NORWALK, Conn. – Gov. Dannel Malloy had many supporters in Norwalk on Wednesday night, but he also faced heated criticism for his spending and immigration policies as he hosted his first open public forum of the year.
With Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Malloy appeared at Norwalk City Hall to meet with voters. The governor reiterated many of the topics he touched on in his State of the State address earlier this month, including his plans to give a small tax refund to residents while paying down the state’s debt, and his push for universal pre-kindergarten and increased access to college.
When asked about the state of the economy, Malloy put forth his ideas to improve Connecticut’s job market.
“The economy’s recovering slowly. And in a state where we had failed to have net job growth for 22 years, we continue to have slower growth than I’d like to see, although 40,000 new private-sector jobs is a start,” he said.
Malloy also mentioned his administration’s job-growth programs, including the Small Business Express Program that provides low-interest loans for new businesses, and other programs that offer subsidies for companies hiring people from unemployment rolls if they needed training.
The public forum included a few heated exchanges between Malloy and opponents. Bob MacGuffie, a Tea Party activist from Fairfield, ridiculed Malloy for his dismissal of the political movement in the past.
MacGuffie challenged Malloy to a public debate, saying “We’ve heard just about enough of ridicule and disparagement of solid citizens of this state that want this government to get under control and off our backs.”
In his response, Malloy said the state’s spending increases have slowed during his administration and said he has worked to bring down the state’s deficit. He also said that, in contrast with the Tea Party, that he “believed in climate change” and he “believed that no one should be uninsured.”
MacGuffie called the governor’s response “straw man points,” and the two began talking over each other as members of the crowd began calling for the forum to move on to new questions.
“I allowed you to make your points. I started to make my points and you wouldn’t let me make them. So I’m not sure a debate with you would work very well,” Malloy told MacGuffie.
Discussions also became heated over immigration issues. Brien McMahon High School student Junior Sierra said he came to the U.S. with his parents illegally as a 6-year-old. Last year, he won a $20,000 scholarship to Quinnipiac for his work at the Connecticut Science Fair. But as an undocumented resident, he is unable to use the scholarship, he said.
The matter needs “a more mature discussion taking place in Washington on this issue,” Malloy said. The state offers in-state tuition to undocumented residents, he said, offering to look into other state scholarships for Sierra.
The response prompted Linda Czaplinski to speak up on the issue later in the night. She expressed sympathy for Sierra but said Malloy should have told the boy “your parents should have thought of that before they crossed these borders illegally,” prompting a mixed reaction from the crowd. She also criticized the idea of “using our tax dollars to subsidize someone who doesn’t belong here.”
Malloy clarified that he “did not condone the actions of his parents.” But he did note that, as a resident of the country for more than 10 years, it is unlikely someone like Sierra would be deported.
“He may be a person who can contribute to our economy in the future," Malloy said. “Should we deny him? Should we deny ourselves the opportunity to benefit from the presence in our country?”