Newly elected Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85 came to campus Thursday to urge students to make their voices heard in politics.
Esty, who was elected to represent Connecticut’s fifth congressional district last November, addressed roughly 30 students as part of a lecture series called “Women in Politics” at the Law School. Previously having served in the Connecticut House of Representatives, Esty argued in support of the importance of local accountability and a broader representation of diverse interests in Congress.
“Write to your members of the Congress, write to your senators,” Esty said. “You cannot believe that it actually matters, but it matters.”
Esty advocated for an increased number of citizens getting involved in politics in order to make democracy function. In 2005, Esty decided to run for the Cheshire Town Council when her 15-year-old daughter reminded her of one of her favorite lessons — when a problem arises, “you should fix it yourself.”
People who want to serve in Congress should first have a background in local politics and experience interacting directly with the people, Esty said. She added that previous positions in local offices have helped her to put her work into perspective and to hold herself accountable to the local people.
“If I set the tax rate, it was my property tax and my neighbor’s, and the veteran’s across the street,” she said.
But she said she did not believe a politician should always advocate for the popular position, but should stay true to his or her convictions even if it costs him or her a seat in office. When the Connecticut state legislature was considering abolishing the death penalty in 2010, she chose to vote for the bill despite knowing that she would lose her seat in the legislature for her decision.
Women face a barrier to holding high positions in Congress because the culture of the insitution values seniority, and an increased number of women have been elected to office only recently, Esty said. Women represent only 20 percent of the Senate, she said, calling for a Congress that represents a broader range of people.
Jessica Samuels LAW ’15, chair of Yale Law Women, the organization that hosted the event, said Esty is in a unique position to speak to the campus “as someone who has campaigned in both local and federal races, and as someone who is from the local Connecticut community.”
Celia Rhoads LAW ’14 said she particularly liked when Esty discussed why a democracy needs a diverse set of “voices” in order to function properly.
Lisa Wang LAW ’14 said she found Esty’s argument for remaining engaged with the political system compelling.
“Esty made a powerful argument that although the political system has been broken for decades, it is still worthwhile to run for office,” she said.
Women currently hold 18.1 percent of 535 seats in the 113th U.S. Congress.