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Between personal attacks and accusations of lying, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican Tom Foley sparred over the mental health response to the Newtown shooting and changes to Connecticut’s liquor laws during a Thursday debate.

The fourth debate between Foley and Malloy was sponsored by the Connecticut Broadcasters Association and held at the Hartford Hilton in front of a small audience. Moderator Colin McEnroe, a radio show host on WNPR, opened the event with a joke about candidates running positive, issue-based campaigns. Unfortunately, he said those candidates were running in Montana.

And it wasn’t long before Connecticut’s candidates were back on the attack.

“Governor Malloy can’t seem to distinguish between what he wants to be true and what is actually true,” Foley said about six minutes into the debate, in response to a question on unfunded pension liabilities. “. . . Governor Malloy was recently named worst governor in the United States of America by a prominent national journal.”

Malloy waited until Foley brought up the article a second time, to call it’s publisher, the National Review, a “right-wing, tea bag organization.”

“You know it, I let you repeat the story twice. Why don’t you tell the whole story when you tell stories?” Malloy said.

On a question about the negativity of the race, Foley accused Malloy of “cheapening the debate” and “insulting voters.” He suggested Malloy sign a “truce” he brought with him. Malloy didn’t bite.

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“You have spent two years attacking my integrity and my truthfulness and now because we’re pushing back a little bit, you’re the bully in the play yard who wants to call a peace now because finally someone’s answering what you’ve said for years about me,” he said.

Alcohol Laws

Malloy and Foley took questions on a few topics that had not been raised in the previous three debates. For instance, they were asked whether they would back more changes to the state’s alcohol laws.

Malloy, who signed a bill in 2012 that scrapped Connecticut’s long-standing Sunday alcohol sales prohibition, said he would continue to try to “modernize” state liquor laws. He added that he would work with package store owners and the alcohol industry on the issue.

“I’ve pledged to work with them, but I’ve got to tell you, people are pretty darn happy they can buy liquor on a Sunday,” Malloy said.

Foley said Malloy had “a short memory” and recalled the governor’s battle with package store owners over changes he proposed to state alcohol laws. Foley said he would side with the package stores and reject further changes.

“This governor tried to change those laws, which would have driven those people out of business,” he said. “I will support certainty and the understanding that we’re not going to willy-nilly go out and change laws that affect people who’ve made investments, in some cases over several generations, in businesses.”

Malloy said he would “side with the consumer.”

“We shouldn’t be paying $7 more for a half gallon of spirits in Connecticut than they are in Massachusetts. And before Tom says it, it has nothing to do with taxes,” he said.

Mental Health

Every debate so far has touched on the gun law passed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Thursday’s debate covered much of the same territory, but Malloy and Foley engaged in a back-and-forth over the availability of mental health services for Adam Lanza, the shooter.

Foley said the bill did not address Lanza’s mental health issues.

“Sometimes I can’t believe the things you say, Tom,” Malloy responded. “The young man, who used these unbelievable weapons that could get hundreds of bullets off in a few moments, had all the access he ever needed to mental health. His parents were wealthy. They had great insurance plans. There was nothing in his background that would have prevented him from getting any treatment that they or he would have wanted.”

Malloy said the problem stemmed from the shooter’s access to an “arsenal of weapons” owned by his mother. He said the gun restrictions in the 2013 law made sense and have had an impact.

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Foley disagreed, saying the shooter’s mother was trying to get her son into a long-term care facility she did not have access to. He said he has had mental health problems in his own family.

“I know from my personal experience. I think it’s rather insulting for you to say as the governor of this state, when I know it isn’t true, that families have access to the mental health support they need,” he said. “You’re grandstanding and you know nothing about what you’re talking about.”

Malloy defended his administration’s work to expand access to healthcare, including the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“Don’t showboat this, Tom. You have your beliefs and I have mine. I will never, ever, ever repeal the gun law. Tom will,” he said.

The candidates’ negative tone was felt in most every question. When McEnroe asked about the candidates’ personal faith, they used it as an opportunity to critique each other.

Malloy answered that he was raised Catholic and believed in the “goodness of men and women.” He quickly pivoted to Foley’s reaction to an executive order he had issued to prepare the state for the risk of the Ebola virus. He said Foley laughed about it.

“If that’s Tom’s management style, if that’s how he would prepare for a crisis which is literally on our doorstep, then you don’t want him to be the person you have as governor,” he said.

Meanwhile, Foley seemed to use the opportunity to question Malloy’s parenting. After last week’s contentious debate, blogger Kevin Rennie questioned whether Foley would bring up the legal troubles of Malloy’s son.

“I think it would be interesting to ask these candidates. How do you feel about parenting? How have you done as a parent?” Foley said. “I think that would give voters tremendous insight.”

The comments came in response to the debate’s last question and there was not adequate time for Malloy to rebut Foley’s answer. After the debate, Foley said he was not familiar with Malloy’s family life.

“I don’t know. I don’t know that much about his family,” he said.