Democrat Aundré Bumgardner is running against Republican Robert Boris for the seat of State Representative for the 41st District, which includes Groton and Stonington. Democrat Joe de la Cruz, the incumbent since 2017, chose not to run for reelection.
In 2014, running as a Republican, Bumgardner was elected at age 20 to represent the 41st district. He was the youngest state representative in Connecticut history. In 2016, he was defeated by de la Cruz. Bumgardner left the Republican party in 2018, citing the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, and joined the Democratic party.
Since 2018, he has served on the Groton Town Council and the Groton City Planning and Zoning Commission. In the 2021 race for Groton City Mayor, Bumgardner defeated incumbent Keith Hedrick in the primary but lost the election to Hedrick, who became a write-in candidate on the ballot.
A lifelong resident of the district, Bumgardner told CT Examiner that his five years of local governing experience combined with his previous legislative role made him a strong candidate to represent the district. He emphasized the importance of creating policies to support environmental resilience, passing a public health care option and expanding transportation options, including a train station in Groton. He also noted his leadership on the Groton Town Council in opposing data centers.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTex: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
BUMGARDNER: Throughout my campaign, I’ve focused on what I could call the five E’s: economic recovery, environmental quality, energy affordability, educational excellence and ethics reform.
I intend to hit the ground running on day one and work on issues relating to environmental quality. Groton and Stonington will face a 20-inch sea level rise by 2050 and that will require our state to roll up our sleeves and offer solutions to tackle climate change. I’d also like to focus on ensuring that we have a very robust plan for renewable energy, with a state goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030.
We can do that by embracing publicly-owned, renewable power.
Groton Utilities, for example, is a publicly-owned utility that offers electric, water and sewer to residents. It’s a model that could be adopted throughout our state. Here in Groton, we’re very lucky to have much lower electric bills compared to Stonington.
I’ve talked to many residents who would like the option to be part of a public utility. I think at a bare minimum, we should provide those ratepayers the opportunity to join or establish electric municipal utilities.
It will also ensure that our state is serious about decarbonizing our energy and that ratepayers will not be fleeced by the stockholders of their utility companies, like Eversource and UI — and that dollars are staying in our local economy and the pockets of our ratepayers.
I’d like to serve on the Finance Committee, Environment Committee, and the Energy Committee — those have cognisance over state environmental policy, and are well positioned to not only reflect the the needs of the district, but also ensure that we’re bringing dollars home to fund critical resiliency projects, improving our schools, parks and recreation programming, open space acquisition — all issues of great importance to the district as a whole.
CTex: Where do you see yourself in today’s Democratic party?
BUMGARDNER: I think the Democratic Party right now is at a crossroads.
Since the election of Donald Trump you’ve seen a cross section of Democrats getting elected to various offices at the local, state and national level — all offering different points of view. It’s my belief that as a party we are better as a ‘big tent’ representing multiple perspectives in large part because of the coalition of progressives and former Republicans who believe silence is complicity with respect to former President Trump and joined the Democratic Party — many of those folks are moderate.
We have union Democrats, we have labor Democrats, we have Democrats of all stripes. It’s my belief that we are stronger as a party when we have all of these unique perspectives.
I consider myself a pragmatic progressive — somebody who is always willing to roll up my sleeves and work within my party and work across party lines to get things done for the people I serve.
CTex: What sets you apart from your opponent?
BUMGARDNER: I grew up here. I’ve been in elected office in Groton for over eight years now. I have a plethora of relationships in Stonington as well, our newest section of the district. I have the support of former legislators of Stonington — Andy Maynard and Diana Urban — whom I had the privilege of serving with in the state legislature.
I am a pragmatic Democrat, I have values that reflect the Democratic party, and I have relationships in Hartford that will enable our district to reap the benefits of having a Democratic state Representative.
I am supporting Ned Lamont and Dick Blumenthal — they are fighting for key issues that are critically important to our community, namely protecting reproductive rights here in Connecticut.
I am proud that throughout my time in politics I have been endorsed by organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Even as a former Republican, I’ve been consistent on that issue and this election will be a referendum on that.
It is abundantly clear that the Republican Party has abandoned those issues. It’s important that we have fighters not just for women’s rights and reproductive rights, but also LGBTQ+ rights — also, ensuring that we protect our gun safety measures here in Connecticut and that we tackle on the state level our student debt crisis.
Lastly, I can’t state this enough, [I bring] my combined 10 years of experience on Planning and Zoning and Town Council, in addition to being the State Representative. I’m 28 years old and I’ve amassed critical experience despite being a young guy.
CTex: What should the state’s role be in providing affordability for Connecticut residents? Is there a state level response on inflation for CT residents?
BUMGARDNER: In the Town Council, we focus on our economic recovery, assessing the needs of our residents and small business community. It’s critical we have an advocate for not just our restaurant community but also our aquaculture community.
Last year I worked at Fishers Island Oyster Farm and learned how important our fisheries are to Connecticut — they contribute so much to our local economy and face a greater regulatory burden — and they have some of the most sustainable practices compared to many of their competitors. We need to be partners with these industries, ensure that employees are able to retire out of them and that a new generation is willing to take this up because we need these folks for our future. We cannot truly have an economic recovery if we leave behind some of our hardest working men and women.
My role will be protecting and growing our industry here in Groton, which is also home to Electric Boat and Pfizer. With respect to Electric Boat, I will continue to support apprenticeship programs.
I have no problem picking up the phone and calling our federal delegation to tackle issues concerning our community as I’ve done with HUD for the residents of Branford Manor..
CTex: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
BUMGARDNER: The state can play a very critical role in housing.
Right now as a concerned citizen and a town councilor, I’m working hand in hand with Branford Manor residents, the bulk of whom are Black or Latino, to address the deplorable conditions within their apartment complex.
More than two dozen residents of Branford Manor came to our town council to urge us to do something and to take a look at our tax stabilization agreement with Branford Manor. As a result, we have done inspections and held Related Affordable’s feet to the fire and we’ve been able to provide some relief to families but there’s still so much work to be done.
That is an area where the legislature can pass legislation that creates greater protections for tenants. But most importantly, I support tenants’ union rights and helped establish a tenants’ union. That is an area where I will be a fighter on ensuring that we have safe affordable housing policies.
On the town council I’ve also worked to ensure that we are not proposing housing in areas that cannot accommodate large scale development — whether it’s Mystic Oral school where residents resoundingly rejected the proposal from the town and whether it’s also short term rentals.
So many folks in the community have risen up to air their concerns about the proliferation of short term rentals, the financial pressures they’re putting on our neighborhoods, making them less affordable for folks who work in our restaurants in Mystic.
These are issues that do affect affordability. We want housing policies that enable our working families to stay in Groton, Mystic and Stonington and also ensure that the state of Connecticut is not supporting large scale developments — like what’s proposed with a Mystic Oral School and Smilers Wharf on the Stonington side of Mystic — where residents within that immediate neighborhood resoundingly rejected those proposals.
We need to protect the character of our communities and not develop properties in a way that will take away or reduce our open spaces. Land acquisition organizations and trusts have worked in Groton and Stonington for decades making sure that we’re protecting our tree canopy and our forest for generations to come — because once you remove the spaces from our communities, you cannot ever get them back.
CTex: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline – why or why not, what would you do differently?
BUMGARDNER: In the last few months, especially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, energy costs and gasoline prices skyrocketed in Connecticut and across the nation.
These were inflationary increases, seen not just within the United States, but also in Europe. Obviously the geopolitics at this moment in time in our history are highly volatile and so you can never prepare for a shift like what we saw with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is indisputable and undeniable that inflation has created financial strain on so many families.
Here in the state of Connecticut, we did eliminate the motor vehicles gasoline tax and that provided significant relief to families. It’s important that we continue to have policies that reduce costs on our working families.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective – are there modifications that need to be made?
BUMGARDNER: Yes, it’s effective. When I was in the state legislature I was proud to support funding that helped our municipal police forces move into the direction of adopting body-worn cameras. I was very pleased and proud that our Town of Groton was one of the first municipal police forces to embrace a policy that required all of their police officers to wear body-worn cameras.
At first the police department was reticent to do so, but after the department was outfitted with cameras they realized it was not just a tool for accountability and ensuring that they are being held to a high standard, but also ensured that they were being protected, and that they were doing good police work as so many of our officers do in our community.
Several years later in 2020, the legislature passed very robust police accountability measures, all of which I supported. As long as you are a police officer that works to protect and serve our communities, then you have nothing to worry about. With respect to qualified immunity in particular, there has been no incident where it’s been utilized because we have not had any issues of bad faith or bad actors within our police force.
The police accountability bill was a policy that our residents overwhelmingly support. We should not forget that just two years ago, residents overwhelmingly took to the streets. In my lifetime. I’ve never seen our community in Groton come out in such a strong force on important issues, to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community are treated equally within our community.
I will continue to work to support reimagining our justice system and our policing system to ensure that all of our communities are protected, and that our police departments have the resources to protect our communities.
Last year in Groton I supported — with the support of our police — establishing a social worker within the police department that responds to incidents and provides relief and training to our officers. I’ve heard nothing but positive stories of social workers who’ve had success in working with our community and our police force, — and so if we continue to adopt reforms like that, our communities will be safer and our police officers will be able to continue to do the work of a police officer.
CTEx: What are your goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
BUMGARDNER: As the son of a longtime bilingual elementary school teacher and school administrator, I understand the importance of providing excellent schools to our families here in Groton and Stonington. I served on the Education Committee in the state legislature and will work to support funding for new schools in Groton, the 2020 plan.
As the brother of a child with special needs who has autism, who went to school in Groton, our family has been the beneficiary of such strong support from our school district to provide for his unique needs. I understand the unique challenges families in the school district face, especially during and after the pandemic, to provide robust educational experiences to our children.
I want to take a look at increasing our special education funding to ensure that our special education students and their families will get the resources they need to be successful. That includes meals —breakfast and lunch — and support staff and enrichment programming.
Groton and Stonington are in unique positions. Groton is a military community and a significant chunk of our students are military dependents — as a result, our ECS formula does not account for those students. In the case of Stonington, every two years in the budget cycle there have been arguments that the town has gotten too much ECS funding and I couldn’t disagree more.
We need to ensure that Stonington and Groton are getting the education dollars they need and we protect their ECS funding. I will be at the frontlines, ensuring that funding is not only maintained but expanded in my time in the legislature.
I’ll also work to protect our teachers’ financial security and financial wellness. I’ll want to take a look at providing student loan debt cancellation for our teachers, especially those who are working in Alliance Districts.
CTEx: What are your priorities for improving healthcare for Connecticut residents?
BUMGARDNER: Year after year, the state legislature has failed to pass a public option and I will lead the charge to ensure that we have a public option. I believe it calls for the Federal government – we need to nationalize our healthcare system and offer Medicare for all.
But at a bare minimum at the state level, we need to embrace the public option that was pushed by the Insurance Committee chaired by Representative Scanlon, who is now our Democratic nominee for comptroller. I want to work in partnership with his office to lead a campaign for a public option here in Connecticut so that our seniors can save more on their prescription drugs, to ensure that our youth are getting robust dental care and that our families will not suffer as a result of pre-existing conditions.
A public option can reduce the costs, not just for families, but also pressure other private insurers to reduce costs as well. That will be a priority of mine — the facts and the numbers demonstrate that the public option will reduce costs for families here in Connecticut.
CTex: Is the marijuana bill adequate as it’s written? Does it address social equity concerns and are there things that need to change in the regulatory framework?
BUMGARDNER: I would have supported the cannabis legalization measure passed two years a year ago at the state legislature and signed by Governor Lamont.
I was pleased to see the state prioritize social equity applicants to receive licenses to participate in a legalized, safe and regulated cannabis cultivation and distribution system in our state. However, our state can do far more to support and permit more social equity participation in our newly legalized industry.
It is indisputable that Black and Latino families and individuals in Connecticut have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
The City of Groton actually qualifies for social equity because residents within my census tract have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. We need to make sure that not only are their records expunged for cannabis distribution, but also ensure that they have a seat at the table in creating and establishing our industry that will make millions of dollars for the years to come and provide critical revenue streams for our state of Connecticut.
Editor’s note: During his interview with CT Examiner, Bumgardner noted his leadership on the Groton Town Council in opposing data centers, which was left out of an earlier version of this story.