Both state Rep. Tony Hwang and his Democratic challenger in the 134th Assembly District, Heather Dean, got their start in politics in the same place -- Fairfield's Representative Town Meeting.

"I got involved in town politics when leading town officials asked me to run for the RTM," Dean said. "I had always been civic-minded, but never considered running for office until then."

Out of the 10 candidates for that district, Dean got the highest number of votes that first time.

"I was led to run for elected office because of my interest in public education and my desire to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to fulfil their potential," Hwang said of his 2005 election to the RTM.

In the Nov. 6 election, as he seeks a third term representing the 134th District, which includes parts of Fairfield and Trumbull, Hwang said he's humbled by the responsibility.

"As a fiscal conservative, I have fought to keep taxes down while balancing the budget," he said. "Tough times demand tough decisions. During the legislative session, I strive for accountability in Hartford."

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THE CANDIDATES Tony Hwang Republican, incumbent in 134th Assembly District real estate agent, Coldwell Banker Representative Town Meeting member, 2005 Bachelor's degree in labor relations and organizational behavior, Cornell University Heather Dean Democrat owner, Bright Futures Child Care Learning Center Representative Town Meeting member, 2003-09, re-elected in 2011 Master's in elementary education, Sacred Heart University; bachelor's in human development-family relations, University of Connecticut; associate's in office administration, Naugatuck Valley Community College

Dean said she wants to move from the local to state level of government, "because I want to continue to improve the quality of life for the people in the 134th District and throughout the state."

Door-to-door campaigning, she said, has enabled her to make a connection with the voters and learn of their concerns.

Often seen working on a knitting project while listening to RTM debates, Dean said the differences between her and Hwang are their "work ethics and our willingness to tackle controversy head-on. And I'm not running with the intent of building my own business."

A local real estate agent, Hwang said he has a "relentless commitment" to the community and relies on something his father taught him: "The definition of respect is doing the right things and be present for everyone regardless of partisanship or bias."

And he said it's those values that have fostered a bipartisan working relationship that have led to some of his proudest achievements in Hartford -- a $7.8 million grant to create the Housatonic Community College Regional Advanced Manufacturing Center; legislation ensuring insurance coverage of bone-marrow testing; an incentive to help select graduates to remain in Connecticut, and legislation giving local communities greater control over cell-tower siting.

Dean said she has two immediate goals that she wants to accomplish if the voters send her to Hartford.

"Make responsible cuts to the state budget that will ease the tax burden on families and small businesses," she said, "and support initiatives to help small business owners create new jobs and grow their businesses.

For Dean, the top issues facing residents can be summed up simply as jobs, taxes and education, while Hwang, in addition to citing jobs and economic growth, also sees commitment to community and bringing common sense to the state capital among the top issues.

Both Hwang and Dean relish being out on the campaign trail.

"I love meeting the diverse group of people that I represent," Hwang said. "Those interactions and problem-solving opportunities reinforce the basis of public service that we can indeed make a positive difference in the lives of people we represent."

He bemoans, however, the partisan and negative tone he said campaigning has taken on, instead of debate over critical issues.

The best part of campaigning, Dean said, is "meeting people who support me right away and want to help me; catching up with old friends and finding out how I can help them."

Least enjoyable for Dean, as with any job interview, is, "selling myself to someone who doesn't know me, then chooses my opponent."

Both candidates have online campaign sites -- each has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and Hwang also has a YouTube account. Dean said she's been "very fluent" with Facebook for some time and is learning to master Twitter.

"It's amazing how quickly news spreads -- good and bad," she said. "It's a great medium that should be used wisely."

Hwang said he finds social media to be a helpful resource for communicating, but cautions, "it is subject to bias and hearsay, and easily promulgated without substantiation and verification."

On Nov. 7, win or lose in voting the day before, Hwang said he'll be writing personal thank you notes to his volunteers -- and driving around town to collect campaign lawn signs. If he wins another term in Hartford, he said, he will reach out to all constituents, "to begin the process of working together as their representative."

Dean said she will spend that day after the election reaching out to other elected representatives to introduce herself, "and start building common ground right away."

THE CANDIDATES

Tony Hwang

Republican, incumbent in 134th Assembly District

real estate agent, Coldwell Banker

Representative Town Meeting member, 2005

Bachelor's degree in labor relations and organizational behavior, Cornell University

Heather Dean

Democrat

owner, Bright Futures Child Care Learning Center

Representative Town Meeting member, 2003-09, re-elected in 2011

Master's in elementary education, Sacred Heart University; bachelor's in human development-family relations, University of Connecticut; associate's in office administration, Naugatuck Valley Community College