Democrat Timothy Gavin is running against incumbent State Senator Tony Hwang, a Republican, for the 28th district seat that includes Fairfield, Easton, Newtown and most of Bethel.
Gavin grew up in Canton and attended Yale University. After college he served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army for four years. He lives in Fairfield and works on social media policy at the nonprofit Integrity Institute.
Gavin said the events on Jan. 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol motivated him to become involved in politics. He spoke about the importance of ensuring voter access, developing sustainable energy sources and focusing legislative efforts on creating a stronger and more stable economy in Connecticut.
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Hwang did not respond to numerous requests for an interview with CT Examiner.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
GAVIN: Affordability is a huge concern with the residents in our state and our district — I’ve already noticed that coming up again and again just knocking on doors. One of my top priorities would definitely be to focus on legislative efforts to create a stronger, more financially resilient post-pandemic economy. It’s definitely crucial to lift up families and small businesses given the adverse effects of climate change that are expected to impact our region of the country disproportionately. And also focus on the efforts to develop clean, sustainable energy solutions that will strengthen our economy as well as our environment.
But the first thing that I’d like to address is rebuilding confidence in the basic mechanics of our democracy. That means bringing people into the fold and making voting more and more accessible. That’s why I support ensuring availability of absentee ballot drop boxes, promoting legislation to allow no excuse absentee voting, and advocating for an amendment to the Constitution that would permit early voting. I think we need to be making it easier to vote, not harder. Our democracy is stronger when everyone has a voice. Connecticut has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. I’d like my work to expand, not restrict, access here in our state.
CTEx: Where do you see yourself in today’s Democratic party?
GAVIN: I’m not super concerned with locating myself on a political landscape, but rather would like to think about problems from first principles and take a solutions-oriented approach. I think our idea of what that landscape looks like is really different at the state level compared to the national level, so it’s hard to make really obvious comparisons. I think a solutions-oriented approach is really how I’d like to be thought of.
CTEx: Describe your background, what are your qualifications?
GAVIN: I grew up in Connecticut. My parents were both teachers here for decades and I think it’s fair to say that their commitment to public service rubbed off on me too. In high school I was an altar boy and an Eagle Scout. In college, I ran a program that connected Yale students to volunteer opportunities with local nonprofits, with a focus on supporting refugees, food insecure and unhoused populations. That said, I wasn’t a member of the Democrats or anything like that — I was really just focused on the service aspect. After graduating with the humanities degree, focused on ethics, I went into the Army as an infantry officer. That was an incredible experience but after four years and many nights out in the field, I decided to make the transition back to civilian life and I preferred to start my career here in Connecticut.
Then we had the insurrection happen. I know there’s a lot of Americans that disagree, but seeing the wall of the Capitol scaled and the Senate chamber violently overrun, based on this lie, was a real wake up call for me. It is all just how fragile our democracy is and it motivated me to just roll up my sleeves and start getting involved locally. So I volunteered to help get out the vote in the fall in the municipal elections. It really helped me understand just how crucial state and local level officials are. I was organizing on behalf of local Democrats and I started to be much more aware of the work of our state legislators, and I was impressed with a lot of them.
But I was surprised and disappointed to see our current state senator vote against giving access to absentee voting in the midst of a pandemic, that didn’t make sense to me. It seemed out of step with our community. I’d like to bring a fresh perspective — one that starts by bringing people into the fold and making voting more accessible. That’s why I would support no excuse, absentee voting and early voting.
I think the most important thing I bring to the table is just a background of service. The second thing I bring is some real experience in technology – I think that’s going to be really important as we move toward a 21st century economy. It’s just the experience of working in technology and deeply understanding it and knowing how to actually legislate or protect our future economy that we’re all going to be living in.
I work at the Integrity Institute as a product manager — it’s a nonprofit organization focused on building a safer internet. In the past, I worked child safety at Meta, which was combating child exploitation online. I’m still working on protecting children online but also more of a broad purview of the trust and safety space, or “integrity” is what it’s usually called in the tech industry, and that ranges from like election security, to child safety, to disinformation and misinformation.
CTEx: What sets you apart from your opponent?
GAVIN: I think a few things. It’s coming from a background of the military, where I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. In this era of extreme partisanship, that’s really tested our democratic institutions , I think that seems far away from us here in Connecticut. But at the same time, curtailing access to the polls isn’t serving the people here in Connecticut and I think it’s part of the problematic trend across the country — that’s something that separates us — it’s just a basic question. We should all be able to agree democracy is stronger when we include as many voices as possible — I think that’s a pretty clear distinction.
CTEx: What should the state’s role be in providing affordability for Connecticut residents?
GAVIN: I think some of the measures that we’ve put in place in terms of the gas tax holiday, Child Tax Credit, the increase the earned income tax credit — those are all great responses to just make it a little bit easier for regular people. That’s the biggest role of the state is just to try to soften the blow of inflation because it’s obviously something that is not controllable by any one person.
Everyone can agree that we need to lower costs, it’s definitely the number one concern I’m hearing from people across the state. It’s important to understand how we got to these high costs in the first place. Obviously, our economy is still recovering from the pandemic and the supply chain challenges that came with it. But we’ve also seen corporations take advantage of the crisis and raise their own prices to make record profits. And Russia is destabilizing the world by invading Ukraine and driving up costs here.
There’s steps that we can take at the state level to reduce costs. Beyond the measures that we’ve taken in terms of the Child Tax Credit and the other tax breaks I’ve mentioned is also just holding corporations accountable for flagrantly raising prices, undercutting competition and putting their shareholders above the interests of working people. In the future, we just need to continue to grow a more resilient economy here in Connecticut, so that events abroad aren’t raising prices as much and invest in more high tech, good paying jobs.
CTEx: What do you see as the state’s role in providing housing?
GAVIN: I can speak to my personal experience. While searching for housing in Fairfield, I was on an app that was advertising different rooms for rent. And I remember seeing a post that said, “help a senior couple avoid homelessness.” I clicked on it and they were in a situation that was really precarious. Their landlord had sold their home that they had been renting and the new landlord was forcing them out. It was heartbreaking.
I definitely think that there is 100% of a role to be played by the state and the municipalities in making sure that people can age in place, and young people have the opportunity to stay in Connecticut and or move back to Connecticut, like in my case. It’s just not easy when there is such low housing stock.
CTEx: Are you satisfied with the state’s balancing of energy goals with the costs of electricity and gasoline?
GAVIN: This is a complicated question. Obviously now more than ever, with gas prices being so high, in the short term the gas tax holiday makes sense and just allowing people to be able to afford to move about the state as they need to is a top priority. But this crisis right now really shows that, longer term, we need to be investing in clean energy and reducing emissions by decarbonizing buildings and investing in transportation. These are all things that maybe don’t feel as urgent but are incredibly important. So, longer term, I do think we need to invest even more in alternative energy, and what’s happening now just really underscores why it’s so important.
CTEx: Is the police accountability legislation effective – are there modifications that need to be made?
GAVIN: I don’t think so off the top of my head. There’s nothing I would think of changing to it. I think it was a long time coming to have more accountability and I know that there’s some concern over officers leaving and there’s negative aspects to the morale. But I think ultimately, we just need to hold ourselves to a standard.
I think it’ll take time. There’s cultural changes that are being made. There’s new training and certifying police. I understand that it will take time for this to become the norm. But I think I wouldn’t want to jump to make significant changes before we’ve actually tried out what it looks like to have this in place. There was a reason it was passed. I remember the impetus of George Floyd’s death and I think it was important.
CTEx: What are your key goals and priorities for improving the educational outcomes for Connecticut students?
GAVIN: There’s so much learning loss that has happened in the past couple of years with the pandemic, so a huge upfront challenge is how do we catch them up? That’s top of mind for me. What measures do we have to take to ensure that students aren’t a year or two years behind where they would be had it not been for the pandemic and that massive interruption — that’s the first priority.
The second one would be leveraging the community college system in order to actually educate students for the 21st century economy. That looks like something along the lines of a coding bootcamp, a data science boot camp type model — something like that ought to be available at the community college level. Channel students into careers that are in high demand and really don’t have the workforce to meet the demand.
Third is there’s some real infrastructure improvement that needs to be done that we haven’t gotten to in a long time, specifically HVAC systems. The governor approved using ARPA funds to make HVAC system improvements, but it’s going to take a lot of funding and it’s obvious why that’s important — students aren’t able to learn as effectively if it’s 90 degrees in the classroom. Also more broadly, it’s a biosecurity concern. We need the high level of filtration of a new HVAC system in order to prevent the spread of airborne disease like my COVID. But also, it’s a concern when you’re not able to open up windows and doors because of issues like gun violence. You can’t prop open the door for obvious reasons, so it makes it that much more important to have high quality HVAC and air quality.
CTEx: Healthcare: what are key priorities for improving healthcare for CT residents?
GAVIN: Speaking with some residents, just knocking on doors, what I found is prescription drug costs are just really killing some people, especially on fixed incomes. It’s really difficult to be able to afford drug prices. Bringing down the cost of prescription drugs is a really huge priority, and with inflation it makes it that much tougher to afford prescription drug costs. So that’s probably my top priority.