In most years, Jahana Hayes wouldn’t be considered the typical congressional candidate. But in 2018, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year is emblematic of a midterm election season full of fresh faces.
Continuing the recent trend of people running for office who have no formal political experience, Hayes is running as a Democrat for the House seat from Connecticut’s 5th District. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., currently represents the district but isn’t running again in November.
In her newly released campaign video, Hayes showcases her background: She grew up in a housing project in poverty-stricken Waterbury, was raised by her grandmother while her mother struggled with drug addiction, then became a mom at 17.
Yet she overcame those hurdles, raised her daughter, got her master’s degree and became a teacher at Waterbury’s John F. Kennedy High School, where she taught for over a decade. In the video, she attributes her success to the support from her community and says it’s the same community that she’s fighting to represent now.
“This is my home, where people are strong, but they aren’t supposed to run for Congress,” Hayes says in the ad over images of housing projects in her industrial hometown.
Hayes will face Mary Glassman in Connecticut’s Democratic primary on August 14 before the general election this fall. If she wins both races, she would be the second African-American in Congress to represent Connecticut.
“If Congress starts to look like us, no one can stop us,” she says in her video. “This is our moment to act, to organize, and bring our truth to power.”
Hayes’ platform includes supporting a single-payer health care system, granting Dreamers a path to citizenship, fighting for social justice and, on par with her last job, providing high-quality public education.
As a teacher, Hayes taught history for more than a decade and caught national attention in 2016, when then-President Barack Obama awarded her a crystal apple statuette when she was named National Teacher of the Year. Her campaign video showcases footage of her alongside of Obama, flashing big grins at her award ceremony, and her students cheering her on.
After being named National Teacher of the Year, Hayes traveled to 30 states to learn about the problems facing communities around the country. Then, she returned to Waterbury to work on teacher recruitment for her district.
In the video, she said she became inspired to advocate for her students. The perfect opportunity arose for Hayes to do so when Etsy announced she wouldn’t be seeking re-election following a sexual harassment scandal.
“My students were all working and I looked down at them and said, ‘who will speak for them?’” she said.
“Me,” she said.