The candidates for the 26th Senate District highlighted their positions on top campaign issues, such as job growth and state spending, during a cordial forum Monday night at Westport Town Hall.

The match-up included State Sen. Toni Boucher and her Democratic challenger, Carolanne Curry. Boucher, who represents New Canaan and six other Fairfield County towns in the 26th Senate District, is seeking to win a third Senate term in the Nov. 6 election. Curry, who is making her first run for elected office, is an alternate member of the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I really do believe that tax policy in the state of Connecticut has a direct relationship with job growth and the health of our economy," Boucher said. "We have to create a better environment for business overall to keep them here."

Curry argued that more state support of small businesses would drive economic growth.

"Small businesses in this state are the backbone, they are the history of this state," she said. "If there's anything that we can do in our imagination and in our intelligence to keep these businesses healthy, whether it's some sort of tax incentive, tax reduction, tax elimination, I'm all for that."

The two candidates also outlined their plans to reduce the state's public debt. Curry suggested a statewide cap on municipal property tax rates.

"If we had property tax (cap), our real estate could remain competitive with New York state, which has just introduced a cap on property tax," she said. "The thought is that once you introduce something like a cap on property tax, it begins to start a conversation on what other ways we might be able to raise revenue."

Boucher, a deputy minority leader in the state Senate, called for the state to rein in spending on public employees' compensation and benefits.

"We need a wage freeze, a hiring freeze, but most importantly change some of the parameters that people use to retire," she said. "That will change the actuarial tables and really bring down some of our pension liabilities."

Boucher and Curry maintained a conciliatory tone throughout the forum, as both candidates avoided personal attacks. The lack of contention may reflect the underlying dynamics of a race in which Curry has acknowledged that Boucher is the frontrunner. In 2010, Boucher easily won re-election, when she defeated her Democratic challenger, John Hartwell, by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

Charlotte Garrell, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Fairfield, moderated the forum. Among her questions to the candidates, she asked them about their positions on deer population control, a controversial issue in recent years in Fairfield County towns.

"Deer had a place and they were very happy with the place that they had," Curry said. "And then the developers discovered those places. I think that if we're going to let the development of our land continue, and we're going to let the deer be forced out of their habitat, then we're going to have to deal with it on a town and state basis."

Boucher said she would consider supporting deer contraception, although she acknowledged concerns about that method.

"There was concern that it would get into the food of people who eat deer," she said. "I think this is going to be a longstanding debate. Let's hope that there are some new strategies and maybe some new technical and medical ways to deal with it."

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