Election day is less than three weeks away and on Wednesday night candidates for the 5th Congressional District squared off in a debate at Central Connecticut State University.
For most of the night, voters heard two candidates miles apart from each other on policy. When asked about the economy and national debt, Democrat Jahana Hayes slammed the federal tax cut, while Republican Manny Santos said the tax cut helps raise tax revenue.
"The poorest people in our community shouldn't have to pay so that corporations can get huge tax breaks in the name of saving our economy," Hayes said.
"Only with more tax revenue will we be able to take control of our debt, our yearly deficits. Other than ending the various programs, it's the economy. With more tax revenue we'll be able to afford the things we want to afford like infrastructure, and so I would be very supportive of continuing the tax cuts," said Santos.
The two were asked about infrastructure spending, criminal justice reform, the opioid crisis, and student loan debt. For many of those topics, Santos drilled down on the economy being the key.
When it came to criminal justice reform, Hayes spoke about offering support and counseling services to students struggling and to make sure those in the system are able to re-enter society as a productive member. Santos spoke about making sure the economy is good enough so that anyone who wants a job can work and to support programs that promote trades in community colleges and high schools.
Regarding the opioid crisis, Santos discussed getting the medical community involved to help reach solutions. Hayes said that a punitive response doesn't work, that addiction is a disease and it has to be addressed as such. She also mentioned the importance of education about the issue.
When asked about gay marriage, Hayes said she supported it while Santos did not.
"I support gay marriage in the state of Connecticut, and I will do everything I can to ensure they have the same constitutionally-protected rights as any other groups," said Hayes.
"Gay marriage in Connecticut is legal. I am personally not in favor of gay marriage. I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman. That's not to say I'm against civil unions or the gay community," said Santos. "I'm against any legislation that violates a person's right to work or carry out their lives regardless whether they're gay or not."
Both candidates also had different takes on student debt.
"Offer incentives for people who return to our state, return to our communities to live and work. After so many years, reduce either the interest or the amount that's owed because those people are now taxpayers. They're investing in our communities, and they're helping our economies to thrive," said Hayes.
"The student debt issue is something that, frankly, a lot of students bring upon themselves. When you enter college, you enter college with the understanding that these loans have to be paid back," said Santos.
The former Meriden mayor's response created a shocked reaction from several people in the crowd. After the debate, a University of Connecticut sophomore with $60,000 in debt, who is also a first-generation American and first-generation college student, told Santos she works a part-time job and it's still not enough.
Santos replied that a robust economy would allow better-paying jobs for students drowning in debt but that students also have to be careful with their decisions.
"It behooves you to choose a college that is more affordable for you and maybe not one that is a better fit or better environment," Santos said.
At the end of the debate, both gave closing statements and spoke about the importance of November's election.
"We want a brighter future for our children. We want equitable access to high-quality education. We want to be able to love who we love and have healthcare and jobs. We want our families to be safe and protected, and we want people to be welcomed in our communities," said Hayes.
"The Democrat Party has been co-opted by the extreme left and is promoting socialism, Medicare for all, free college, open borders, and citizenship for illegal aliens, and the elimination of the right to protect ourselves and our family, infringing on our second amendment rights," said Santos.