Julia: Um so I guess can you tell me a little bit more about your background in relation to um to your position as a representative.
Julia: In East Hartford and Manchester and kind of how you obtained that position and all of that.
Jason: Got it yeah sooo I’ve been in the legislature now five terms this is my tenth year. Umm I was elected in 08 in the Obama big year. And it was the third office I had held. So I started office in 2003 running for the board of education in East Hartford, where I grew up. Then I moved over to the town council and after the town council seat opened up and I ran for it and here we are today where I’m a legislature. I’m chairman of the finance, revenue and bonding committee and I also serve on the planning and development committee which deals largely with municipal issues.
Julia: Good, thank you. Ummm so I guess another thing I was kind of reading your bio beforehand and it said you were a Board Director of the Southside Neighborhoods Alliance and then like a member for the board of trustees for the Boys and Girls Club umm soo.
Jason: And most of that is done through my work here at Trinity.
Julia: Oh really?
Jason: Yeah so I switched over to those boards because of my job here at the college. Yeah.
Julia: Can you tell me a little bit more about those institutions and kind of how they help the community in Hartford?
Jason: Yeah so SINA which is the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance it’s actually a partnership between Trinity, Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical center. It’s been around for almost forty years now. And we mostly do housing redevelopment here in the neighborhood around Trinity. So we go out and we buy properties or get control of properties, get public funds, rehab the buildings and put them back on the tax roll and try to provide home ownership opportunities for low-income and moderate-income families here in the neighborhood. So School and Colonial Street, right across the street those are the houses or new houses that we did. Essentially, so that’s the primary focus of SINA. Obviously, the Boys and Girls Club is the Boys and Girls Club. And we have one here on our campus that Trinity College owns.
Julia: Umm yeah and I guess you kind of mentioned this um beforehand but some of your policy interests they include finance or municipal cooperation and education. So what initiatives have you taken in sort of your constituencies related to these issues.
Jason: Yeah so you mean finance is obviously is taxation right and taxation makes the world go round or doesn’t yeah so I’m always trying to see how we can improve our tax systems to try to encourage economic growth, but also provide an equitable way to raise money or revenue to fund services for government. And then municipal cooperation is something… are you from Connecticut?
Julia: Umm I’m actually from Massachusetts.
Jason: Oh okay, well here in New England you know only in New England do we operate the local government at the micro-level. Every town has its own department- own fire department, own police department- whereas around the rest of the country people do things on a regional level. Or have county governments. I’m always trying to incentivize communities to work together to try and save money.
Julia: Great yeah umm okay so I guess you mentioned this in your email to me as well so you represent majority sort of white communities. So what has been your experience in meeting the needs of the growing latino community populations within them.
Jason: Yeah well I’ve found in my experience if you try to meet the needs of everybody you end up meeting the needs of particular demographics within a larger community. Primarily, I’m really focused on education and providing access to reading resources or trying to get children from kindergarten to third grade to be at reading grade level. Those are some of the main things I’ve been trying to do. We’ve really worked on affordable housing which is a huge issue in New England and Connecticut and Massachusetts too where our housing costs are really really expensive. So trying to adjust affordable housing always criminal justice issues are important to people. For taxation, I think that runs across all demographics.
Julia: Yeah (laughs)
Jason: Whenever you talk about taxation whether you’re low-income or high-income you’re worried about taxes.
Julia: Yeahhh. That’s fair. Ummm and then I guess specifically for this class we’ve kind of umm talked with like ummm members of the Hartford community and Latino members of the Hartford community. And I guess like one of the issues that’s universal in these interviews is that Latinos feel that the state of Connecticut needs to better understand sort of the Latino demographic and others have kind of expressed concern about Latinos getting ahead and social mobility and that type of thing so can you elaborate a little bit on these issues?
Jason: Yeah well I think a lot of that has to do with Connecticut being so economically and racially segregated. We’re one of the most segregated states in the country and because of that you have a lot of pretty inequitable economic situations too where you have Hartford which is probably one of the poorest cities in the country surrounded by immense wealth. But yet you see all these disparities in terms of health outcomes, educational outcomes, economic outcomes for people of color in particular the latino community being really really poor in the midst of all this wealth and opportunity. I think that’s really the big question is how do you create access to that opportunity? It’s not so much about transferring money from this person to that person, but as much as providing opportunity for everybody to access the opportunity to make money because there is clearly money to be made here right? We are one of the richest states in the country- how is that those opportunities aren’t equitably available to everybody. It’s a matter of kind of trying to address those issues.
Julia: And I think a few people that we’ve interviewed as well have kind of brought that up umm the issue of money coming in, but it kind of leaving Hartford and people having access to it so exactly what you’re kind of talking about.
Jason: You know look at all these major corporations downtown and there aren’t a ton of Hartford residents who are going into those buildings everyday. It’s the folks from the suburbs who are driving in and who are driving out.
Julia: Yeah, yeah. The capital isn’t staying in Hartford. Yep. So um I guess how can this issue sort of Latino representation um be addressed in Connecticut’s state legislature or what are some of the initiatives that have taken place.
Jason: Yeahhh, wait ask that question again?
Julia: Sorry yeah that was unclear so I guess um so a lot of people have expressed this sort of issue of Latino representation so how can that be better addressed in the Connecticut State Legislature?
Jason: Yeah I mean the biggest thing is Latinos just need to run for office right and I faced that in my first run. So when I first ran my district was 95% white and for me I don’t know if it matters all that much, I think people read too much into that and it is was a question of whether I could get elected simply because I was Latino in a district that was white or anything like that. I think it to be rather absurd and when I go around knocking on people’s doors I didn’t get the sense that anybody cared I was Latino even though it was all primarily white people I was talking to. I think all they cared about was wow is a competent, is he speaking to issues I care about, right? And I won overwhelmingly against a white person right. And I think they always said I was the first Latino elected outside of a core urban area in the state’s history, which I found baffling.
Julia: That is baffling.
Jason: And nobody’s verified that, but that was the understanding that I was the first kind of suburban Latino legislator elected. I represent East Hartford and Manchester which are increasingly becoming urbanized as poverty moves into the suburbs. Those two towns are probably the primary destination for poverty growing significantly so we are beginning to take into consideration a lot of the demographic variables the city deals with, but primarily it’s an overwhelmingly white district. While my district is a little bit different from when I first ran because of redistricting, but my district is still 65% white. And again I’ve been there for ten years and I’ve been re-elected overwhelmingly um I think people know I’m Latino- I don’t think they think I’m Italian or something else I just don’t know if it matters all that much, but I know there are still certainly issues of racism out there. It’s just a matter of going out there and knocking on doors, if we want more seats in the legislature quite frankly it’s a matter of going out there and just taking it because it’s never going to be given to us right. And I mean I think there are opportunities out there. As the Latino community spreads out into different communities not just in Hartford and I mean a more significant population in East Hartford and in Manchester and in Vernon and other communities it’s a matter of getting out there and running for the seats.
Julia: Yeah, yeah absolutely. Um so I guess one last question as a Democrat, and I know that this might not be specific to Connecticut umm specifically, but to what extent do you think the Party um represents Latinos and to what extent do you think there’s been overlap with the Republican party and some Latinos going there?
Jason: Um yeah you know um so the first question was…
Julia: To what extent do you think the Democratic party represents Latinos?
Jason: You know there are certainly a lot of shortcomings in the Democratic party in terms of actually representing Latino interests because at the end of the day when any political party represents the people that don’t necessarily have the interests of Latino people at heart when you are talking about all those disparities I’ve talked about earlier, you know I’d say the Democratic party hasn’t lived up to those ideals that we’d like to live up to. We certainly do believe that there is an appropriate role in government to try and equalize the playing field so that everybody has equal access or equal opportunity to things. You know we haven’t done that there are Democrats that have fought against affordable housing too right because they are representing their district and the folks in those districts are afraid of affordable housing. Affordable housing is kind of a scary word for a lot of people. Um so certainly I think our values are in the right place but in terms of acting on those values I don’t think we’ve done as good as a job as we can. Right and it’s really complicated politically to do those things. That’s just a reality of all how all of this works you know I mean versus the Republican party. I’m not going to say that Republicans don’t care about Latinos because that’s just not fair, but certainly a lot of their policies do not really provide opportunities for Latinos to move up. They are particularly against affordable housing moving out into their communities or at least communities that are represented by Republicans. Um when you look at education funding you know these wealthier communities tend to be Republican and they tend to think that they need state money or money from the state for education when they can otherwise afford it themselves at the local level. We know Hartford needs more funding for its kids not because they’ve done something run or they are corrupt but because they are dealing with a lot more kids who live in poverty.
Julia: Right so those funds should be allocated there
Jason: Yeah versus you know Glastonbury or West Hartford where they have the capacity to raise that revenue locally or they simply just don’t have the demands that Hartford does not manage that money. There are definitely people who would definitely disagree with me (laughs)
Julia: (laughs) no I agree with you. And I guess one of the readings we focused on in this class is sort of like the Latino vote in general and it kind of brought up a lot of the stuff you were saying um but it also kind of brought up this point that the Latino vote is such an ambiguous thing and you can’t really say Latinos are going to vote one way or the other umm and there’s a lot of different factors that influence that so I guess maybe can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Jason: Yeah you mean I know I think it’s to some degree a lack of understanding about what the Latino community means that’s a really diverse a group of people.
Julia: Yeah it’s really diverse.
Jason: You know if you look at immigration status alone particularly here for Hartford- Puerto Ricans are American citizens right whether you are born on the island or whether you are born here yeah that’s very different from the Mexican family who is here who may or may not be documented or undocumented. Yeah so there are just differences within the community and you can’t put everybody into one group. You have Cubans who tend to vote more Republican and that’s largely driven by what happened in Florida and the relationship with Fidel Castro. I think that Democrats have always been involved with liberalizing the relationship with the island whereas Republicans are less ready to punish them because the person leaving the country at any particular period of time. So obviously there is disagreement there in the Latino community about what our relationship should be with Cuba. The immigration question itself too there are certainly a lot of Latinos who came here legally or went through the process and got their citizenship who do not necessarily like illegal immigration continuing to take place when they went through the process and did everything right and here you are trying to do it differently. So there’s disagreement there too so it’s really complicated just as in any other demographic group
Julia: Yeah, exactly.
Jason: You’re never going to get total consensus on one issue.
Julia: Oh absolutely. Yeah um I guess I mean I know Hartford is not your constituency, so what do you think the number one issue that policymakers should address in Hartford in relation to the Latino community?
Jason: I mean they are kind of linked it’s education and access to jobs. You know I think a lot of the issues is, I mean I don’t want to oversimplify it, but if you give people access to well-paying or jobs that pay a living wage you can begin to address a lot of these issues because there is a very storn tie between income and education performance. I mean if a parent is working two jobs like my parents did, so my parents didn’t speak English, my dad has a third grade education, he’s a janitor today, I’m yet his son I’m yet his son I went to UCONN got a Master’s Degree at Trinity I have a big fancy title and a big fancy suit. So I think if you provide the right opportunities and what I was provided was an opportunity in East Hartford to go to school with kids who have social capital. Who had this expectation they were going to go to college my parents did go to college it’s not that they didn’t expect me to do well in school, but I don’t know if they knew what college was or how to get into it. I mean manage that whole process, but yet I remember when I got to middle school I heard other kids talking about going to college. And I was like yeah I’m going to do that too. I kind of followed that route and got really involved in clubs and the rest is history and here I am today so it’s really about breaking down those barriers that we’ve created as a society and I am really focuses on issues around segregation too as one of my policy areas.
Julia: Yeah yeah.
Jason: That provide people to break down those barriers that allow people to be really suspicious of each other and we see that same relationship here with Trinity and the neighborhood.
Julia: Yeah absolutely.
Jason: People in the neighborhood, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life working at Trinity, they really love students they really love this college. And you hear from students just this negative relationship with the city that it’s dangerous. You know 99% of the people out there want to do no harm right here. Actually they’re afraid of the same issues students are they want their neighborhood to be safe, they want the streets to be cleaned up, they want their kids to be able to go to school. Same issues, but yet these larger societal issues that have led us to where we are in life today don’t allow us to really believe that unless you have an opportunity to actually engage with those people and see them as human and for them to see you guys as human too. Because the assumption is that it’s a bunch of rich white kids here that don’t care that’s not necessarily true. I mean it’s true in some regard, we’re not going to deny that, but for the most part.
Julia: Yeah. I guess what’s your (obviously you work for Trinity as well), so what do you think Trinity can do to sort of break down these barriers? What steps have been taken to achieve that?
Jason: I mean we do a lot- a lot more than most insitutions of higher education. Whether it’s the Boys and Girls Club, whether it’s SINA. I mean all that costs money whether it’s Trinfo Cafe, it’s things like that we should continue to do. I think we should find more opportunities for people to come to campus, so Samba Fest which is taking place right now. That’s a great opportunity for both the campus community and the Hartford community to come together and enjoy some good time together.
Julia: Yeah exactly.
Jason: I mean the more we can do that and the more we can provide access to resources here at the college I think it’s better for both the college and the community. I mean it’s a lot of continuing of doing what we are doing right now.
Julia: Alright well I guess that’s about it (laughs) thank you so much for your time!