NEW BRITAIN - In a year filled with outsiders running for office, both statewide and nationally, Jahana Hayes thinks the time is right for a candidate such as herself.
The 2016 National Teacher of the Year is hoping to become the first African-American woman to represent Connecticut in Congress, running for the 5th District seat now held by U.S. Rep. Elizbeth Esty, who is not seeking re-election.
Hayes narrowly lost the Democratic endorsement to former Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman in May, but that hasn’t stopped the educator on her mission to bring a new perspective to Washington.
“We [Glassman and I] both share similar Democratic ideas that align with the party, but I think where we’re very different is how we came to those values, how we got to the point where these are the ideas we believe in,” Hayes told The Herald after a meeting with New Britain supporters.
Hayes released her first commercial Thursday, a two-minute, 30-second video titled “Truth to Power.” In it, she highlights her upbringing in Waterbury and her path to becoming 2016 Teacher of the Year. The candidate speaks of growing up poor, being a teenage mother and working her way through college, earning degrees in the process.
“I bring a lens and a perspective that has been missing, that has been absent,” Hayes said.
Hayes has touted her outsider experience as a positive in this race. She said she brings a different view on how government can work with and help people, and vice versa.
“Leaders don’t operate alone. People in communities, grassroots people, people who are paying their taxes and getting out and staying involved and connected are also doing those things,” Hayes said.
As a teacher, Hayes said, she often would identify what her students were good at and try to utilize it in their education. She said she has a similar perspective on community involvement.
“I absolutely think that I can inspire people to be involved and be a part of a team in a meaningful and purposeful way,” Hayes said. “I have a team of people who are very experienced in politics and people who have never ever voted. This is their first introduction to the process and they are equally as important.”
While this is the first time Hayes is running for office, it’s not the first time she’s considered it. She said she’s been asked to run for many other offices, local and statewide, but has declined every time. The opportunity to take her message to Congress, though, wasn’t something she could pass up.
“For as much as you do at the local level, which is where I was really active, unless these things are memorialized in our laws and the shared vision of our country, we really do not make the same type of impact,” Hayes said.
Hayes on the issues
Since May’s convention, Hayes has been traveling the state to pitch her message to voters. Many of the issues they’ve brought up are ones Hayes has struggled with herself, she said.
“I’m hearing things that I’ve already known, like the economy is better but it’s not good for everyone. I hear about affordable housing, health care and the equity gap in Connecticut, which is massive. I hear from urban communities and rural communities that poverty still lives there. They want our schools to provide good education, they want Medicare and Social Security to be sustainable and not torn apart,” Hayes said.
These are issues Hayes said she’d like to address. She said she wants to make sure all communities benefit from progress.
“Federal money is coming in, but how are we using that once it gets here? Are we making sure we’re leaving no community behind?” Hayes asked.
The candidate said an assignment related to education would be a great way to utilize her skills and experience.
“It would be the height of this whole experience to be appointed to a commission on education because I know how important that is and I know that we need to make some significant investments – not just financial, but long term investments in how we educate our children,” Hayes said.
Hayes thinks that the 2018 election, not just her race in particular, is important for the Democratic Party’s appeal to a new generation.
“If the Democratic Party does not look forward to the future and engage, inspire and ignite voters, both new and old, history has already taught us the lesson of what that looks like,” Hayes said. “It is to our peril.”
With the primary election on Aug. 14, Hayes hopes to continue to spread her message.
“It’s not about just getting elected. It’s about educating people about the process, it’s about reminding people why they are an integral part of the process,” Hayes said. “I think, again, that’s something that separates my opponent and I. You hear a lot about what she’s done. What I would like to do is start a conversation about what we can do. This is so much bigger than me.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.