BY Michael Corcoran
On Oct. 28, the Public Policy Institute at Sacred Heart University invited Connecticut legislators Sen. Tony Hwang (R) and Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D) to campus to speak in a town hall style forum about hot button issues that are going on in Conn. Hwang represents Conn. Assembly District 28 (a tract of land spanning from Fairfield to Newtown) and McCarthy Vahey represents District 133 (a small section of Fairfield south of the university).
The Spectrum had an exclusive interview with the legislators before the forum began, which included what they had learned during their times as legislators.
McCarthy Vahey talked about how there is so much to be learned while being a state legislator.
“From power and energy, to election law to education policy. I think that is one of the most important things that you can do as a state legislator is to actually continue to learn because there is no way to be an expert on every issue that we face so it is a constant everyday learning process,” said McCarthy Vahey.
Hwang believes it is an amazing opportunity to serve as a state legislator.
“It is a great privilege and opportunity to be a voice for so many people,” said Hwang. “And for me as an individual who grew up under martial law where none of that was possible, it is really a refreshing reminder to never take for granted the great privileges we have as part of our democracy.”
There was a chuckle between the two legislators when asked what a day in their lives is like for the both of them.
“No day is the same,” said Hwang. “And you know what? We would not want it any other way. Maybe for other people, they prefer otherwise if that’s the case. But it is an exciting day nonetheless.”
McCarthy Vahey agreed with Hwang.
“I concur completely,” said McCarthy Vahey. “Every day is a unique gift and a true privilege.”
Later that night, Hwang and McCarthy Vahey were able to field students’ questions and concerns during the town hall forum. One of the major topics of the discussion was student debt.
McCarthy Vahey believes that student debt is a complex issue.
“When you look at the debt, one of the things that is really important in terms of a long-term issue is college completion,” said McCarthy Vahey. “So, when students are completing college, maybe with a significant debt, your ability to pay that back is having an impact. Universities should make sure that they’re working to help with students’ retention and provide support to student needs to make it through, so you don’t have a situation you’ve taken on where you are in a more difficult situation.”
“I am also going to say federal policy is a huge factor in this,” said McCarthy Vahey.
Hwang believes free tuition is a complicated issue. However, he believes there could possibly be the idea of loan forgiveness.
“It is one of the things I believe we should be proactive about and initiate instead of free tuition. Say you got $50,000 in loans, you graduate with a great skill set, we’re going to forgive your loan to do two years of Peace Corpsmen,” said Hwang. “You go two years and teach an underserved area and we will forgive your loans. I think that is one of the big things we can initiate instead of saying free.”
Senior Annabeth Gullo, who helped organized the event believes it was a great experience to have the legislators come to visit.
“I thought it was good that people were involved,” said Gullo. “It was nice having them there to answer some questions that people had about different things like in Conn. but also just in general. It was really good to hear.”