Young Candidate Profile: Meet CT’s Will Haskell

Young Candidate Profile: Meet CT’s Will Haskell (Will Haskell, 22, is vying for a seat on the Connecticut State Senate. Photo credit: Dan Bigelow)

At just 22-years-old, Will Haskell is vying for a seat on the Connecticut State Senate, challenging incumbent Toni Boucher, who’s been in public office for as long as Haskell’s been alive.

But don't let his age fool you—Haskell isn't new to politics. Before he was old enough to drive, he was working with his state congressman. He’s interned with Hillary for America and in the Capitol Hill offices of Rep. Jim Himes and Sen. Chris Murphy. He studied government at Georgetown University and has worked for the Democratic National Committee’s voter protection team.

Haskell isn’t letting his opponent’s longevity scare him. Instead, he is proudly taking on the challenge and is excited to provide a new voice for Connecticut. And others are taking notice. He’s received endorsements from Murphy, Himes and Sen. Richard Blumenthal. And earlier this month he was among the candidates endorsed by former President Barack Obama.  

YR Media’s Nayo Campbell spoke with Will Haskell about his political experience, being endorsed by President Barack Obama, and the changes he plans to make for Connecticut.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Nayo Campbell: Can you tell me how you got your introduction to politics?

Will Haskell: I became interested in politics when I went to the New Hampshire primary with my dad when I was 11. I got to meet a young senator named Barack Obama. We got to see presidential candidates working the room, diners, high school auditoriums and it's so cool as a young person to witness that process up close. I think that really sparked my interest in politics, and when I got back to Connecticut I decided to go and start working for my local congressman. I went into his office before I was old enough to drive and learned about constituent services and everything the congressmen do to help their constituents.

When I was in high school I would go and knock doors for a guy named Chris Murphy, who I thought was a really inspiring person, and it excited me that he could possibly become the youngest state senator. My parents would drop me off in the neighborhood and they’d come back hours later after I had knocked on a whole bunch of doors trying to convince people to vote for Chris Murphy. And then he ended up winning. So I got to see the impact that knocking on doors could have and that anybody can have no matter what their age is.

What made you decide to run?

I went off to Georgetown University, and I decided to stay involved in politics.  During my senior year, I realized if you want to have an impact on the lives of your friends, family, and community, you have to come home, and that’s what I did. I wanted to play some part in the fight against Donald Trump, and I know that that fight starts at the state level. So I came home, and I started knocking on doors in my hometown. I talked to commuters whose trip has gotten slower to Manhattan every day because we haven't invested in public transportation.

I talked to parents who had to choose between advancing in their career or starting a family because we still don't have paid family leave. I talked to so many students who don't feel safe in the classroom because they worry that the next school shooting may be around the corner. So I've been really inspired by that experience

You mentioned that you're going to high schools and speaking to young people. What do you say to get them interested in politics?

I've had no trouble getting young people to be interested in politics, right? Because they're paying attention to, frankly, what's happening on the national news, it can be difficult broadly to get people to pay attention to Hartford. So much of our national political conversation is consumed by what's happening on CNN. What I tell people to get them interested is that the Connecticut state senate is tied 18 Democrats, 18 Republicans.

We’re the only tie in the entire country and that presents a huge risk. It means Connecticut might not have a safeguard against Donald Trump's agenda. But it also presents an amazing opportunity because if we decide to show up, if we all decide to make our voices heard, we can flip one seat and break a tie.

What do you say to those who may be doubting you because of your age?

I tell people all the time if you think what's happening in our government, specifically our state government, is great and that we're on the right track and you're looking for somebody with 23 years of legislative experience, then I'm not your guy. I decided to come home to Connecticut unlike most of my friends from college who are starting their careers elsewhere. I decided to move back home, and I see the challenges and also the opportunities that are present, and I think that perspective is desperately needed in Hartford.

Sen. Boucher is a good person and she and I get along, but we have very serious policy disagreements and a very different vision for the way Connecticut should be going forward. We can't begin the next chapter in the state by re-electing somebody who's been there for 22 years—someone who's had a chance to get the job done and unfortunately hasn't delivered on the results for this community.

You were endorsed by former President Barack Obama. What was your reaction when you found out?

I have to be honest with you, I was stunned. It’s not typical at all for a former president to weigh in on a small town race like mine. I think it speaks to the fact that nationally, Democrats are growing very concerned about what's happening in Connecticut about breaking this tie in the state senate, and they're also concerned that we as a party haven't paid enough attention to state legislative races. I was so honored and moved by his endorsement, and I think that it's going to help a lot as we go door to door.

What are some unique things that you've done in your campaign?

I go to the train station to meet commuters as they get on the train to go to Manhattan. I usually go once or twice a day. I go into people's living rooms and to ask them about their concerns. I knock on about 40 doors a day. We have interns making calls in our office every single day. I write a letter to every newly registered voter, and this is an exciting thing. There are so many newly registered voters that I can't keep up. There are over 275,000 new voters registered in the state of Connecticut.

What advice can you give to those young people who want to get involved in politics?

I would say do it. Don't hesitate. There is no minimum age for being on the right side of history. Don't let anybody tell you that you're too young to have an opinion on teacher pensions, property taxes or on criminal justice reform, because every voice is needed.

Our voices, as the next generation, are sorely lacking in our state legislature. We're a perspective that needs to be heard from, so run. And if you don't want to run for office yourself, get involved in a local campaign instead, or go door to door. There's truly no minimum age for getting involved and making a difference in your community.

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