Students and Faculty React to Local Elections
In addition to a historic presidential race, the 2020 election was filled with many important campaigns at the local level.
In Connecticut, all 151 seats of the state House of Representatives and all 36 seats of the State Senate were up for grabs. Constituents also had the opportunity to vote for five members of the U.S. House of Representatives, making it an active political year for both students and faculty on The Hill. Although most Hopkins students are too young to vote, many are actively involved in political discourse. One such student is Carly Slager ’21, who is enrolled in the 21st Century Democracy elective. When asked about the importance of local elections, Slager remarked, “You can [not] overstate the importance of local government in times like these. This last presidential election was such a dramatic, all-consuming event that I think it’s easy to forget that many of the policies that actually affect people’s day to day lives are decided on a municipal level.” Slager is hopeful that, because local elections tend to be less “personality-based,” constituents will “focus on the policies and issues that impact their lives.”
Reform in regards to systemic racial injustices and policing was a key issue this year. Slager noted: “Across the country, in red states and blue states, candidates for city council are fighting for things like rent forgiveness, police reform, and ending the carceral state, just to name a few. These policies can change lives on a local level, but they also plant the seeds for reform on a larger scale.”
Rose Robertson ’24 agrees with Slager, adding, “It’s critical that we realize that some people do have advantages over other people in life just because of the color of their skin and that’s absolutely unfair and as a nation not only need to recognize this but we need to address this important issue of systemic racism which has become far too normalized and allowed in today’s society.”
Nana Dondorful-Amos ‘22, a right-leaning Independent student, emphasized that “[systemic racism] was prevalent in the topics that candidates discussed [and] people are looking for a candidate who would find ways to abolish systemic racism and have equal opportunities for all.”
Race relations were also a central part of the involvement of 21st Century Democracy teacher and School Archivist Thom Peters. Peters’ State Representative, Craig Fishbein of Connecticut’s Ninetieth General Assembly District, re-tweeted a racist meme, thus leading Jim Jinks–a local Democratic politician who had previously served on the Cheshire Town Council, Cheshire Planning and Zoning Committee, and the Cheshire Democratic Committee–to run fairly last-minute. According to Peters, “Fishbein is a leader in the conservative caucus of the State Assembly, often voting in opposition to bipartisan measures because of ‘principle.’” Some of Fishbein’s controversial votes include voting against the establishment of a general to independently investigate illegal uses of police force, capping the price of insulin at $25, making climate change education a necessary part of the school curriculum, and banning conversion therapy; additionally, he–along with Representative Dough Dubitsky–is representing a group protesting the requirement of face masks in schools. Peters says, “This unwillingness to work with others in pursuit of the common good [is something] I find very frustrating in a legislator.” As a result, Peters supported Jinks. The race was initially declared for Jinks; however, an error led to the omission of votes from one polling center in Wallingford. After the re-count, “The final result was a victory for Mr. Fishbein by 17 votes (out of roughly 14,000 votes cast!),” Peters says.
Peters also supported Jahana Hayes, the incumbent Democratic Congressional Candidate for Connecticut’s Fifth District. Hayes is a supporter of social equity and has voted for and introduced legislation that combats voter suppression, addresses police violence and the impact Covid-19 is having on African-Americans and other minority communities. During her campaign, Hayes found herself in “a Zoom-bomb attack,” where Peters notes that Hayes was attacked “by prejudiced individuals at one of her ral-
lies.” Hayes’ own experiences is why Peters feels that“[h]er attention to issues of education as well as her role as an African-American voice in our democracy were important.”
For Robertson and her family, knowing that Second District Congressman Joe Courtney “stands for racial equality” was a major reason for their support of the Representative. Courtney is no newcomer to the U.S. House, as he first got elected to it in 2007. Since then, Courtney has helped pass many bills in the House that provided tax breaks to small businesses, which helped save families thousands of dollars each year. And as the Democratic incumbent from her district, Robertson believes that, “[Courtney is] someone who’s been in office for a very long time and we supported him because he’s a ‘good Democrat’...so all these things really I guess appealed to me and my parents.”
According to exit polling, the coronavirus pandemic was another key issue for voters, and Hopkins students felt no differently. Head of Young Republicans Monish Kumar ’21 “wanted to support a candidate who would handle scientific issues such as the Covid pandemic and global warming well.” Robertson felt similarly, noting, “the [issue] that is most on the forefront of my mind is coronavirus because it’s wrecked so many families in America and around the world, and it’s done so from not only an economic standpoint but also an emotional and psychological one.” Dondorful-Amos, also commented on the economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic and how she believes, “[when] the economy is better, there will be jobs for everyone. After [Covid-19], many people lost jobs and they need to go back to work so whoever can have good policies so we can have a better economy would be the ideal candidate [for her].”
For Head of Young Republicans John Stanley ’21, a crucial reason for his support of Kim Healy for State Senator of Connecticut’s 26th District was unrelated to racial injustice or the pandemic but rather because “[t]he incumbent Democrat senator was in favor of the regionalization of the public school system between our town of Wilton and surrounding towns such as Norwalk.” As he campaigned for Healy, she appealed to him because she “really understood the perspectives of both the parents and younger members of our town,” Stanley says. “I was blown away at how outgoing and welcoming she was, something I did not expect from a politician.”
While Healy lost, Stanley does “respect how she ran her campaign,” specifically elaborating on how “she never once bashed or tried to shame her opponent [and] ran her campaign solely on talking about what she could offer, and how it will help our district.” Stanley emphasized the “undeniable difference between local and national elections.” Stanley elaborated: “[on the national level] candidates attack each other and try to do all they can to portray their rival party to be corrupt and slimey. On the contrary, in local elections there’s no ruthless attacks upon each other. Democrats and Republicans work together to make their schools, businesses, construction projects, and living conditions better.” Peters feels similarly “saddened and discouraged by today’s political climate.” While realizing as a historian that “[i]t’’s not the first time things have gotten this way,” he acknowledges that “it feels yucky to be in the midst of it.” Peters added: “While I think that Connecticut may be somewhat better in regards to partisanship than the nation at large, there are clearly some strong tendencies even within Connecticut to engage with rage rather than reason. Let’s hope those forces do not win out in the years ahead.”