Democratic State Rep. Kerry Wood is running for re-election in the 29th district where she has represented Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield since 2019. Her challenger is Pankaj Prakash, a Republican.
Wood is a commercial real estate agent with New England Retail Properties. She calls herself a “huge environmentalist” and said she loves spending time outdoors with her dogs. She founded one of the first organic farms in Connecticut. She is a native of Rocky Hill and has lived in Connecticut for most of her life. Her initiation into politics, she said, came from her grandfather.
“He got me involved in politics when I just learned how to walk and we were knocking doors and dropping flyers off and all that good stuff,” she told CT Examiner.
Since her election in 2018, she has served on the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and Commerce Committee.
Wood talked about her vision of Connecticut as a “cool” place for young people to settle, her work with business and industry groups to make the state a more attractive place for companies, and her desire to see greater investments in the cities. She said that she wants the state to increase its support of electric vehicles and investments in a variety of renewable energy sources, and to address the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What issues are the most important for you in the coming election?
WOOD: I ran for office in 2018 because, as a Connecticut native and someone that works with the business community for a living, I really wanted to make more of an emphasis on our economy. I really hated reading all the time that Connecticut was the 48th worst economy in the U.S. I love living here and I feel like Connecticut is full of opportunities for young people.
The weather’s great. I feel like the schools, obviously, are the best. We make public safety a priority. This is a great place to live. The quality of life is good. We should have a healthier business climate. So, the past four years, I’ve really worked hard on the commerce committee and on the finance committee to make the climate more business-friendly.
I think that having more of an impactful line of communication with our business and industry in Connecticut has really helped us move the needle. And that is really important to me going forward. So, making this a great place to do business, making Connecticut a place that’s open for business and having young people after college look at Connecticut as a place to settle so we can make the business climate as healthy as possible.
How do we make Connecticut more friendly and a more desirable place for young people to live? Some of the things I’m really excited about are the Connecticut Investment 2030 Fund which is $1.5 billion invested in our cities over the next eight years. I really want us to have that “cool” factor that we kind of lose out to places like Austin and San Francisco and Nashville. I really want to see our cities be more vibrant, have more entertainment options, have more housing options. And I think that will create a more holistic Connecticut, where we have a healthy business climate, a great place for people to live.
I think what rounds that up is our transportation infrastructure, which we’ve started to talk about more. We’ve started to invest more in our rail lines. Young people do look for more of that mass transportation, which I would also say plays into our electric vehicle infrastructure.
As gas prices do rise, electric vehicles do take off. I’m seeing more people buy electric vehicles. We need to have that infrastructure in place for us to allow people to have that option.
CTEx: Does the state have a role to play in making Connecticut more affordable and addressing inflation?
WOOD: Well, we did a lot. This session was all about some of the biggest tax cuts that we’ve seen in Connecticut. What’s really sad to me is that we’ve given all these great tax cuts and now the inflation argument is kind of taking the air out of that balloon.
We’ve saved seniors thousands of dollars on their pension, annuity and social security income. How is that going to even play into our argument of affordability if they’re paying $5 a gallon for gas? I think looking at the gas tax and taking that off through the end of the year was obviously helpful.
Gas is cheaper in Connecticut than it is in Massachusetts and other places right now. But really what is the long term strategy? Connecticut’s a small state, so I’m open to looking at additional tax cuts and all that sort of thing, but this is really a global issue.
I’m thinking that this bubble has to burst first. It can’t continue like this. One of the reasons why we’re in an inflationary period is we’ve stimulated the economy so much. We’ve given all of this money to people. Everyone is at home, investing in their homes. Just look at your neighbors. Everyone’s doing a new roof, a new deck, a pool, redoing their bathrooms. All of this plays into the inflation.
I’m open to playing any sort of role that we can as a state government, but I think really focusing on a healthy economy rather than a knee-jerk solution right now is the best way forward. And I’m pretty confident in the budget that we put into place last year, and then with a few implementations that we did this year, that we are on the right path. We’re in a lot better shape than some of the other states.
I just want to make sure that it’s not something that is going to come back to bite us in the end. I know there’s a lot of proposals out there of cutting taxes even more — which, of course, is great and I’m open to, but every time we cut something, we have to make that up on the appropriation side. So we did, as a state, want to spend a lot more money on mental health. We spent a lot more money on group homes, vulnerable people and stuff. Do we start cutting that in order to pay for the tax decreases? I just think we need to be thoughtful about it if we do go down that road.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing affordable housing for people?
WOOD: I think that this should be a local control issue. I really have not felt happy with mandating to towns where affordable housing should be. But I am a huge proponent of affordable housing. In fact, in Rocky Hill, in Wethersfield, the districts I represent, we have something called senior housing. In Rocky Hill it’s senior and disabled housing, and it is affordable units that are based on your income. So people are not paying more than $600 a month. And there’s a waiting list that is three to five years long to get into these places. So I think we need to be building more of that subsidized affordable housing because it’s affecting our seniors and our most vulnerable.
We do affordable housing tax credits. We do affordable housing districts. I think that there is a ton of housing being built right now.
I love the role that the Capital Region Development Authority plays. We fund that through the state. Developers that are working in that area can partner with [the authority] to get grant money, to help get even older office buildings and things like that converted into housing.
So I think the state plays a huge role in either tax incentives or grants and bonding. The Community Investment Fund 2030 is $1.5 billion. So that money is going to be going to those affordable housing units.
I really want to see our cities be vibrant again. Hartford — we need to promote more home ownership. I know that Travelers and The Hartford, both of those companies are taking areas in Hartford and helping people get low-interest loans so they can purchase homes. So I think if we can help facilitate more home ownership in some of the cities, people have more of a sense of neighborhood, a sense of pride in the place where they live. I think the state can play a really big role there in also working with the cities and their local development authorities to get those projects underway.
CTEx: What’s the next step to make sure that healthcare is affordable and accessible for Connecticut’s residents?
WOOD: The good news is that for the past couple of years, the federal government has subsidized people’s Affordable Care Plan. Access Health CT is our Affordable Care Act plan, and people have shared really positive stories about their healthcare costs going down anywhere from $500 a month to $5,000 a month. I mean, that’s huge money for people and their families. I am hopeful that the federal government will continue — I know that is something that’s being discussed, continuing to subsidize those plans.
Our committee has made an effort the past year to really look at the costs that go into healthcare. We’re always being told, “Hey, can you look at health insurance costs?” And we’re like, “We’d love to, but you know, the costs of care are the direct correlation to the cost of your health insurance.” So what are going into these costs? We’ve done a lot of really good work on the Certificate of Need issue in Connecticut. We have looked at the risks of consolidation of bigger hospitals buying up smaller practices and all that sort of thing and just lifting the veil on what goes into the cost of healthcare.
I’m hopeful that we can do something on prescription drugs, which is about 15% of the cost of everyone’s healthcare. We had a bill that unfortunately did not pass. It passed the House and it had us looking at importation of prescription drugs from Canada. I think there are other things that we can do on the prescription drug side to really help everyone in Connecticut. We’ve done something this year, which is a Health Enhancement Plan and it requires your health insurance company to offer you incentives for going and getting preventive care measures and going to the doctor. The state of Connecticut currently does that for their employees. But now, if you’re on the Affordable Care Act plans, you’re also going to be enrolled in this.
We passed a bill codifying Executive Order 5, which is the benchmark bill. And this really looks at our entire healthcare system and where we’re spending money. And it gives us more of an overview of where we should be spending more and where we could be spending less —- like that early detection, those preventative care. If we’re not spending enough in that space, then we need to look at that and make sure we’re spending more there. We don’t want to be having most of our spending coming from hospital costs and end-of-life care. We want to make sure that we have a healthy population across the state.
I’m really excited about how that benchmarking bill is going to shed light and transparency on our cost and then set a roadmap for us going forward.
The association health plans was another bill that we were all pushing in the House this year. And hopefully we can try for that again. It allows industries like the retail merchants, or the restaurant groups or the distilleries — people that are in an association or the Connecticut Business and Industry Association or Chamber of Commerce to pool their network together and buy health insurance.
CTEx: Are there things in education that you think should be changed or need to be priorities coming forward?
WOOD: Oh my gosh. So much room for improvement in education. One of the things I’ve been hearing a lot of is that kids need to have financial literacy as part of their learning — things like writing a check and opening a credit card and savings and interest and all those sorts of things.
I think we need to have more of a work requirement within the community. Some sort of volunteerism, like a Teach for America, I’ve always promoted like a mandatory service year after high school. It’s more of a federal thing because we can’t just do that for Connecticut. But I really like kids to have more interaction with their fellow students in other towns and cities and things like that. So I think more of sharing that experience as a student in Connecticut will be great.
I’m happy that we made the investment in the mental health services. I’d like to see that going to the right place. COVID was really hard on a lot of kids and teachers, so I’d like to see how the programs and learning that we put into place is working, because if we need to make changes to that, I’m definitely open to making changes to that.
I have been very active in getting grants for our STEM programs within our district. I’d like to make that more of a focus too.
CTEx: How do you think the state is doing in balancing out our climate goals with the cost of gasoline right now and what can we do better?
One of the things that’s been a disappointment to me in the state in my time as a legislator is how little we’re doing with the environment. This year we passed probably the most comprehensive environmental bills that I’ve seen in four years.
I believe that a clean environment is good business. I believe it creates jobs. We passed one of the largest wind installations in the country, which will be off the coast of New London. So we need to diversify. We make very little energy here in Connecticut. So if we diversify and have wind, we can have solar, we can have natural gas. We can have our nuclear power plant. We just need to diversify how we generate all of our energy in order to reduce costs. But we’re also expanding our job market — we’re creating new opportunities for companies to expand and grow.
I really hope that what the high gas prices do is allow us to have more discussion about where we want to be as a country. Do we want to be so reliant? I’m a huge proponent of electric vehicles. I know in our environmental bills, we pass things like moving towards electric buses as a state — let’s be a leader and have an electric fleet, and putting that electric infrastructure in place is really going to help us expand.
The cost for electric vehicles may be high right now, but as it grows, as the competition is there and more people buy, the cost will actually come down. I’m not saying we phase out gas-powered cars, but I think we have more of a balance and more of a diversity. I think there will even be other iterations of how we power our cars. I mean, right now we’re talking electric, but there’s been hydrogen as a discussion.
We also need to look at our reliance on oil in our homes. How can we help homeowners move towards more solar, more geothermal and just other options for heating and cooling their homes. That’s a role that the state can play. We can incentivize those types of transitions. Even with our electrical generation here in the state, we are reliant on Eversource and UI, and I’d like to see us focus on ways of reducing those costs.
We passed a really big deal this past year — it allowed the captive insurance markets to domicile in Connecticut. And we are now seeing tremendous growth with the captive insurance companies, expanding and creating new companies here. So that is a space that I’m really excited to watch and be a part of.
CTEx: The Police Accountability Bill — how do you think it’s working and are there pieces of it that you think need to be modified at this point?
WOOD: I look at the police accountability bill as a bill to professionalize policing. There were about four sections that I did not agree with. We have done changes to two of those sections.
There’s two [remaining] sections — one is the qualified immunity piece, which I have been told is never going to be changed, and that I think has caused police officers to interpret the law incorrectly. I hear things like, “Well, I’m going to be personally sued if I pull this person over or I’m going to be personally sued, lose my house if I do my job.”
And that is not what the bill says. It’s really unfortunate that misconception is there. Really, it is that if you do something egregious, you could be at risk of being personally sued if your town or municipality chooses not to cover you. So it’s much more complicated.
The other section is the consent searches. I happen to have a brother who is a police officer and who has shared with me how many guns and drugs he has pulled off of streets on consent searches, which they are not allowed to do. So I have been extremely opposed to that section of the bill. I believe that asking someone to look in their car is a perfectly fine thing to ask someone, especially if you think something is in their car.
Overall, I want to see our policemen and -women have the best training possible, have the best services, have the resources. I’m very supportive of our police officers and want to just make sure they’re at the table and making any changes or improvements to the bill.
CTEx: Concerning marijuana legalization — was that bill written correctly? Are there problems with it that you think need to be addressed?
WOOD: I think we’re going to see how it goes over the next six to eight months. I’ve been in Massachusetts, I’ve seen their retail stores there. We’re in a place in society where people are using marijuana for better sleep, to deal with stress and all this sort of thing. I want to be supportive with that, but I also want to make sure that we’re rolling out retail as safely as possible.
I like the social equity component, which is making sure that not just super wealthy, big companies are able to come in and start these businesses, but anyone. Again, I’d like to see that in action and get feedback from it to make sure it’s working how it’s supposed to.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Democratic party?
WOOD: When I first got to the legislature in 2019, I felt like there weren’t many Democrats that thought the way I did. And I started to build a coalition of Democrats, and we have formed a group called the Connecticut Blue Dogs. We’re the moderate Democrats. We work across the aisle. We believe in fiscal responsibility. We were champions in not only this tax cut that we had this year, but also, we are constantly screaming from the rooftop on paying down our debt and our pension, and we have played an instrumental role in making that a priority.
We have aligned ourselves with the governor very often. You can know who we are, because a lot of the time we’re voting against our party on the floor. We bridge party lines in order to build a coalition to say, we have the numbers, so we all have to work together on it. That’s where I am in the Democratic party — a fiscally conservative Democrat.