For a dozen years, Democrat Roger Michele swatted away challengers to his state House seat in northeastern district.
But two years ago, Republican Ron Burns mowed down Michele to capture the 77th District seat, the only place in New England where the GOP knocked out an incumbent Democrat in 2006 and one of the few in the entire country during an election that treated Democrats gently.
It appeared the district might stay in Republican hands for a long time.
Then Burns announced in May that he wouldn’t seek reelection and suddenly the district was up for grabs.
Two political unknowns leaped into the fray – Democrat Chris Wright and Republican Jill Fitzgerald – and soon dotted the district with signs and filled mailboxes with flyers in hopes of making the jump to the General Assembly.
Wright, 35, a hospital admission clerk who is the son of well-known city politician Gardner Wright, had made health care a centerpiece of his campaign.
Fitzgerald, 48, a bookkeeping company owner, touts her opposition to taxes and commitment to controlling state spending.
With many new voters on the rolls boosting an already large Democratic advantage in the district, Fitzgerald knows the odds are against her. But, she said, people are more interested in accountability than partisanship.
“Jill is in an extremely competitive race,” said state Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose 78th District includes a portion of Bristol. “Jill can win this race.”
With the economy in turmoil, and many city residents struggling, the candidates offer sharply varying ideas about how best to handle what could become a dire situation.
Though both agree that extending unemployment benefits may be necessary, Wright is ready to consider more far-reaching aid.
“Historically, Democrats have implemented public works projects in hard times in order to create jobs,” Wright said.
“While we all hope that the economic downturn we are currently experiencing will not be severe enough to require such measures, I think that we have to at least acknowledge the possibility that it may come to this. After all, businesses cannot create jobs if people have no money to buy their products,” he said.
“The last thing we should do in these times is raise taxes on anyone,” Fitzgerald said. “Connecticut families and businesses already pay more taxes than anyone else in the country.”
Fitzgerald said the state needs to “to pay attention to the long-term picture” so that “we are prepared to begin creating jobs when this storm passes. We need to find a way to reduce the tax burden of businesses.”
Fitzgerald owns Bookkeeping Basics, a business she started so she could work at home when her children were young. She’s a QuickBooks Pro advisor.
Born in Southington, Fitzgerald has lived in Bristol her entire adult life. She has two children attending Bristol Eastern High School, a son who’s a senior and a daughter who’s a sophomore.
She and her husband of 23 years, Shawn Fitzgerald, co-produced two musicals for the community theater, including last fall’s production of “High School Musical.”
Fitzgerald is treasurer of the performing arts booster club at Eastern and has served on the school’s governance council in the past. She’s also active with her church, Baptist Community Valley Church in Avon.
Since graduating from Southington High School in 1978, Fitzgerald said she’s taken some courses in accounting and English, as well as some classes for certification she needs for her job, but does not have a college degree.
Wright grew up in the district, attending Mountain View, Ivy Drive and Northeast Middle schools before graduating from St. Paul Catholic High School. He earned a degree in economics from Central Connecticut State University in 1991.
After college, he earned a paralegal certificate and attended a seminary for a time before putting in eight years with the Federal Deposit Insurance Company. He currently works in registration for St. Francis Hospital.
Wright is not married and doesn’t have any children.
State lawmakers serve two-year terms and earn $28,000 for their part-time positions. The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
For details about where the candidates stand on key issues, check back here after Saturday morning. I'll add quite a bit right here as soon as I have a chance.
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