Tony Hwang made a little history of his own on Election Night, a night that overall didn’t turn out that well for many of his fellow Republicans. The Fairfielder bucked the tide and unseated an incumbent Democrat to capture the state representative seat in the 134th District, which includes parts of Trumbull and Fairfield. “I think I was one of two candidates in Connecticut that did,” Hwang said.
A 44-year-old agent associated with (Coldwell Banker) Real Estate, Hwang’s election to state office comes in the middle of his second two-year term on Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting. He has plans for monthly office hours for constituents, quarterly public forums, and newsletters to keep the district informed about issues that affect residents.
Hwang immigrated to America when he was 8 years old from Taiwan with his parents and grew up in Syracuse, N.Y. He graduated from Cornell University in 1987, and he and his wife, Grace, have lived in Fairfield more than 15 years. They are the parents of two children, daughter, Christina, and son, Peter.
The representative-elect took time recently to reflect on the Nov. 4 elections and what’s in store for him next.
Q: When did you first get involved in politics?
A: “I ran for the RTM three years ago for District 2. It was a great experience. I enjoyed it, I really did. As a first-time political entity three years ago, I was lucky enough to be the highest vote-getter for the RTM.”
Q: Why did you get involved in politics?
A: “When you live in a town and are involved in a town in service organizations like the Rotary, and you’re involved in your children’s education, it’s because it’s your home and your neighborhood. In Rotary, I’m in charge of the scholarship committee. The scholarship is not about the highest grade, it’s about ‘service above self.’ I love that phrase because we are very fortunate in this area.
“I’m an immigrant. I came here, with my parents. We came to this country because this is the country that is a nation of opportunity, a nation of hope that we could come here, work hard and diligently and have something better for ourselves. That was my parents’ vision. In Chinese, the translation for America is ‘beautiful country’ — that’s what they call it. From my parents, who never had a chance to graduate from high school, for us to have that opportunity, how could you not want to give back? We live in a great, great country, and sometimes we forget about it. For me, public service should be a source of pride and a sense of duty. More than anything, we should all give something back.”
Q: Will you continue to serve on the RTM?
A: “No. I will have an individual who will take over and serve, and I will spend a lot of time with that person. I will still continue to attend meetings.
Q: Why run for the state Legislature?
A: “It’s a continuation of the public service. There’s so much inefficiency, such a lack of transparency on the state level. There is truly a disconnect between the public and the perception of the value of a state representative. People say, ‘What does a state rep do?’ We have gotten so detached from state government. We truly don’t understand the important role it has. We’re your direct connection to budgetary fiscal matters as a result of sales tax, motor vehicle taxes, and conveyance taxes — everything outside of property taxes. You should care who your state representative is. We’re in very challenging, difficult economic times.”
Q: It wasn’t a good election for most GOP candidates, but you ousted an incumbent. How do you think you did that?
A: “I will have to give the voters of this community a tremendous amount of credit. They voted for the candidate. I think [fellow Republican] John McKinney and I are testimonials of the people recognizing people who care, people who listen, people who are working hard. I’ve looked back and forth at the numbers.” (for GOP candidates who won during the Obama impacted election of 2008, reflects their appeal and connection with constituents’ beyond political affiliations.)
Q: What are your top three issues for the coming legislative session?
A: “The economy, taxes, educational spending and they’re all tied together. I find it absurd that the town of Fairfield gets less than 4 and a half cents for every tax dollar for education, based on the infamous Education Cost Sharing — four and a half cents just isn’t enough, especially when the state mandates unfunded legislation that puts additional pressure on local budgets. There’s nothing more important to me, as an immigrant who learned English as a second language, to be able to have that opportunity (at a quality public education).
“But people need to differentiate between education costs and the costs from the education infrastructure. I would give every single dollar to a teacher who teaches and scrutinize every single dollar that goes to the infrastructure (and bureaucracy). I will look into that. Did you know we collect box tops for school; we get 10 cents for each box top. That’s when it really gets to me; we get more from Kellogg’s and General Mills than we get from our tax dollars.”
Q: What committees do you hope to serve on in Hartford?
A: “I don’t know exactly what the committee assignments are. Obviously, I would love to get on education and transportation. But there’s over 45 members in education and the same number in transportation. So you have to ask, are you just window dressing there? My value to our community is to go on to committees where we can make a difference, where we can make more of an impact. If I can get on some senior level, smaller committee where I could have a direct impact on legislation and tax numbers … that’s my philosophy.”
Q: What is your favorite part of campaigning?
A: “I love campaigning, and that we have an opportunity to serve. Everybody will talk about the results, but I’m the state rep from the 134th. I can go up to Hartford and hopefully have the courage to say things that need to be said. I may not be able to change the tide, but the people in our district will be updated on the issues and they’ll have access to me.”
Q: What is your least favorite part of campaigning?
A: “You can’t go half-way. You can’t say, ‘I’m going to campaign one hour,’ and then shut off. I’m famous for always being late. It takes a tremendous amount of patience on the part of my family. My children are just my pride and joy, and they understood. It takes time away from your family.”
Q: Any ambitions for higher public office?
A: “I’m not even the boss of our house. When my wife was interviewed and asked did she have any indication I was interested in politics, she said, ‘No, he enjoyed people, he always has a smile.’ Someone very astute approached me during the campaign and said, ‘You’ve got to be the most non-egocentric candidate. It is less about you,’ and that’s one of the things I’ve learned. I’m never going to be lost in a room, but I don’t need to talk about me. We should recognize the people: who take care of their families; who take care of their parents; who go to work and get on a train at 6 a.m. to be able to provide a living, a quality of life and ask for nothing more than to stand in the freezing rain to watch their kids play soccer.”
By Genevieve Reilly
Reprinted from “The Connecticut Post” © Copyright 2008