Young Dem aims for the 26th
He has a big mountain to climb, but Will Haskell believes he is up to the challenge. The 21-year-old Westport native is seeking to square off with Republican incumbent Toni Boucher for the 26th District state Senate seat.
He is not alone in his belief. Haskell raised enough money in 72 hours to qualify for public financing of his campaign and he is an endorsed candidate of the Run for Something organization that supports young, diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races across the country.
Although he announced his candidacy last month, Haskell has been running since last year, meeting people across the seven towns that make up the 26th District: Wilton, Weston, Westport, Ridgefield, New Canaan, Bethel, and Redding.
“I woke up the morning after Trump’s election and thought, ‘This is a moment of crisis.’ It’s incumbent on every citizen to build a version of America we can all be proud of,” he told The Bulletin on Tuesday. While many people might try to make changes from within the nation’s capital, Haskell said, “the best way to make change and to implement your values is to start in your hometown.”
Haskell, who now lives in New Canaan and will graduate with a degree in government from Georgetown University next month, said he was “severely disappointed” in the district’s “staunchly conservative” representation in the state Senate. “This isn’t Bernie Sanders territory, but it’s not Donald Trump territory, either,” he said.
Haskell’s first financial disclosure statement with the State Elections Enforcement Commission shows his campaign raised $29,013 from March 1 to 31 from 538 individuals. The first weekend he spent raising money, Haskell said, 40% came from students across the district who connected with him on social media. But he has also received encouragement from grandparents, he said, who would like the state to be more attractive to their grandchildren and other young adults.
When Haskell began thinking about running for office, he considered the issues he would focus on.
“I asked people [out] for coffee and asked them for names of other people I should call,” he said. He asked them about their concerns, how state government could serve them better, what they thought state government should look like.”
There are many issues, but among them are transportation, paid family leave, gun control, housing, equal pay for equal work, and the opioid crisis.
Bringing more young people to Connecticut is crucial for the state’s future, Haskell said. “We want to live in cities, take public transportation to work, and we want paid family leave,” he said. “If we passed paid family leave we could draw workers from across state lines,” he said, adding people would not have to choose between taking care of their family and keeping a job. Making forward-thinking investments for faster trains and improved infrastructure is crucial, he said.
“We have some of the greatest universities and colleges here,” he said, “but too many people get their degree and leave to start their careers elsewhere.” To entice them to stay, Haskell said, he would propose a student loan forgiveness program for graduates of public universities or colleges who agreed to work here for a period of time.
“The GE CEO said they were looking for a tech-savvy, diverse, young workforce. We have a tech-savvy, diverse student population. Translating that to a workforce would be a great thing.”
The opioid crisis is something he believes is not getting enough attention in Connecticut. Haskell spent a summer working in the state public defender’s office in Norwalk and said the phones would ring nonstop with calls from people approved to leave prison and go for opioid addiction treatment. They were seeking a bed in a rehab facility. “Too often we had to say no,” he said. “We need to fund rehabilitation rather than prison, it’s a huge waste of resources. We should be building more beds so people can leave prison and recover.”
When asked about the state’s fiscal crisis, he said he blames Democrats and Republicans alike. “For years legislators have passed the buck to the next generation. They failed to foot the bill. Here we are as the next generation and we’re not content passing along the bill to our children and grandchildren.
“We have to be smarter about our investments going forward and transparent with where our taxes are going,” he said, using the Special Transportation Fund as an example. “Every time Hartford runs out of money it dips into the transportation fund.”
He supports a lockbox on the fund, adding that money should be spent only on transportation programs. “It doesn’t matter what party you are in if it takes you too long to get from Wilton to Grand Central, or if you’re stuck on the Merritt. I can’t understand why this is a partisan issue.”
The next step in Haskell’s campaign is to actually get on the ballot, and for that he is looking forward to next month’s convention.
“I can’t wait for the convention,” he said. “We’re going to pack the house.” Assuming he is successful, he said, his campaign will launch its field operations. “I will be knocking on doors every day,” he said. “I’m a big believer in door knocking.”