Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, a Democrat, is vying for 123rd state Representative District seat for the third time after losing to Trumbull incumbent David Rutigliano, a Republican, in 2018 and 2020 by a slim margin.
Gadkar-Wilcox is an associate professor of legal studies at Quinnipiac University. She serves as a faculty fellow with the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights and is a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar. She received a James Marshall Award for Service to the Quinnipiac community in 2017.
Gadkar-Wilcox spoke with the CT Examiner about her desire to bridge the gap between political divisions and focus on state-wide educational improvements. Her work with local police drives her to improve community relations with law enforcement and advocate for the protection of due right processes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
GADKAR-WILCOX: The things that I’d like to see done are making sure, for our district, that we’re getting the state funding that we need to support education. In particular, I’d like to see a strong public education program and I’d like to see more educators in Hartford. I’d like to see universities connecting with local industries, particularly critical industries, so there’s a pipeline for the students to stay in the state. What I found is, after graduation, the students are often off to Massachusetts and New York, and we need to invest in our future and incentivize them to stay in our state. So, thinking about the revenue side of maintaining or building a robust revenue. I’d like to see those things being done at the state level.
Making sure that we have fair districts is really important to me. Connecticut has the Citizens’ Election Program, so we have public financing that most candidates use. That makes a huge difference in elections – that means elections are about the issues. I want to make sure that funding for things like the Citizens’ Election Program remain intact and that we have fair districts, because those are the most important ways to ensure that people feel like they’re part of the process and will actually engage in the process.
I’d also like to see more funding and support for things like property tax relief. We need to have funding coming back to the town so that they can provide relief for those, particularly seniors, who may be struggling. It would be most helpful for that money to go directly to the towns so that they can allocate it based generally on what that percentage increase has been. To use some of that state funding, particularly the surplus, to provide that kind of tax relief is really important.
CTEx: What brought you to politics?
GADKAR–WILCOX: I’m a faculty member at Quinnipiac University, and I teach constitutional law. Teaching this sort of representation of what politics should be is what led me to get engaged in politics to begin. We have great discussions and debates in the classroom and we think about the nuances and complexities of constitutional law. At the policy level, we should be having better debates, and what I like about Trumbull, a purple district overall, is that people are really open minded and they’re able to engage in conversation. And so for me, the polarization has been maybe the biggest driver of wanting to get involved in politics because I know that we can have conversations.
People don’t expect you to agree with them 100% of the time. They’re willing to think about the complexity of issues and they’re willing to think about what basic needs the state really should be providing. So, the focus has always been on a grassroots campaign that really engages people in the process, because the democratic process is just as important to me as the election. That’s why I got involved: to address that kind of polarization that we see.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in the Democratic Party?
GADKAR–WILCOX: The Connecticut Democratic Party is a wide umbrella and I try to be a bridge. I work between different groups to connect them. This is what’s good about running in a purple district where most people are unaffiliated. It’s important to talk to people about what issues resonate, and that oftentimes goes beyond parties. To me, it’s about having those conversations and kind of bridging that gap. There’s a lot of internal division, maybe within the parties themselves, and then certainly a lot of polarization. But I think there’s so much more common ground that we can start on and then build from there.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline?
GADKAR–WILCOX: One thing that I think Connecticut is a leader in is the Green Bank. I like the idea of a public and private partnership with a Green Bank because there’s a need for investing in green technology at the state level. That partnership will become even more robust going forward, and I think that’ll help that balance.
In fact, I would invest more in green technology to ensure that we’re reducing our emissions overall. I like the partnership, but I would certainly invest more in it because making green technology an affordable option for people will help us improve.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
GADKAR–WILCOX: I’d like to see more support for public schools, and particularly public school programming. I’d also like to see districts getting their fair share of funding under the ECS formula which, for a variety of reasons, our district has not gotten. I’d like to see that strengthened. I’d like to see the ECS formula improve to account for, particularly after the pandemic, the number of variables that have really impacted education. But primarily, that money has to go to programming, I’d like to make sure that there’s money coming directly to support public programming in schools.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective? Are there modifications that need to be made?
GADKAR-WILCOX: Yes. I’ve spoken to a number of police officers about police accountability and there are a number of things that I think are good. I’m actually working with the Stratford Police Engagement Program. We’re thinking about putting a certificate program together that helps students understand 21st century policing. This is a group of officers that reaches out to the community to increase that dialogue. That’s always been important to me because, before I came to Quinnipiac, I was the director of a juvenile law program. Part of that work was connecting young pupils with police officers to improve that relationship.
There’s a lot of tension around the police accountability bill, and I’d love to see the relationship between police officers and the communities strengthened with more engagement. I’ve worked with our police department to think about how there can be more effective engagement with police officers in the community. I think that that helps build those relationships.
The one concern I do have is any restriction on due process rights. I would be wary of that because, as a constitutional person, I don’t think you can legislate around due process protections. Those have to be paramount. But, again, I think bringing everyone to the table to have a conversation about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to necessary reforms is the way forward.
CTEx: How do you think Trumbull is doing in regard to affordable housing? Is there enough state funding for it?
GADKAR-WILCOX: I know we do a good job at the town level. Our First Selectman’s platform is smart, balanced development. So there are some new housing opportunities through private developers in connection with the mall, for example. But I think the town is okay with the kind of balance that we have now. We have an excellent director of economic development and she’s doing an excellent job in balancing both the residential and commercial sides of development in Trumbull. They’re also building revenue by incentivizing more small local businesses to come in and then balancing that out with affordable housing options.
CTEx: Let’s discuss state marijuana legislation. Is the bill as it’s written adequate?
GADKAR-WILCOX: In general, I think the legislation is in line with what’s happening in neighboring states, which makes sense to me in terms of access. Particularly after the pandemic, we just need to be careful ensuring that we’re supporting programs that are putting money into addiction and mental health programs and that the policies we put in place are not leading to or furthering any kind of addiction. It’s important that the policy as it stands right now is keeping in line with what’s happening in other states.