For the past few months, Elizabeth “Betsy” Ritter, 61, has knocked on door after door in Waterford and lower Montville. Her goal, which she usually reaches, is to hit 3,000.
The effort is part of the Democrat’s re-election campaign, where she is seeking her fifth term as state representative of the 38th District, which covers all of Waterford and a portion of Montville. Ritter, a certified public accountant, holds no other job except state representative, which comes with a meager $32,500 annual salary.
So why does she do it?
“You know, it is funny, more people have asked me that question than ever before this year,” Ritter told Patch in a recent hour-long interview in New London’s Muddy Waters. ““My husband and I chose to move here with my children when they were babies because we wanted to live in this part of Connecticut, and it is a decision I never regretted. So it is a way to give back a little bit.”
Ritter is the chairwomen of the state house’s Public Health Committee, and serves on the Energy and Technology Committee and the Appropriations Committee. She lives in Quaker Hill, and before being elected as state representative in 2004, she worked as the Waterford Tax Collector, an elected position.
Ritter told Patch her first priority in her next term, if elected, would be “jobs, jobs, jobs.” To improve the unemployment rate in the state, she explained her three-pronged attack to make Connecticut more prosperous.
The first prong is to make the many regulations in the state easier to comprehend and allow businesses to go through state processes quicker, she said. For example, Ritter suggested that businesses should only have to fill out one form for a permit, rather than several to several different state departments, and those departments should process the permit concurrently.
The second prong is to provide incentives for small or emerging businesses, as Ritter said that’s where most new jobs are created. Patch asked Ritter if that was having the government choose winners and losers, and asked why not remove those incentives and lower the taxes for all companies.
“Because I talk about encouraging new growth,” Ritter answered. “If the incentives are there at the birth period, at the beginning, I think that is a more stimulated, more attractive opportunity. Acknowledge the fact that down the road, as success comes, contribution is required in a different manner. That can be okay if you have the opportunity from the beginning.”
The third prong is to provide better job training opportunities in the state’s schools, from high schools to Connecticut’s colleges and universities. She cited the new Three Rivers Middle College – a school for high school juniors and seniors – as a “fabulous idea,” and said she would push to have more job training opportunities.
After discussing Ritter’s first priority, Patch asked her about several votes she made on several high-profile issues in the past two years. Here is a list of each one.
The Malloy Budget: “It wasn’t a perfect result,” said Ritter, who voted for the budget. “Better than where we were.”
The budget increased taxes while merging services, and all state employees agreed to a wage freeze for two years and changes to their health insurance plans, although none were laid off. Patch asked Ritter if Malloy should have made sharper cuts – meaning lay offs to state workers – to avoid a tax increase.
“The last thing the state needed was higher unemployment,” Ritter said. “That doesn’t benefit a whole lot of people, and ultimately puts a bigger strain on state services.”
Paid Sick Leave: Ritter voted for a new law that mandates businesses with more than 50 people give paid sick leave to their employees who have worked at least 680 hours in that year. Employees can receive up to five sick days per year, and Connecticut is the first state in the nation to have a sick-leave mandate.
“I’m going to come on the side of an employee who is sick who shouldn’t be at work almost every time,” Ritter said. “For women, for particularly single women taking care of children all the time, it is a far more reasonable opportunity.”
Education Reform: The state passed a wide-sweeping education reform bill that did everything from change the way teachers were evaluated to target Connecticut’s 30 worst performing school districts. Ritter said that reform was announced in February and had to be passed by May, so while it wasn’t perfect it was a “good start.”
“I applaud the governor to have the political guts to open up the conversation and force it to occur,” Ritter said. “I think we ended up with a good beginning, but we are not done.”
Higher Minimum Wage: Ritter voted for a state law that increases Connecticut’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $8.75 in the next two years. Business groups chastised the bill, but Ritter said it was the right thing to do.
“The problem, as I see it, is in this failing economy, the incentive to hire back or have people working at increasingly lower wages relative to what is happening to everything else in terms of cost, is a real problem,” Ritter said. “In terms of who they help, the bottom-line minimum wage worker, that amount makes a difference. That’s $500 a year.”
Patch asked Ritter what her second priority would be, and she said continuing to work on education. Ritter said one of Connecticut’s biggest challenges is fixing the achievement gap that exists within the state.
She said it might be hard to convince people who live in towns with high-achieving school districts why increased resources should go to low-achieving school districts. Ritter argued that the state should start showing how low-achieving school districts actually cost state taxpayers, presumably because they produce people who require more state services later on.
“We don’t have the cost of the failure of the system state-wide,” Ritter said.
Finally, Ritter said her third priority would be healthcare. Ritter said she supports a single-payer health care model for the country. She said the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama-care) didn’t make that happen, but she did support the bill.
However, she agreed that the cost of health insurance has to come down. There is a “medical-industrial complex” where many people are making money off of health insurance, and for prices to come down those revenue streams are going to have to be slowed, Ritter said.
“One person’s cost reduction is another person’s revenue stream,” Ritter said. “We have a medical-industrial complex here, and everyone makes money off of it.”
Editor's Note: A profile on Ritter's opponent, Republican Tony Siragusa, will run Tuesday.