The race for the 12th District State Senate seat will be a rematch, but according to the incumbent it won’t involve as much money as it did in 2014.
In 2014, Ted Kennedy Jr., in his successful campaign to win the district that includes Branford, Madison, Guilford, Killingworth, and Durham, benefitted from $207,000 in funding from the state Democratic Party. That was in addition to the approximately $94,000 he received from the Citizens Election Program as a clean election candidate.
The money from the state party was allowed to be given to Kennedy after changes were made to the state’s clean election laws in 2013. There was nothing illegal about it, but it exposed what clean election advocates felt was a large loophole. No other candidate that year, except for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, received that much money from the state party.
Kennedy, in a recent interview, reiterated his pledge that he would only be using the Citizens Election Program grant in this coming contest against Republican Bruce Wilson, a member of the Board of Selectmen in his hometown in Madison.
Kennedy, 54, the son of the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy Sr. and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, was criticized by Wilson and other Republicans in 2014 for “double dipping.”
While Kennedy said he will only be using Citizen Election Program money this time, he also defended his decision not to do so in 2014.
“What’s different now,” said Kennedy, “is people now know me. I have a track record as a senator in the district. Last time it was an open seat that I was running for, for the first time. Everyone knew I might be a target — it’s happened to everyone in my family that has ever run for office.”
In the 2014 race, Kennedy garnered 57 percent of the vote in the district, just shy of 22,000 votes. Wilson got about 43 percent of the vote — or about 16,500 votes.
During the 2014 campaign, Wilson pointed out that when Kennedy announced his campaign he promised to raise money only from people in the district.
Wilson, in a recent interview, said he is glad that Kennedy has “so far” refrained from taking contributions outside the district.
But, Wilson quickly added: “Past behaviors are the best predictor for future behaviors so let’s wait and see what happens down the road.”
Wilson, too, is participating in the Citizen’s Election Program.
“To be honest,” Wilson said. “I hate the whole idea of raising money.”
Both Wilson and Kennedy were eager to talk about issues outside of campaign financing and both agreed the economy is the number one issue.
Wilson said, “The state needs to get out of the way of businesses so that businesses can prosper.” The selectman, who also formerly served on the Madison Board of Education, said he believes one of his strong suits is “that I am not above compromise.”
“I can be won over by a good argument,” Wilson said. “I am an independent thinker but I will not engage in the shouting that politics often entails and people in this district are so tired of.”
Kennedy, too, said “the state of our economy” is where he’s focused.
“How are we going to jumpstart our economy, attract new business, keep old businesses in Connecticut,” Kennedy said, adding that “government and business need to form a much closer collaboration working together.”
The state senator said that when he’s out talking to businesspeople in the district, “one of the constant themes I hear is businesses have jobs to offer, good jobs that pay well. But,” Kennedy continued, “they are having trouble finding people to fill these jobs. I like to call this the skills gap that we need to help attack.”
Besides the economy, Wilson said one of his pet concerns is addressing the recent streak of mass shootings that have, in his words, “become the norm.”
“We are stuck in this pattern of violence,” Wilson said, adding that government needs to address it not just from the gun control level, but also look at it from a mental health perspective.
Kennedy pointed with pride to his work as chairman of the Environment Committee. He said during his tenure as head of the committee, “We’ve passed 38 different bills with bipartisan support.”
Kennedy said the Environment Committee is productive and “I like to think of myself as a collaborator, a bridge builder.”
Wilson, too, said he has a special concern about the environment.
“While I am supportive of building our economy and industry, I’m cognizant of us being on the shoreline,” Wilson said. “We need to be mindful of the type of industrial activities we allow on our shoreline. It (the shoreline) is an asset that we must protect as all costs.”
Both Wilson and Kennedy have their own perspectives on the special status the Kennedy name brings to their Senate race.
Kennedy’s view? “I’m proud of my family.”
Wilson’s take? “I look at it like I’m running against the man — not the name.”