My journey to this candidacy began when I volunteered for the Sexual Assault hotline in Northeastern Connecticut. This work motivated me to serve as a sexual assault counselor for children. Working in this role, I learned about many of the problems in our state and I realized immediately that I wanted to help solve these problems through the legislative process. I started working at the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) as an aide and committee clerk in 2006.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve served on boards and worked for organizations tasked with helping the people of our state. I’ve advocated for many social justice issues and have lobbied on behalf of women and children for everything from campus sexual assault reform to strengthening child trafficking criminal laws. I’ve become very familiar with the Connecticut General Assembly and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the legislative process.
If you have spent any time at the CGA, you have heard the saying, “Connecticut is the land of steady habits.” When I first heard the saying, I was curious as to its origin. It turns out that the term first became popular in the early 1800s and was associated with Connecticut’s tradition of repeatedly electing the same officials to high office, as explained by Walter Woodward, Connecticut’s State Historian.*
My campaign against a 23-year incumbent is about breaking with our “steady habits” in order to fix our obvious social and economic problems.
Though the seat is currently held by an incumbent who is considered a “solid Democratic vote,” my campaign for state representative is about more than his votes, it’s about his leadership. I am running for state representative in the 18th district of West Hartford because I feel a sense of urgency to improve our state economy and our society. In order to fix our state we need leaders who are willing to buck tradition and embrace fresh ideas. My campaign is focused squarely on the leadership at the CGA, leadership in the Democratic Party, and leadership by women.
For far too long, the budget has been “balanced” on unrealistic revenue projections and money raided from other designated legislative priorities. Every legislative session, families, business owners, and towns anxiously await for another last-minute budget to pass.
This needs to change. Residents need a stable and reliable budget, as do priority areas like education, transportation, and energy. The most recent example of this habitual budgeting practice occurred last fall at the direction of my opponent, Andy Fleischmann. Lawmakers enacted slight fixes to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula dependent on a $380 million funding increase over ten years. This funding increase is entirely unrealistic based on our recent history of declining revenues and continued growth of fixed costs. Andy touts this practice as progress, but “steady habits” like these just push out the state’s budget problems, making them bigger and harder to fix.
Steady habits also contribute to slow progress on common-sense revenue solutions such as tolls and progressive issues such as paid family medical leave. These should have been passed 10 years ago, but when you have a lawmaker in office for nearly a quarter of a century running for reelection every two years, he is prone to making safe decisions and prioritizing party over policy.
This problem isn’t uniquely Andy’s —it’s a problem inherent in our CGA. One of my solutions would be to enact a four-year term with a two term limit for legislators. Additionally, as the CGA considers future cuts in our budget, they should eliminate pensions and lifetime health benefits for legislators. This would set a real example for our state, further engage our citizenry in the democratic process, and allow Connecticut to quickly address the fast-changing economic and social realities of the 21st century.
As a 21st century feminist leader, I engage people in their democracy and champion social justice issues that will move us forward. I am an advocate for preventing and addressing gender-based violence, access to reproductive healthcare, paid family and medical leave, gun sense and LGBTQ+ rights. The Connecticut General Assembly is currently 27 percent women. While many of us would like to see the number of women in the CGA at 50 percent, I seek the change that an increased number of women in leadership will bring.
Breaking steady habits means taking action. I am running for State Representative now because I believe we can do better, and I’m ready to lead.
Jillian Gilchrest of West Hartford is a candidate for Connecticut House District 18.