those challenges.  
Ohler: TLA members have every right, legally, morally, and ethically to expect that their dues and efforts are justly utilized. I will most certainly defend that right. I have had a profound relationship with the residents of Woodridge Lake in Goshen, CT. They have struggled for years to approve a new sewage plant for their development. The existing plant is far too old and small to accommodate expansion of more families. I was a critical facilitator of their discussions with state agencies. I also was instrumental in getting their lake treatment permits processed in a timely manner, knowing the window of opportunity to treat is very limited. I take great pride in my relationships with the men and women at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and that will most certainly benefit TLA as well. My commitment to TLA was already shown when I assisted out-of-state power crews in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias. For nearly a week, lake-area homes remained in the dark until emergency managers could finally get hold of Eversource and start triaging roads and damage. I worked very closely with power crews from South Carolina, Alabama, and Vermont, coordinating efforts to ensure that South Shore Road, Between the Lakes Road, Twin Lakes Road, and Weatogue Road, were all opened up and power restored.
In recent years our community has suffered many lengthy power outages and we have only spotty cell phone service. Do you support any measures to improve cell phone coverage, keep the power running and get quicker repairs when the power fails? 
Horn: We just passed a bill in special session aimed at increasing resilience and incentivizing better performance from our electric utilities in a variety of ways (rate-setting, executive compensation, local representation on boards). Also, connectivity is one of my priorities. That includes cell service, but also broadband access to, among other things, reduce the digital divide between students studying remotely, enable home-based businesses to communicate more effectively, and broaden access to healthcare through tele-health services. As you know, cell service is popular while cell towers are not. Creating an appropriate and trustworthy process for how and where we site towers is critical. The state’s Siting Council has lost some credibility recently because of the relative absence of environmental expertise on that panel, which has led to significant distrust in their ability to balance that piece of the puzzle.  
Ohler: I am relying on my public safety and emergency management background to enhance cellular coverage and broadband internet throughout the Northwest corner, including Twin Lakes. Cell coverage is an immense public safety issue. There is no reason that in 2020 we should have dead zones. Gone are the days when people had a fear of seeing 140-foot cell towers littering the landscape and horizon. The technology for cell coverage has greatly improved and so we must be doing all that we can to work with carriers and utility companies to provide us this critical communications capability. I will also advocate for essential federal funding to study the feasibility of running power lines associated with Twin Lakes under ground. This is a non-invasive option that will ensure local homes remain powered up during even the slightest of winds. 

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