Republican candidates for governor sound off in third debate

WEST HAVEN -- Eight Republican candidates for governor took to the stage for the third debate Wednesday night.

The Connecticut Republican Party held the debate at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, which drew in hundreds, resulting in standing room.

The first topics addressed at the debate were gun control and school safety.

FOX61 spoke to several candidates about their stance on these hot button issues.

"We have in Connecticut among the most strict gun control laws of any state in the nation," Republican candidate Tim Herbst said. "It's important for law enforcement to have a presence in our schools, working with our educators, to head off threats before they materialize."

"Public safety is a priority," State Representative Prasad Srinivasan told FOX61. "I'm gonna walk the talk and fund it adequately so that every community will be required but at the same time it's not a mandate because you'll be getting what you need from the state to make sure it happens."

The state's economy weaved into much of the night's discussion.

"The first thing we need to do is change working conditions for new employees in the state," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. "It's absurd that we can't make those changes even for someone who is not yet a state employee."

The state's financial situation led into the question of whether the candidates would consider legalizing recreational marijuana.

"I support medical marijuana, but I do not support recreational marijuana at this time," Candidate David Walker said. "Public health and safety comes before money but the fact is this actually may end up costing us money rather than saving money."

"Anyone that suggests that we can actually solve our fiscal crisis by generating revenue off the sale of marijuana is totally unprepared to address the underlying problems that we truly face as a state," Candidate Michael Handler said.

Fairfield-based attorney and candidate Peter Lumaj took on the discussion of sanctuary cities, speaking on his own experience as an immigrant.

"I for one, would make sure that the federal law is going to be enforced, I would cut funding in any city that does not enforce federal law or doesn't cooperate with ICE," he said. "That is a security matter, that is something that affects you and I, and our families every singe day."

Entrepreneur and candidate Steve Obsitnik shared what his priorities would be as governor.

"We have to bring fiscal stability to the state of Connecticut, absolutely, on our deficits and debt side but also have to inspire our kids to wanna live here again and stay here so people can build a business, build a family here, and retire with dignity in Connecticut again," he said.

"Our priority in Connecticut is our financial situation," Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said. "Why me? I am predictable and I am consistent. I've run a municipality for 26 years, I have a mill rate that people would die for, in other words, I don't raise taxes."

The debate was limited to those running for governor, according to Republican Party Chair JR Romano, so those exploring a run did not take the stage.

Exploratory candidate Toni Boucher was in the crowd, Wednesday night.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart made sure her voice was heard by responding to the questions on Twitter.

The Connecticut Democrats released a statement in response to the debate:

“The Republican debate tonight showed that Republicans are out of touch with Connecticut voters and that no candidate, on stage or off stage, has the courage to distinguish themselves as a leader. No issue made this clearer than their answers on gun violence prevention--each candidate dodged the question, ignoring the dangers that we face after continued mass shootings. Voters have a clear choice in this election: a Republican who will hide behind right-wing rhetoric to appease their base voters with antics like creating a “Wisconsin Moment” by making Connecticut a right-to work state or a candidate who will stand up to lead us forward.”

There will be two more Republican debates for the candidates, according to Romano.