Irene Haines, who currently represents Colchester, East Haddam, East Hampton in the state legislature, has announced that she is also running this fall on the Republican ticket for East Haddam first selectman. If elected, Haines said she would serve in both capacities.
In her first campaign for the General Assembly, Haines defeated Democrat Teresa Govert with 52 percent of the vote in 2018, and was reelected last November with 56 percent of the vote, compared to Democrat Judd Melon’s 42 percent. Haines previously ran for town first selectman in 2017.
Haines also works as an insurance agent, serves as a member of the East Haddam Economic Development Commission, and founded the Colchester Civic Orchestra and East Haddam News.
How did you first get involved in East Haddam?
I was a Girl Scout leader back in East Hartford where I grew up, and I’m just one of those people who likes to get involved and likes to help. I’m a Girl Scout, and Girl Scouts help where they’re needed. I found a troop that needed help with a leader, met the girls, and it just went on from there. I got involved in the East Haddam Business Association, got involved over in Colchester with the Colchester Civic Orchestra, which I helped start. With the business association, I started the Taste of East Haddam, which is in its seventh or eighth year and is now called Celebrate East Haddam.
As president of the East Haddam Business Association, we had a meeting with businesses in town, and the biggest concern was that they didn’t really have a place to advertise and get the word out, and wanted to know how to do that. So I created East Haddam news, which is now starting its seventh year, and we’ve been in the black the whole time. All businesses in town have supported us, even out of town businesses, to the point where Haddam came to us and said, can we do a paper too? So we’ve expanded to East Haddam and Haddam News.
What led you to get into politics?
I was heavily involved in the town and as a concerned taxpayer, I realized that the town needed some leadership, and that’s when I ran for first selectman the first time. I came very close, but I was not the endorsed candidate by the Republicans, and came in third behind two other Republicans who were long-serving on the Board of Selectmen in town, but because you have to have a member of the minority party, I wasn’t seated.
Melissa Ziobron, who was the state representative, came to me and said, Irene, you have some fire in your belly, and you want to make a difference. She told me that she was going to run for State Senate, so she wanted me to run for her seat in the House. I ran for election and won, and won reelection last year, too. As a state representative, I’ve worked even more closely with town leadership and have gotten a real handle on what’s happening up in Hartford and how it affects the town, so I’ve gotten an even better sense of what it means to be first selectman and how that position can be used to make the town better.
Are there any issues you would have handled differently had you been First Selectman for the last few years?
It’s hard to know without having been in the position, so I’m not sure I can really say what I would have done differently. One issue that I’ve been following, though, has been the debate over how to handle a 2.7 acre parcel of land in town. Some people think that some of the ideas are just too big, and want to make it open space, but East Haddam has so much open space. I think this area should not be a park, it needs to have some kind of commerce to it, and be a place where people who come to town or live in town can gather. Our first selectman right now has not taken a stand, and seems to feel like he needs to be Switzerland. If I were first selectman, I would take a stand and say, let’s do something exciting with this space.
Do you feel that you could devote your full attention to being first selectman and state representative simultaneously?
People ask me all the time if you can do the state representative and first selectman position well at the same time, and it really just makes perfect sense. I’m advocating for Haddam already, and there’s a real synergistic flow to being both state representative and first selectman. Currently, I’m doing part-time work in the legislature, and I’m economic development coordinator part-time, and my second child is finishing up college, so I also sell insurance on the side to pay the bills. I always tell people, two jobs would be great, because I’m currently doing three. So many legislators in Hartford are also their town CEO, plenty of mayors are also senators, and our own State Sen. Norm Needleman is also first selectman of Essex. I’ve also spoken with State Sen. Cathy Osten about it, because she served as first selectman in Sprague while being a state senator, so a similar position as Norm.
What are the accomplishments from your time in the state legislature that you’re most proud of?
As Republicans, our core values are keeping taxes as low as possible, so I’m proud that we got rid of the business entity tax, because taxes are really tough here in Connecticut. I just finished working on higher education issues that will help with workforce development, and did work to get military training to count for college credits so we can get people in the military through school more quickly. I’ve done work to keep college campuses safe with the sexual misconduct bill that went through to help students come forward in sexual harassment situation, whether they saw something or were the victim of something.
Did you have any legislative priorities that you weren’t able to get through this past session?
We have a law that says that people cannot release ten or more helium balloons into the atmosphere for the simple fact that it’s bad for the environment, because helium is a finite resource and it hurts animals. But I hear from constituents that go out for an afternoon on the Long Island Sound and collect hundreds of balloons floating in the water. If we know releasing ten is bad, why should we release any? The first year, it didn’t get much traction, but the second year, it got through the House, and just wasn’t called up in the Senate. My conservative Republican friends say, why are you bothering on this environmental issue? But my constituents came to me about this problem, and I wanted to help. I’m a Girl Scout, and protecting the environment is important to me.