When Republican primary voters to go the polls in Brookfield on Tuesday, they will likely be electing the representative for the 107th District of the Connecticut General Assembly, as there are . Republican voters have the choice between endorsing incumbent Rep. David Scribner, , and the Harry Shaker, a Brookfield resident, business owner and member of the local Board of Education (BOE).
Both candidates share similar ideological stances and the campaign has been framed (even, at times, by the candidates themselves) as a choice between a seasoned, entrenched career politician and an inexperienced newcomer seeking to reinvigorate the debate at the state capitol.
“I’ve become very frustrated with the fact that we are just squeezed and squeezed and squeezed,” Shaker said of the decision to make his first run at state office.
Primarily, Shaker said he is concerned with the level of state taxes flowing back to Brookfield compared to other towns in the state, particularly when it comes to education.
“A lot of this [campaign] has been driven by my time on the Board of Education and trying to keep my business going and talking to my friends,” Shaker explained, all areas where taxes and state funding are considerable challenges.
When it comes to education, “The town gets reimbursements of 8-10 cents on the dollar,” he said. “That’s extremely low and we need answers why.”
Currently the town receives approximately $1.5 million in state funding toward education. According to Shaker, “If we could get that to $2.5 million, that would be 3 percent of our budget. It would change the entire dynamic of our budget.”
The formula that determines education funding disbursement is based on a number of factors, the most important being average income levels, population and .
That formula is broken, according to Shaker, who contends that some of the information is not based on current data.
Changing that formula is no simple task, as Scribner pointed out, especially in a legislative chamber dominated by the opposition.
“I can’t have absolute control over how the complexities of the education cost sharing formula are set,” he said, explaining that Brookfield is rated No. 31 in the state in per capita income and has a relatively low level of education spending per student, resulting in lower reimbursement rates.
As with education cost sharing, working under a Democratic majority (which spans the entirety of Scribner’s time in office) makes it difficult to pass legislation that doesn’t have strong bipartisan support.
“I’m in the minority,” Scribner said. “I haven’t often had a win, but that’s the same with every Republican.”
Though part of the minority voice, Scribner touted his record of bringing financial support to the district (citing a number of STEAP grants, state assistance for asbestos removal at the schools and ), his efforts on the Route 7 bypass, Bethel train station and other important transportation projects in the region, as well as bills he helped to prevent from becoming law.
In that regard, Scribner mentioned the proposal to reinstate tolls on certain Connecticut roads, a measure he opposed. When the legislation came to the floor, Scribner helped craft 38 amendments to the bill, creating a 12-hour debate.
“They never called the bill to a vote,” he said. “That’s something experience teaches someone.”
Scribner asked voters to consider that knowledge of the process and experience working within the quagmire when they vote on Tuesday.
“There is a very sharp learning curve… No matter how bright someone is it’s a significant challenge,” he said. “Someone with similar ideals won’t be able to do any better there.”
Longevity in office is a valid consideration, Shaker admitted, however, “It’s how long has it been and how far are we?” he asked. “How much closer are we [to the goal] 10 years later?”
“The current state rep. [Scribner] is very embedded in the House,” Shaker said. “When you develop relationships that are so long-lasting people become comfortable and that can become a deterrent” to progress.
“I think David chips away and makes changes where he can,” he added, though, “One of the ways we differ is I think we have to take bigger chunks.”
Shaker said the root goal of his campaign is to reenergize the legislature and its representatives.
“We can win, I can win, without being elected if we can open people’s minds,” he said. “Hopefully a number of new representatives will be elected and we can get the long term representatives to see things differently. The key is new people coming in who will be able to close the gap in the thought process… I would be a new voice that would come in and push.”
Along with new energy in the state house, Shaker said he would like to see the local representative be a more active presence in the community.
“My No. 1 priority is to be locally tied,” he said, which includes being active with the local Republican Town Committees (RTC), something Scribner has been criticized for. “I know that David has been constructive in Hartford but he hasn’t been active locally.”
Scribner admitted that he does not frequent RTC meetings in Brookfield or Bethel, stating the he is “focused on being a true representative of the people.”
“I’m not elected to be the 26th member of the local town committee, no more than I am the fourth member of the local Board of Selectmen,” he said. “In this part-time citizen’s legislature that we have, I am there 100 percent for the people.”
(And, indeed, Scribner has maintained a 100 percent voting attendance throughout his tenure in the legislature.)
“If we win, great; if we don’t win, we still can win by making it a better seat,” Shaker reiterated, stating that competition is necessary to avoid complacency.
“My real goal is to make that the strongest seat possible,” he said, vowing to support Scribner as the party nominee if he fails in Tuesday’s primary.
Scribner said he is not sure whether he would continue on to the general election if he does not receive the nomination but that it will depend somewhat on voter turnout.
“I haven’t made any decision yet — taking it one step at a time — but it’s very challenging to get people out to vote,” he said. “Brookfield alone has in excess of 3,500 [registered Republican] voters — if only 10 percent vote, some 90 percent didn’t have a voice. From a purely logistical standpoint, it has to be considered.”
Overall, both candidates have seen this race not as a personal political fight or even a division over ideologies, but as a choice between an experienced statesman and a fresh voice.
“I’m very proud of this campaign,” Shaker said of the tone over the last few months. “David and I have shown this district how to run for office.”