A candidate for state representative in Mansfield, a town that houses thousands of college students as well as local residents, told the two college students running for the seat that they didn’t belong on stage with him and his Democratic opponent.

In a rare four-way race with no incumbents, two candidates serve as local politicians and two are UConn students and community activists. They are vying for the seat left by Majority Leader Denise Merrill, who is running for Secretary of the State.

Christopher Paulhus, the endorsed Republican candidate for state representative in the 54th House District and a member of Mansfield’s Town Council, felt the student representation among the candidates paled in comparison to his experience and the experience of Democratic candidate and Mansfield Deputy Mayor Gregory Haddad.

“I think there are really only two candidates here,” he said. “Me and Greg. We’ve both been on the Town Council for a while.”

“It’s upsetting to hear that I shouldn’t be on the stage,” said Brien Buckman, UConn student and Independent candidate. “I think it should be noted that I’m not part of the current system because we need new ideas.”

Paulhus later exited the stage unexpectedly during one of his answers, citing a “prior engagement” that evening.

The four state representative candidates discussed Mansfield’s dependency on state aid and university funding. Since Mansfield serves as home to many students, the local government loses money in tax revenue. Local legislators depend on PILOT payments, or payments in lieu of taxes, to compensate for the loss.

“Mansfield is highly dependent on state aid,” Haddad said. “It’s all about knowing people in the legislature and building coalitions with like communities.”

Haddad and Buckman both agree that cutting university funding will offer no solutions in the community’s search for funding. UConn student and Independent candidate Jason Ortiz also believes all Connecticut universities should institute tuition freezes. He referred to the spending controversy over former UConn President Michael Hogan’s expensive office renovations when the university planned to raise tuition.

“Spending half a million on an office is egregious,” Ortiz said. “UConn spent money on rugs while they were cutting professors. They’re placing aesthetics over core educational issues.”

Sen. President Donald Williams, who is running for re-election in the district, also discussed the fiscal crisis with his opponent, petitioning candidate John O. Hallbergh, Jr. 

Williams said he hopes to start saving by making reductions in bureaucracy, like within the Department of Public Health, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Transportation.

“These agencies contain layers of bureaucracy that have built up over time,” he said. “Early retirement and other tactics will help weed out these agencies.”

Hallbergh generally agreed.

“We need to look at all our programs, see what works and see what doesn’t work,” he said.