Hwang’s ambitions shift to possible statewide candidacy
It’s never an encouraging sign when you’re running for president and you get less debate airtime than a Republican state senator from Fairfield — not on stage.
The Fairfield lawmaker “photobombed” the moderators of the most recent GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, snagging a prime seat in the audience behind ABC’s David Muir and Martha Raddatz and directly in view of the camera.
It was apropos for the Taiwan native Hwang, widely regarded as one of the Capitol’s most visible and gregarious go-getters.
Now, Hwang, 51, completing his first term in the Senate after three terms in the House, is gauging support for a possible run for statewide office in 2018.
“It’s simply exploring,” Hwang said Tuesday. “I don’t think people ever begrudge that you’re prepared.”
The Fairfield legislator’s exploratory committee, set up last year under the name Hwang for Connecticut, held its first fundraiser Tuesday night in celebration of the Chinese lunar new year.
He said he wanted to keep the committee separate from his 2016 Senate re-election campaign, which is likely to be funded by taxpayers as in the past under the state Citizens’ Election Program. Connecticut does not require candidates to specify which office they are eyeing, including governor.
“Why not just set it up, respect the integrity of the CEP and make it transparent and accountable?” said Hwang, assistant minority leader of the Senate. “It wasn’t like I was trying to hide anything.”
Like Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s senior U.S. senator, Hwang is omnipresent at ribbon-cuttings, business openings and other public events, both in his district and in Hartford.
As senator from the 28th District — in addition to Fairfield, it includes Westport, Newtown, Easton and Weston — Hwang frequently criticized the state’s efforts to keep General Electric’s headquarters in his town. Last month, the conglomerate announced plans to relocate to Boston.
“I think when somebody’s been as active as Tony has, that immediately raises the question of what his long-term plans are,” said Michael Tetreau, Fairfield’s Democratic first selectman, who described Hwang as very professional. “He has been in the public eye more than most and he continues to have a very aggressive approach to outreach to the citizens of our town.”
State GOP Chairman J.R. Romano, who attended Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., acknowledged Hwang is testing the waters.
“We’ve talked about a future, nothing specific,” Romano said. “I know Tony has a desire to help fix this state.”
Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democrats, criticized Hwang for his votes against biotech investments at the University of Connecticut Health Center and a bond measure for transportation improvements when Hwang was in the House.
“Since taking office, it has been clear that he is more interested in climbing Connecticut's political ladder than serving his constituents,” Appleby said.
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, a fellow Fairfield Republican, said Hwang has a high ceiling. “I think anything he’d look to do, he’d be successful at,” she said.
In 2014, Hwang captured the Senate seat of Fairfield Republican John McKinney, the Senate minority leader at the time who opted to run for governor instead of re-election. He joined Branford Democrat Ted Kennedy Jr. — son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy — as freshmen in the upper chamber.
“I’m serving in the same capacity as a Kennedy,” said Hwang, whose parents fled Communist China for Taiwan. “I love what I do. As an immigrant that grew up in a country that was under martial law, and for me to have spent my formative years in a federal housing project with English as a second language and parents who never finished school … I’m telling you, who wouldn’t be happy?”
A real estate broker who is married with two children, Hwang was in New Hampshire volunteering for the presidential campaign of Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He said his prime seat at the televised debate was luck of the draw.
“My daughter texted and said, ‘Dad, don’t fall asleep,’ ” Hwang said.