Democratic state Rep. Philip Young, now serving his second term in the 120th district seat, is running for reelection against Republican Laura Dancho, a town councilor in Stratford.
Young is the Assistant Majority Whip in the House and serves on the Judiciary, Public Health and Environment Committees. He previously served as the Majority Leader on the Stratford Town Council where he said he advocated for fiscal responsibility. He is the executive chef at Bridge House in Devon.
Young spoke to the CT Examiner about his goal of maintaining a strong state government, the benefit of having experience in the House and his desire to transition to sustainable energy.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: The legislature recently approved up to $75 million in tax breaks for Sikorsky if they win two contracts with the U.S. Army. Why did you vote in favor of the bill? What could this mean for District 120?
YOUNG: I was a sponsor of the bill. It’s something I’m very much in favor of. Sikorsky has been a leader of Stratford in terms of contributing to the town and the state of Connecticut. So, keeping Sikorsky here, as an anchor of Stratford’s economy is important. It has roughly 6,000 jobs that it supports right now, and with this new contract, it’s going to provide up to 8,000 jobs. It also employs other people from other industries that all support Sikorsky. It will keep Stratford in the driver’s seat for years to come.
We know Sikorsky is going to be around here long after I’m gone. I think it is important for our legacy and for people down the road, because those are skilled, well-paying jobs. It’s extremely important to keep them here.
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?
YOUNG: There’s only so much that the state can really do. We dropped the gas tax for the time being. We made sure that the bus system is free for people. We’re giving various tax breaks this year to businesses as well as individuals. For seniors, we try to make life easier for them, because they don’t have to pay for the taxes on annuity or Social Security income. Those things are all helping people. And it goes back to this whole reason I’m running for office — I want to try to help people in the state.
In terms of inflation, we do the best we can. There is not that much that we can do for something that’s been caused by the pandemic, or shortages in supply because of what’s going on in Ukraine, and all those kinds of things. We try to do what we can and try to help out as much as we can to get through this. It’s going to be a tough time, but we will get through this.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the cost of electricity and gasoline?
YOUNG: I think that we actually did a good job last year with the new Clean Air Act. But we probably should do more. Our whole economy is going to change in terms of our energy needs, and we’re going to go through a tough time with transitioning from carbon-based to sustainable. It will take time and there’s going to be a lot of growing pains. I think we have to do the best we can and continue promoting these things such as converting buses to electric buses. Once that technology gets there, we can bridge that gap and it will get better.
We’re trying to invest as much money as we can while still trying to make sure that people can still live day-to-day with what we have right now. It’s going to take a lot of work and visionary ideas over the next 15 years to really get us to where we need to be. But we can’t go backwards, only forwards.
CTEx: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
YOUNG: My key goals, as I’ve gotten to know the legislature a little bit more, are focused on having one good government and trying to make sure we help the most people we can within the state. I think that’s the legislature’s role.
I’m on three different committees: Judiciary, Public Health and Environment. So, that’s where my main focus goes — towards those issues for those committees because that’s all I can spend my time doing. A couple of things that we’ll be doing this year are environmental things like extended responsibility packaging. Producers of packaging will be looking at what happens to those products after they become garbage and we try to keep them out of the waste stream.
Another particular thing that I’m going to work on a lot this year is aid in dying. It’s kind of a controversial subject, but it makes people’s end of lives easier for them. So, that’s something I think is gonna come up this year and take up a lot of time.
CTEx: Describe your background. What are your qualifications? What brought you to politics?
YOUNG: I don’t want to date myself, but back in the 80s — when I was fresh out of college — I served as a director for both the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Connecticut Public Interest Research Group. We worked on different environmental issues, such as the first bottle bill, and several things of that sort that were pretty groundbreaking back at the time.
After college, I took a liking to cooking and I became a professional chef. I worked in restaurants for roughly 26 years, rising to executive chef. So I understand budgets, I understand how to get things done on time, and I also like to have a little spice of life and have some fun. It’s a matter of trying to blend business with pleasure, and making sure you’re putting out a good product.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
YOUNG: That’s a tough one because this is not my area of expertise. So, I only peripherally know some of the things that are going on with it. But from what I can see and the research I’ve done, it’s tough because the state wants to try to make housing more affordable for people within the state so they can afford to live here. But then it comes down to town control. And the state coming in and telling towns what to do is not really what we want or what I think we should be doing.
But what I would like to see is the state and the towns get together and figure out a plan that makes housing more equitable to everybody. I am trying to be middle of the road, which means trying to help out both sides and figure out where we can both come up with a solution. But it’s an extremely difficult question and I don’t have the answer to it.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective? Are modifications that need to be made?
YOUNG: There might be modifications to make, and at the last session, we did make some adjustments to it. But the police accountability bill is there for a reason. I think our police department here in Stratford is a well-run organization and the chief has a great squad. But in other places, it’s not. The bottom line with the police accountability bill is, if you’re doing nothing wrong, then why shouldn’t you be held accountable? I don’t really understand why people think that it’s not a good thing to be held accountable for your job. That’s what the bill does.
We’ve given police additional resources for cameras, mental health issues and things like that. They have the tools to use to add training and to be more effective. We’re hoping that they will do that and take advantage of it. I think it’s a good law, but there are always adjustments that can be made to make it better.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
YOUNG: That’s tough considering the diverse income levels in towns. Coming from Fairfield County, different parts of the state don’t have the income that we have.
What I would like to see is making sure that we give towns the money that they need to put out the best product. I want the children to have the opportunity to flourish in Connecticut so that they want to stay here. It’s a complicated issue, because each town is different and they have different needs.
My mother was a teacher for 30 years, so I feel what some of the teachers have been going through over the last two years, especially. We need to work with our teachers as much as we possibly can and support our school boards by giving them the funding that they need to be able to get the job done well. But it’s a complicated issue, because that’s a very expensive proposition.
We need to make sure our students excel, and I think we’re doing a good job. Connecticut was recently rated the second best school system in the country, and our community colleges were rated the best community college system in the country. So, those are two things that show that we’re not doing bad, but there’s always room for improvement.
CTEx: What are key priorities for improving health care for Connecticut residents?
YOUNG: Number one: we have to make sure that the prescription drug costs go down for things like insulin. The federal government has done it to an extent, but that doesn’t go into effect for another couple of years.
I would like to see a single-payer system because then we can actually negotiate prices with insurance companies. Expanded health care access is also extremely important to folks in the state.
I want to see where we can save some money. For example, we have MyChart where you can do everything on the computer now. That was made to save money and make things easier. So, why aren’t we seeing some money being saved on that? We’re not seeing that. I want to look at those kinds of things that are quantifiable and see what we can do about making healthcare more affordable and accessible for people. It is extremely important that we are able to reduce the costs for diabetes and other chronic problems within our society.
CTEx: Let’s discuss state marijuana legislation. Is the bill as it’s written adequate?
YOUNG: I think there are things that could be improved. That bill was based on medical marijuana laws that were passed a few years before I got into the legislature. It took over 10 years to make those laws. They’re the best in the country, and people who are trying to enact medical marijuana laws into their states and refer to them. They have to be the basis of where we go moving forward.
It’s a controversial issue. I would like to see social equity aspects of the legislation work done better. I’m not a big proponent of it, but I also think that its time has come. We just need to be flexible in how we can make it better. We can put these things out, but then you also have to be responsible for them. It’s not my area of expertise, but I think it can be improved. I look forward to working on those issues and pushing that forward.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Democratic party?
YOUNG: I see myself as moderate. I’m not the radical left — I’ve never really voted for things that are too divisive. I want to try to be a person who bridges gaps and to talk to both Republicans and Democrats trying to work together to get things done.
I’ve always been part of the Democratic Party because the tenets of the party, especially now that I’m a little bit older, appeal to me more than the Republican Party. I think that we want to help all people, not just some people. Sometimes the Republican side with certain people, and not all people. It’s all about where you think you can help the most.
CTEx: What sets you apart from your opponent?
YOUNG: Experience. She is a town councilman at this point, and I was a councilman at one point. I’ve had two elections and two and a half terms now in office. It gives me a perspective and an experience that a new person doesn’t. Nobody tells you how to do this job when you get up there. You have to kind of figure it out, and it takes some time. Now I know the levers to pull to get information and how to get things done. And being a Democrat in a Democratically-controlled state really helps the town of Stratford. So, I think that experience is a big part of what sets us apart.
CTEx: What would you like to tell the voters in District 120?
YOUNG: I want to thank the voters of the 120th for electing me three times. I’ve done a good job and the state is now prospering. The “doom and gloom” narrative that the people on the other side of the aisle are putting out is not quite correct. You know, when you pay down pension debts by 12 percent in one fiscal fiscal year, you’re doing something right. I think we’re on the right track, and I would like to follow up on the work we have done and do more to help.