In Hartford, all eyes are turned toward Newtown -- and the 106th district, represented in Hartford by freshman Mitch Bolinsky, contains 85% of Newtown. Bolinsky, a former member of Newtown's legislative council, was elected to his first term in November and sworn in just one week ago.
He is one of three representatives on the state's bipartisan task force with constituents in Newtown. The task force will address gun violence, mental health and school security -- Bolinsky's role is in the latter -- and hopes to offer recommendations for major legislation by March. The task force will hold its first meeting at 1:30 Friday, an organizational meeting that should establish a schedule for delivering goals.
Patch spoke with Bolinsky Thursday about the role he'll serve and his feelings on President Obama's proposed legislation.
Patch: Do you think Hartford is receptive to the needs of Newtown residents?
Bolinsky: I think Hartford is going way out of its way to be sure it's receptive. We've definitely experienced something no other community has ever experienced, and I think there's an appreciation of that.
How do we as a government react to something so unfathomable and so new? As a legislator, I look at what's happening in Washington and I support everybody's desire to quickly quickly do the right things. From my perspective as a Newtown resident and representative, I've been on record all along that I'm a little bit leery of knee-jerk reactions. This is a strong community, with an awful lot of caring, love and respect for one another.
The leadership of Newtown -- First Selectman Pat Llodra and her team -- they took us through a grieving period which is not yet over. But we're already in the policy formation and reconstruction period. We're thinking about what's good for this community. The one thing I've insisted on is having the community completely engaged. We have and will continue to live through something no one else in the country has lived through. If you leave it to a politician who hasn't walked in those shoes, who the heck are we?
Patch: What will you be looking for as part of the discussion on safety in schools?
Bolinsky: I want to hear what the nuances are of the security, and hear ideas from what the community is locked in on at this point. There are calls for a police or security presence in our school. I think it's very clear or undeniable that we're going to have a presence in schools. But as far as whether it's public or private -- I'm not made up either way.
Patch: How about gun control -- specifically, the legislation favored by President Obama?
Bolinsky: As a legislator, my job is to enact common-sense laws that come from my community and advocate for what it is we think we need here. As far as gun control goes, that's nothing I have a say in. I have plenty of opinions -- it's obvious certain measures are necessary. As citizens of the U.S., whatever discussion or deliberation occurs on Obama's 23 points, we're going to live within the bounds of those laws. But as Newtowners, we're going to steer the process on the state level and we're not going to be shy about communicating what we feel about this.
Patch: What is Newtown's role?
Bolinsky: We're smart, we're strong and we were thrust into this role. From the perspective of gun control, school security and mental health -- how many communities in the US are actually going to get a seat in the table and something that could translate into a final say? We now have a responsibility, and this community is going to set an example for everybody. I'm proud of the start we've got and the collaborative nature, how civil and open we've been. Lesser communities would be arguing amongst ourselves. This is a pretty cool place.
Patch: You've mentioned grassroots organizations. Sandy Hook Promise is one a lot of folks have been talking about.
Bolinsky: Well, it's not my place to promote any one group, but Sandy Hook Promise is one that's on my radar and on my plate. I've been aware of their activities -- and that they want to approach this process with an open mind and with the opinions of the community as the keystone. I've committed to them that if they continue having this public promise and commitment, I will support whatever this community wants to do. My job is not to make up my mind and do things -- my job is to listen to the community, have them make up my mind, and make it happen. I don't believe my opinion is as important as theirs ... I believed from the beginning this is an issue Newtown should drive, and by golly, we're going to drive it.