Legal studies professor seeks CT House seat for third time

Jack Spiegel, Staff Writer

Quinnipiac University legal studies professor Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox began her American Constitutional Law class April 5, by pulling out her “pocket constitution” – reading word for word the religious freedoms outlined in the First Amendment.

Professor Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox is campaigning to be the next representative of Connecticut’s 123rd House District. (Jack Spiegel)

Engaging her students in the verbiage of free exercise and the establishment clause, Gadkar-Wilcox broke down where religion is appropriate in government. Later, the class broke off into groups to discuss hypothetical scenarios in which these legal standings were questioned.

As an admirer of the U.S. Constitution, Gadkar-Wilcox is putting her legal and teaching experience to the test by running to be the next representative of Connecticut’s 123rd House District.

This will not be Gadkar-Wilcox’s first time running for this seat. She unsuccessfully campaigned against incumbent Rep. David Rutigliano (R-Trumbull) in 2018 and 2020, who she hopes to defeat in November’s midterm elections.

Getting the community involved in politics is one of Gadkar-Wilcox’s most prominent goals.

“I think we need more people that actually love politics, and politics as a public service, not politics for some other ambition,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “I’m not a fan of career politics. I’m a fan of public politics. And that’s why I got involved in politics.”

Putting traditional political stances aside, Gadkar-Wilcox said that the key to her success will be knocking on the doors of her constituents.

“When you knock on doors, you realize that (most people) just want to be heard,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.

Though Gadkar-Wilcox said her 2020 campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she closed a nearly 23-point deficit in 2016 to just 1.6 points in 2020.

“Whenever I go door knocking, what I talk about first is that we have public financing, and talk about what people need in the community,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “For me that means a grassroots campaign, it means getting students involved, it means getting community members involved, and everything is really that community-based politics.”

The greatest concern Gadkar-Wilcox said she is hearing from voters is equal access to a public education. Gadkar-Wilcox proposed creating a state fund to offset some of the fixed costs that schools are faced with.

“There are some fixed costs in the schools that I think creating a state fund, for example, to help offset those costs would be important,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.

Two of Gadkar-Wilcox’s biggest inspirations are her daughters who are currently part of the Trumbull Public Schools.

“My younger daughter, her name actually means persistence and determination,” Gadkar-Wilcox said of her daughter Aksita. “I think it’s OK to say, ‘Look, you failed and you get up.’ And you do it again, because you’re committed to the ideal.”

Gadkar-Wilcox said she also dedicates her life’s work to the Constitution and passing that knowledge along to her students.

“I think the Constitution is much more radical than people understand for its time,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “The framer’s vision was that you’re committed to the office, itself, and all you get for that is compensation, nothing else, no additional rewards.”

Sarah Annabi, a third-year political science major in the 3+3 law program, is a student of Gadkar-Wilcox.

Annabi praised Gadkar-Wilcox’s ability to challenge one’s thoughts and said the way she structures her classes and assignments pushes students to dive deeper into readings and question their ideals.

“She would assign these readings, and I would spend hours trying to figure all these things out,” Annabi said.

Annabi said her relationship with Gadkar- Wilcox goes beyond just the classroom.

“Sujata is like a mother figure to me,” Annabi said. “She gives me advice and pretty much every aspect of life, education, personal, social, financial, all of the above.”

Another member of the Quinnipiac community, who was involved in hiring Gadkar-Wilcox is professor and former Chair of the Legal Studies Department Jill Martin.

“There are a lot of people who practice law, there’s a lot of good lawyers out there,” Martin said about what stood out from her interview with Gadkar-Wilcox. “But what we’re looking for are people who will interact with our students and will work with our students.”

Samantha Murdock is a first-year law student, former student of Gadkar-Wilcox and a former campaign employee.

“She shows respect for you, and you give that respect back,” Murdock said. Gadkar-Wilcox “treats you like more of a colleague, as opposed to a student which, personally, I liked a lot.”

Martin and Murdock are strong supporters of Gadkar-Wilcox, and are confident she will be giving a victory speech in November.

Martin says the keys to Gadkar-Wilcox’s success will be her enthusiastic view on community politics and her deep involvement in Trumbull.

According to a 2020 Gallup Poll, only 8% of respondents said government officials have a very high amount of honesty. Gadkar-Wilcox said she is hoping to gain the trust of her constituents by compromising on issues.

“Democrats and Republicans don’t always expect that the person they have elected is going to agree with them 100% of the time, they expect to be heard,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “What I’ve learned at the doors (is) when it comes to people, they want to believe that somebody is there who genuinely believes in government, who’s genuinely willing to listen.”

While Gadkar-Wilcox has desired to be a legislator for years, she will continue to teach at Quinnipiac regardless of the election results.

“I love what I’m doing,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “For me being a representative is a platform to amplify the voices of students who otherwise don’t get heard.”