Voters in Connecticut’s fifth U.S. House district will pick a new representative in the midterms Tuesday.
At the start of the 115th Congress, it was expected Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Esty would be back on the ballot running for a fourth term this fall. But by April 2018, caught up in a #MeToo scandal involving a settlement paid to her chief of staff, Esty announced she would not seek reelection.
That opened the door for a newcomer: 2016 national teacher of the year Jahana Hayes, who cruised in August’s Democratic primary against Mary Glassman. Hayes is seeking to become the first black Congressperson from Connecticut. She has garnered national attention and the fundraising boost that comes with it.
“This is my first political run. I’m an educator in the Waterbury public school system. I’ve been teaching history, civics, geography, African American history, for the last 13 years. I’ve done a lot of community work advocacy, worked with the State Department, and in 2016 all of that work culminated into my being honored as the national teacher of the year,” she said.
Standing in her way Tuesday is Republican Manny Santos, a native of Portugal, a Marine and the former mayor of Meriden.
“I understand a lot of the issues that people are going through in my district. A few years ago I was the mayor of Meriden, so I have a keen understanding of how public policy impacts our communities. Some time before that, I served active duty, U.S. Marine Corps, so I have an appreciation for the challenges that veterans face and obviously I also have a good grasp of the military,” Santos said.
Santos has embraced President Donald Trump and many of his policies, including funding for a border wall with Mexico, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and strict work requirements for SNAP, or food stamp, recipients, an issue that has held up the Farm Bill.
Hayes, who was a teen mother, has stressed her diverse life experiences. She supports single-payer healthcare and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Hayes and Santos both appeared on WAMC’s Congressional Corner series in October.
“There’s a lot at stake. Come Nov. 6, it will determine what direction this country will go. We have a Democrat Party that’s essentially coopted—certainly the leadership has been coopted—by the far left,” Santos said.
“I feel like what I represent and the issues that I’m fighting for are more aligned with the majority of people in this fifth Congressional district,” Hayes said.
In the district home to Newtown, site of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, Hayes and Santos differ on gun laws. Hayes favors expanding background checks and wants to fund gun violence studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Santos says he supports severe punishment for people who commit gun crimes, but doesn’t support any restrictions on the Second Amendment.
“It’s terrible that we keep seeing tragedies like this, you know, and the response to arm teachers to prevent school violence and different tragedies is ridiculous,” Hayes said. “It’s absurd. As an educator I would never want the responsibility of securing a firearm with 1,300 young people.”
“What we have to understand is that Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country and people still continue to commit these terrible crimes,” Santos said. “In fact, many of the most dangerous and crime-troubled cities in the country have the most strictest gun control laws.”
Experts who track House races say it’s a safe Democratic seat. The entire Connecticut delegation, five House members and two senators, is made up of Democrats — including U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Esty’s predecessor.
The fifth district stretches from just west of Hartford to the border with Massachusetts in Connecticut’s northwest corner and south along the New York border to the Danbury area. Polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.