Congresswoman Jahana Hayes first went to Washington, D.C. four years ago. Now, she's seeking her third term as representative of Connecticut's fifth congressional district.
Republican George Logan is her challenger on the ballot, and the race is getting national attention now. So how's the incumbent going to handle the pressure and the challenge ahead?
NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Hayes about the upcoming election.
Mike Hydeck: So as far as you've most likely seen in the media and elsewhere, Republicans are trying to keep the conversation focused on things like inflation, President Biden's economic policies, and they're tying you to him and his policies. What are you and your colleagues in Congress trying to do to help Connecticut especially in the fifth district?
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Jahana Hayes: I think I've been working to lower inflation. This is something that is deeply personal for me, something that I care about and hear from so many of my constituents. You just talked about Republicans even debating a heating program that's only made possible by federal funds that I voted to bring back to the state. At the beginning of the governor's term, we faced almost a $3 billion deficit. We worked to bring American Rescue dollars back, infrastructure dollars back. We just passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which will lower the deficit by about $300 billion, the CHIPS Act which will open up supply chains and really address some of these disruptions. So we've been working all along to respond to what families are talking about. People hear in my district things like raising the wage and addressing childcare so that people can go back to work. These are things that I've been working for all along. And really, we have to get at the root causes of inflation, not just what we're experiencing right now.
Mike Hydeck: You're a teacher from Waterbury, you understand the demographic in one of our biggest cities. How much of an impact is expanded broadband service going to help the fifth district and of course Waterbury, where you're from?
Jahana Hayes: Oh, my goodness, this is huge, because I have many rural communities that are completely offline, but even densely populated areas like Waterbury, we saw when schools had to work remotely that so many people were shut out of that. We see so many job opportunities that people don't have access to because they don't have reliable internet. Telemedicine for seniors and some people in our most remote areas, all of these things will really just open up access to opportunity, and also economic access for so many of our businesses. It's an investment that should have been made a long time ago, everyone's been talking about what they're going to do to address infrastructure. And for the first time, we were able to do that under President Biden's leadership. And with Democrats in Congress, we got this passed, over $5 billion back to the state of Connecticut, to address many of the very concerns that we're talking about.
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Mike Hydeck: So you are a career educator. Now you spent two terms in Washington. So you've seen both the local and national picture here, let's talk about education for a minute. Your opponent considers that and has repeatedly said special interests are having a much bigger hold on the classroom and how teachers teach and they're pushing parents out when it comes to curriculum choices. What's your response to that?
Jahana Hayes: Well, my challenger is saying that because he's never been in a classroom and he doesn't know what that looks like. Curriculums are not decided by teachers at the classroom level, they're decided at the state and local level, with boards and many stakeholder inputs from different groups. And anyone who enters the profession of teaching is doing it for very different reasons. What we're talking about, special interest groups, I'm not really sure what they're alluding to there. We teach history, we teach from the curriculum, we teach to the standards, and critical thinking skills, all of those things that educators are taught when they go through any teacher preparation program. So trying to politicize that and put more of a burden on top of our teachers that are already working so hard to bring students along is just unfair and irresponsible.
Mike Hydeck: It may be a veiled reference to parents being kicked out of maybe sex education class decisions. Those are some of the cases that have been gotten national attention. Also, we learned this week in Greenwich, a school there is now being investigated for their hiring practices, may possibly be discriminatory, so people can get ginned up about seeing some of these things happen. And it makes them nervous. How do you allay the fears of parents and voters that they have a say?
Jahana Hayes: Well, no one should be comfortable with a high discrimination in hiring practices at any level, in any profession. And those are exactly the types of things that we're trying to talk about, to make sure that we have equity to access in voting and hiring in opportunities. Republicans oftentimes don't even want to talk about how we close those equity gaps. And this is an example of, if we are making sure that discrimination at any time is not tolerated to any group of people, then we can weed it out. No one should be comfortable with, whether it be a school district or a private industry, practicing, having discriminatory practices in their hiring. And those are the types of things that I have been adamant steadfast about in Congress, making sure we call it out when we see it, and work to close those gaps.
Mike Hydeck: Speaking of gaps, the education gap between the haves and have-nots in Connecticut has been a wide gulf for a long period of time. We've most recently had two surveys saying we're among the best school systems in the entire country. But when you look at the numbers in our cities, and maybe some of our rural areas, too, with math and English, how can we do better there?
Jahana Hayes: Well, this has been a long-standing issue, some of the funds that we brought back to the state just last week, $40 million to address broadband. If kids don't even have access to the internet in their homes, or to do research or homework, it's going to put them behind. I've introduced legislation to support recruitment and retention of educators. Some of the student loan debt relief that was just introduced, we have about 77,000 Pell Grant recipients in our state, we can't be importing these professions in, we have to grow our own and develop teachers who are invested in the community to really engage students in a very different way. These have been long-standing issues that I was talking about, even before I went to Congress. And as a result of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to take some real and meaningful steps to close these gaps to make sure that every school, not just a handful of schools or a few schools in certain areas are equipped, but every school has the resources that they need. And much of the American rescue plan funding that went to state and local municipalities, that went to local boards of education and education agencies will be used and is intended for that, for wraparound services, for after school programs, for support services. These are all the things that we should have done a long time ago. But right now we have made a meaningful investment that if used properly, we can begin to address some of these issues.