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Jahana Hayes Could Be Connecticut's First Black Democrat In Congress


Several candidates took steps toward making history in yesterday's primaries. In Vermont, Christine Hallquist became the first openly transgender person to win a major party's nomination for governor.


CHRISTINE HALLQUIST: You know, tonight we made history. We already made history.

KELLY: In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar won and may become the first Somali-American in Congress.


ILHAN OMAR: We are gathered here again to make another history.

KELLY: And in Connecticut...


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Jahana.

KELLY: ...Democrat Jahana Hayes won the state's 5th Congressional District. If she wins in November, she would become Connecticut's first black Democrat in Congress. And Jahana Hayes joins us now. Welcome.

JAHANA HAYES: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

KELLY: This is your first run for public office. This is not your first turn in the media spotlight. Two years ago in 2016, President Obama named you National Teacher of the Year. You taught high school history there in Connecticut. What do you want to do on education if you make it to Congress?

HAYES: Well, education is very important to me. I recognize that, you know, for most of the people in our communities, it's a game changer. I know it was for me. I want to make sure that we preserve and protect public education. We have to look very carefully at it to make sure that we are providing access to opportunities for all students.

KELLY: And what does that look like specifically? I mean, what do you want to change?

HAYES: Well, I've been in schools long enough to know that all of our students don't have a desire to go to college or get a postsecondary education. And we have to make sure that we are providing opportunities for students to learn trades and have internships and be successful in other ways.

KELLY: I mentioned that you would be Congress' first black Democrat from Connecticut if you win come November. How big a deal is that to you?

HAYES: I think it's a huge deal. I mean, I never ran on a platform that was about, you know, my race or my identity. But obviously I can't take this skin off. It's a huge part of who I am. And I think what it represents is that everybody in this community has a place in Congress.

KELLY: I mean, you did put your personal story front and center in this campaign. You talked very openly about having grown up in public housing and having grown up with a mom who was addicted to drugs and having been pregnant at 17. How does that inform what you, Jahana Hayes, would bring to Congress?

HAYES: Well, I think it would inform what I would bring in two ways. First of all, my life and my story informs my decision making in every way because I know what it feels like to be in all those groups, and I know how to work in and out of all those groups. And that's what our communities look like.

And the second reason is if I didn't put it out there, then someone else would've tried to change the narrative, twist it around, use it against me. And I was, you know, owning my own truth.

KELLY: Let me ask you this before I let you go. Whether Democrats achieve their - your goal of taking back the House come November or not, is the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, the right person to lead your party into 2019 and beyond?

HAYES: Well, I think - and I've said this before. I think the party needs some generational shifts. We need to start including and welcoming other people. I think...

KELLY: So is Nancy Pelosi the right person to lead your party going forward?

HAYES: I think when we come through November, we'll see. We'll have a pulse on what the people in this country want. I probably would not vote, at this point, for Nancy Pelosi to continue with the party leadership. But if she were the best person at the time to carry on - to carry forward, absolutely, because that's what it should be about.

KELLY: As a former history teacher, how would you teach this moment in the nation's history?

HAYES: Well, this is just a repeat of lessons that history has taught us over and over again. And that is when, you know, people come together, we can make some important changes in this country.

KELLY: A lot of people wouldn't describe this moment as one in which the country is all coming together, though.

HAYES: I disagree because I - what I've learned from teaching history is sometimes when it feels like we're at our lowest point, that's when people like me, regular people, get up and become engaged and get involved. I feel obligated to, you know, do my part to make sure that the government and the values that I hold dear remain intact.

KELLY: That is Jahana Hayes, Democratic candidate for Congress in Connecticut. Jahana Hayes, thanks very much.

HAYES: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.