Election 2018: Will Haskell, economic moderate hoping to ride the blue wave to victory
WESTPORT — Democratic wunderkind Will Haskell has taken Fairfield County by storm over the past six months energizing young people and old-school party leaders around progressive politics and the hope that a Democrat may take the 26th senate district seat for the first time since 1973.
But the odds are against Haskell. His opponent, incumbent Republican Toni Boucher, has maintained a stronghold over the 26th district since she first took the office in 2008. In the 2016 election, Boucher, 68, beat Democrat Carolanne Curry by 11,729 votes, including in Westport, Curry’s liberal-leaning hometown, where Boucher won by nearly 500 votes.
Before taking the helm of the 26th district seat, Boucher represented her residence of Wilton and nearby New Canaan in the 143rd house district. Boucher has been a state legislature for 22 years, as long as Haskell has been alive, a point he frequently points out, casting Boucher’s tenure as part in parcel of the dysfunction in Hartford.
Not unlike other Democrats hoping to ride a blue wave to office on Nov. 6, Haskell’s political origin story began with the election of President Donald J. Trump. “I came to realize the fight against Donald Trump starts at the state and local level,” Haskell said, noting his research of Boucher’s record solidified his decision to challenge her.
“I found somebody who, despite the fact that we as a community are just around the corner from Sandy Hook, believes that we went too far in regulating guns after that tragedy,” Haskell said, citing a comment from Boucher tied to her support for a proposal to allow the Weston Gun Club to store ammunition for gun users to practice with at the facility.
At the end of the day, Haskell and Boucher share many of the same views on gun control. Both were named “gun sense” candidates by the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense group and, like Haskell, Boucher says she supports stricter gun regulation, including a ban on ghost guns that will likely come before the Senate in the upcoming session. The difference between the two lay in their prioritization of the issue.
“From the moment I enter office as State Senator, my top priority will be reducing access to weapons and strengthening our state’s gun laws,” Haskell’s website reads. Boucher, on the other hand, says guns are not an area concentration for her and noted she doesn’t plan to spearhead any new gun laws.
Haskell speaks energetically of his vision for a millennial-friendly state with modernized infrastructure and progressive social policies, namely paid family leave legislation, which Haskell says will entice young people to the state who don’t want to choose between their family and career.
“I was raised by a single working mom who had to go back to work just two weeks after I was born,” Haskell says in advocating for paid family leave, which Boucher does not support.
An outspoken proponent of tolls to fund investments in public transportation, Haskell often notes that Connecticut is the only state between Maine and North Carolina without tolls. “My opponents say tolls are a tax, but I believe they’re a user fee,” Haskell said, adding Connecticut can’t afford to leave money on the table.
Bucking the trend of many Fairfield County representatives, Haskell supports a regional approach to economic development. “Westport is no better off with Bridgeport crumbling,” Haskell often says. “It’s time we move away from the corporate office park model because my generation largely doesn’t want to drive to work and instead we need to start investing in our cities and public transportation,” he added.
Haskell endorses the legalization of recreational marijuana and says a Democrat must to take the 26th district seat in order to break the 18-18 tie of Republicans to Democrats in the state senate. A majority Democrat Senate can enact the needed firewall against Trump administration efforts to roll back LGBTQ rights, environmental regulations, and women’s reproductive health and freedom, Haskell says.
Do not confuse Haskell for the insurgent breed of democratic socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, however. Haskell self-identifies as an economic moderate and often touts he is not endorsed by the labor unions. Haskell disagrees with the union contract’s three percent annual cost of living adjustment and prevailing wage laws that he says make the cost of infrastructure improvements cripplingly high.
“I don’t think this community is well-served by somebody who votes with her party 97 percent of the time. This isn’t Bernie Sanders territory and it’s not Donald Trump territory either,” Haskell says. Boucher has moved too far to the right for the average, “level-headed,” 26th district resident, Haskell says, adding he understands district voters from knocking on over 4,000 doors.
Haskell proposes the formation of a bipartisan Fairfield County caucus to advocate for more state money for the region and like a fellow Georgetown University alumni, President Bill Clinton, he seeks to forge a new, more moderate, path for Democrats in unlikely territory. It’s up to voters whether Haskell’s new way will lead him to victory.
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