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Meet Ethan Werstler, Candidate for State Representative


Ethan Werstler, Candidate for State Rep in Connecticut's 52nd District
Ethan Werstler, Running for State Rep in CT's 52nd District (Source: EthanWerstler.com)

I’ve noticed a theme emerge as I talk to this year’s candidates for Stafford’s state offices: there is a feeling that small towns are not getting their fair share of state support. Ethan Werstler, who is challenging Kurt Vail for his position as the Representative of the 52nd District, expressed the same concerns but had a slightly different take on the situation. 


After working on Joe Courtney’s campaign and for a lobbying firm, Werstler says he has a good understanding of how Hartford works. He believes small and rural towns often lose out on funding because they typically have minority-party representation, which also means they are not often at the table when decisions are being made behind closed doors. He believes Somers, Stafford, Union, and Woodstock would be better served by “an independent voice in the majority party.” 


Money often flows to big cities and the suburbs, whose representatives can influence Governor Ned Lamont’s agenda and spending priorities. That shows most notably in school funding and infrastructure, he says. The money goes to cities and towns with more students and busier roads, but he says the answer is not just about getting more money to the towns. Unfunded mandates from the state are also part of the problem. He also notes that private service providers, especially in the special education realm, are allowed to charge whatever they want, ultimately setting towns up for failure. He says he is willing to talk with those service providers as well, to hear both sides of the story. 


At just 24 years old, Werstler is young, but he says most people he talks to are happy to see a young person, “a son of the district,” as he puts it, get involved. This is especially true at a time when most of his classmates opt to leave for big cities. Werstler, however, seems less concerned with flocking to centers of opportunity and instead sees problems here at home and acts to solve them. He often points to Husky Market, a program he helped develop at UConn to address food insecurity among students. The program ultimately gave out about $1 million in food and gift cards to address hunger among students across all of the UConn campuses. It is now defunct, but only because the university decided to step up and start Husky Harvest, its own food pantry, to address the problem that Husky Market so clearly identified.


He is unusually willing to offer up potential solutions to big problems for a candidate. For instance, as we talked about the problem of young people who have benefited from Connecticut’s top-notch public education system leaving, he noted that we had to give them a reason to stay, and that included affordable housing. “If I were acting my age, I’d be going too,” Werstler says. So what’s the solution? He suggested the state could build a dorm-like affordable housing complex for students with good grades from public universities. They could perform service and pay a reasonable rent – say $600 – in exchange for a commitment to stay in-state for five years. “No one is getting a free lunch here,” he says, adding that it is completely within our interest to encourage the young people the state has invested in to stay here and be productive. Whether or not the idea is feasible, it’s a start. 


It’s not just young people he is worried about. Werstler says older people who want to downsize also have few affordable options, especially in a town like Woodstock, where he and his family are from. His grandparents want to downsize and stay close to family. The options, however, are few and far between. (Stafford happens to be home to a large affordable senior housing complex that needs more state support to finish renovations.) Werstler is passionate about conservation, maintaining the character of places of Woodstock, and helping farmers stay in business without having to rent their land out to solar projects, which he believes could be potentially environmentally damaging, but that is a position often at odds with addressing the lack of affordable housing. Werstler says he trusts the local Planning and Zoning Commissions to make decisions about what is right for their towns, a position that could put him at odds with his Democratic brethren (who have been trying to solve the problem of affordable housing by circumventing restrictive zoning laws) if he gets elected. 


So, why should voters choose Werstler in November? He answers with questions of his own.


“Can you represent people with dignity and character?” he asks. But he also points out that it’s about results. “Has the alternative, my opponent, truthfully delivered for you?” That’s what Werstler thinks people should be basing their votes on. 


He also wants readers to know that on Saturday, June 15, at 11 a.m., he will hold his Campaign Canvas Kick-off at Stafford’s John Julian Heritage Park. His campaign hopes to hit 1,000 doors. Werstler says all are welcome and that no prior experience is required.

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