Elections Government Politics

Meet the Candidate: Jason Gagnon

Jason Gagnon. Courtesy photo

We-Ha.com is offering our readers the opportunity to meet the candidates running in the Nov. 7, 2023 municipal election. 

Compiled by Ronni Newton

We-Ha.com is offering our readers the opportunity to “Meet the Candidate” – designed to help them get to know the candidates running for office in the 2023 municipal election.

Identical questionnaires have been sent to all candidates, and each profile received has been submitted directly to We-Ha.com by the candidate or the candidate’s campaign management. The responses have not been edited but have been formatted to match our publication style. Questions left blank have been deleted.

As profiles are received, they will be published on We-Ha.com under the “Government” tab. We-Ha.com is not making endorsements of any political candidates but we are publishing this information in order to assist voters in being informed and prepared when they go to the polls on Nov. 7.

If you are a candidate and wish to submit a profile, please return it by email to Ronni Newton at [email protected] as soon as possible.


Name: Jason Gagnon

Party affiliation: Democrat

Family information: I am married to my wonderful wife, best friend, all around favorite person – Jessie Gagnon. We  are coming up on our fifteenth wedding anniversary (Nov. 1). We have two amazing children in the West Hartford School system – Hadley and Emerson who are a daily inspiration to me and a reminder to try to be the person they think I am.

Primary occupation:  Attorney

Previous political experience:  First-time candidate.

Other relevant experience that may be related to your desire to serve the community, and further qualifies you for the office you are seeking: I am a graduate of Boston College Law School and Florida State University.

Professionally, I am a partner at the Connecticut-based law firm of Carmody, Torrance, Sandak, & Hennessey LLP where I have practiced for the past fifteen years. I have a national practice representing manufacturing clients here in Connecticut and across the country. During my career, I have recognized as:

Litigation Star, Benchmark Litigation, 2022-2023; Rising Star, Connecticut Super Lawyers® – Products Liability Defense, 2012-2022; New Leaders in the Law, Connecticut Law Tribune, 2016; and a Rising Star, New England Super Lawyers® – Products Liability Defense, 2012-2017.

While a first-time candidate for public office, I am no stranger to public service. I have served on the board of directors for the Mattatuck Museum and am the past president of the Waterbury Bar Association. I am currently serving as a board member of the United Way of Greater Waterbury and was elected to the Connecticut Bar Association’s Board of Governors.

Why are you running for office? I believe in public service. I believe that it can still be a noble pursuit and am driven by a desire to serve. I was drawn to service on the Board of Education because as the son of a lifelong educator I was taught from a very early age the importance that education plays not only in the life of the individual, but also in the life of a community. My father passed away just days before this opportunity presented itself. I can think of no better way to honor his legacy.

But I come to this race first and foremost as a parent with two children in the West Hartford School system.  I want them to know that you can’t live life on the sidelines and that we all have a duty to serve, especially in times of great need. We live in a world that confuses and conflates force for strength, anger and rage for passion, volume for wisdom, and brutishness and outright cruelty for forthrightness. We too often search out the other in each other, as opposed to reaching for the common. At a time when civility is in retreat on all fronts, I think it is more important than ever for good meaning citizens, from whatever political persuasion, to answer the call to service.

What issue(s) are your primary area of focus? In terms of priorities, I would not define myself as single issue oriented. Certainly, I see and am motivated by challenges to our schools such as teacher recruitment and retention, continued recovery from the challenges of covid, and student mental health. I am motivated in large part by the desire to ensure that we are preparing our students not just for today’s world, but the one they will ultimately inherit.

But I also believe, that not only is the substance of what we take up as the Board of Education, and more generally as a community, important, but the way we do so is as equally important. As a community I hope we recognize that the process matters and how we engage with each other matters.  For my part, I am committed to listening and engaging with the community, educators, parents, and students to build on the excellence of West Hartford Schools.

West Hartford Public Schools, like districts throughout the country has had the benefit of ESSER funds for additional services and staff to assist students with learning loss and other pandemic-related issues, but those funds will soon disappear. How should the BOE prioritize which, if any, services to continue to maintain and to fund in the future? ESSER funds were not simply a lifeline to schools across this country, but a bright spot in the pandemic that allowed West Hartford Schools to not simply survive, but to actually thrive during the pandemic, ensuring that the most vulnerable students, academically and otherwise, were not left further behind. With those funds coming to an end, there are certainly difficult discussions ahead. It is my hope that have those discussions openly and constructively as a community with a continued focus on making sure that our most vulnerable students don’t unfairly shoulder the burden and that all of our students continue to recover from and thrive in the post-pandemic environment.

What is your opinion of the role of parents in shaping curriculum for West Hartford Public Schools? Parents, along with students, educators and the community at large are critical stakeholders in our schools – they are a powerful voice, but not the only voice. That West Harford and our school system are where they are today is no accident. It is the result of an engage community and dedicated public servants.  We are lucky to have active and engage parents who interact with our schools at all levels from the classroom to the Board of Education. It is my sincerest hope that this continues because we are all better for it.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing West Hartford Public Schools today, and how do you plan to address it if elected? As noted above, I am motivated by challenges to our schools such as teacher recruitment and retention, continued recovery from the challenges of covid (both academic and otherwise), and student mental health.  I am motivated in large part by the desire to ensure that we are preparing our students not just for today’s world, but the one they will ultimately inherit.

There are no easy answers. I think the most important way to begin to address these issues is to approach them with an open mind, intellectual curiosity, and an eagerness to learn all sides of a debate, to remember that as President Kennedy eloquently stated –“civility is not a sign of weakness”, and to recognize that however and from wherever we approach these issues, we all come with a desire to do what is right for the students, parents, schools, educators, and West Hartford.

What do you feel differentiates you from the candidates from other parties also running for this position? I think in a lot of ways I would bring a unique perspective to the BOE. As a Millennial parent of two in the West Hartford School system, I think I am uniquely situated to understand the myriad of challenges impacting this generation of students and parents. I have extensive experience serving on Boards – I spent nearly a decade on the Mattatuck Museum Board of Directors. I recently completed my two terms as the Waterbury Bar Association President. I am currently serving on the United Way of Greater Waterbury’s Board of Directors and was appointed to the Connecticut Bar Association’s Board of Governors. I am also my firm’s delegate to our international legal network – working with lawyers from across the globe from very different backgrounds and perspectives.

My undergraduate degree is in political science, so I also have a formal background in public policy generally. And in what seems like another lifetime ago I was an intern for Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party. This was reinforced by my legal training at Boston College which emphasized a duty of public service. My legal training and career have also given me the skills to deal with difficult issues and parties who disagree strongly in a constructive and collegial way.  It has also taught me the importance of not only fully understanding your own position but having an equally strong understanding of someone else’s position.

As a board member for the United Way of Greater Waterbury, I have also had the privilege of being involved with their efforts to ensure better and more equal education for underserved communities. In this role I have also had to participate in decision making over the allocation of limited resources to various communities and areas of need.

I think you need to come to a debate with a respect for the fact that others have a different life story, different educational background, or other fundamental and formative differences that lead them to a differing opinion. It may be out of fashion, but I still truly believe that there is more that unites us than divides us, there are just forces that find it advantageous to have us focus on the differences.

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