Christine Palm: A Time to Listen
Politicians talk and then often talk some more. But State Representative Christine Palm wants to listen.
Palm, who just won reelection to a third term representing the 36th Assembly district comprising Essex, Deep River, Chester, and Haddam, is holding a series of community conversations to hear what her constituents are interested in.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 5 p.m., Palm will be at the Essex Library, and on Saturday, Jan. 21 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Chester Meeting House. She will also be announcing a Zoom session. The meetings in Deep River and Haddam are being rescheduled and dates will be announced.
Palm explained the purpose of the meeting in a note to local residents.
“Let me know what is on your radar and what you think should be on mine,” she wrote.
Issues on Christine’s radar include teaching about environmental issues including climate change in public schools, along with civics, a basic course in media literacy, and both Latin-American and African-American history.
She also advocates a Teachers’ Bill of Rights to protect against harassment and intimidation. Threats, she says, often come from teaching books deemed controversial or discussing issues of sexual preference.
“Teachers are doing their job; doing what they are supposed to do and they are threatened,” Christine says.
In the area of health and medicine, Christine has long been an advocate of reproductive healthcare and women’s rights. She is a co-sponsor of a compassionate care bill for the terminally ill with State Representative Josh Elliott of Hamden. Some 10 states already have such aid-in-dying legislation.
Christine says she loves the give and take of legislating.
“I believe in public policy and the process of lawmaking,” she says. “I am a public policy wonk.”
Christine has been a teacher, a journalist, a communications specialist, and a small business owner. Before her election, she was a woman’s policy analyst for the Connecticut General Assembly’s Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors (CWCS).
She says her current job as a state representative combines all the skills demanded in her earlier positions.
“If you take all the things I did and put them in a blender, state legislator would come out,” she says.
She decided to run when, as a staffer for CWCS, she was testifying before a legislative committee on a pay equity bill and a male representative taunted her by asking if pay equity meant firing all the men and paying all the women the same regardless of what they did.
“That really yanked my chain,” she says. “I thought I needed to be up there.”
Still, though she loves the legislative process, she appreciates the difficulties of running a campaign.
“It’s like applying to a job with 26,000 bosses every two years,” she says.
Christine describes her district, the 36th, as purple, with Essex, Deep River, and Chester trending Democratic and Haddam more strongly Republican.
“A few percentage points make the difference between winning and losing. It’s important to remember that half the people made a different decision,” she says.
She credits a troop of dedicated workers with aiding her victory in last November’s election. She had as many as 30 who gave time during the week and up to 50 on weekends. One of them was a young volunteer from Fairfield Country, who though too young to vote, helped Christine’s campaign because of her positions on environmental issues.
Campaigning, knocking on doors, making cold telephone calls, can be a challenge.
“People can be crabby; sometimes they are neutral and some wonder why I am there,” Christine says.
She finds constituents sometimes do not know what a state representative is or what one does. Instead, they think she is a United States congressman.
A state representative, Christine explains, is constituents’ liaison to state government, whether everything from a problem with the Department of Motor Vehicles, to a COVID question or an employment or unemployment concern.
“I can cut through red tape, pick up the phone, and get something done,” she explains. “It’s about demystifying government.”
In addition, a state representative is a liaison to town leadership and an advocate for the towns at a state level who works with local government on complex issues like bonding. Christine says she works well with both Democratic and Republican leadership in the 36th district.
State representatives serve a two-year term, and the legislature has what is called a long session, from January to June one year and the following year a short session from February to May. During that time, Christine spends most of her days at the state capitol in Hartford.
The closer the time gets to the end of the session, she says, the more frenzied activity becomes with representatives staying in hotels, sleeping on air mattresses in their offices or, as Christine recalls, driving home at 4 o’clock in the morning only to be back at the capitol some six hours later at 10 a.m.
At this point in her life, Christine rules out seeking higher statewide office.
“That ship has sailed,” she says. But, she adds, “I do wish I had started earlier so I could do this for longer.”
State Representative Christine Palm meetings with constituents are on Tuesday,
Jan. 17, at 5 p.m. at the Essex Library, and Saturday, Jan. 21, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Chester Meeting House.
To contact Representative Palm’s Office, call 800-842-8767 or 860-240-8585 or email Christine.Palm@cga.ct.gov.