Last year, Tara Cook-Littman of Fairfield led the charge to the State Capitol for a GMO labeling bill. This year, she is hoping to end up at the Capitol as a state rep for the 134th General Assembly District of Fairfield and Trumbull.
The seat, currently held by Republican Tony Hwang, is up for grabs since Hwang has said he will not seek re-election.
Cook-Littman, a Democrat, said that her candidacy has been a long time coming.
“It’s the culmination of the nine years since I’ve been back [in Connecticut],” Cook-Littman said.
Cook-Littman grew up in Easton and lived there until she went to Brandeis University. After college, she moved to New York City and took a year off to work as a paralegal.
During that year, she met husband Owen Littman.
She attended Cardozo Law School and got a job at the Manhattan office of New York City’s district attorney’s office. She worked there a little over two years before leaving to have children.
Their second child was just two months old when they moved back to Connecticut — to Fairfield. But then, Cook-Littman was not feeling well.
“The doctors couldn’t help me,” she said.
So, she did her own research and changed her diet.
“I got better,” she said.
And she thought others could benefit from advocating for their own health the way that she did.
“I wanted to help others,” she said.
So, she took a one year program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
“I learned about our food system and what a disaster it is,” she said.
And that brought her to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). She founded GMO Free CT, a grass-roots group, to help educate people about the dangers of GMOs. The group, originally consisting primarily of area mothers, eventually turned their attention to working towards a labeling bill.
They saw that dream come to pass last year when Connecticut became the first state in the country to have a bill requiring labeling of food that has been genetically engineered.
And even though the bill will not go into effect until some other states also have similar legislation, the victory to Cook-Littman is clear.
“In general, we underestimate our power to effect change,” she said.
Now that Cook-Littman has thrown her hat into the political ring, she is putting the public on notice that, if elected, she will not be a typical politician.
“If people are looking for politics as usual, [that’s not me],” she said.
For one thing, she has not defined a platform yet.
“I want to be the voice of the community,” she said. “That’s the thing I’m most excited about.”
And she said she won’t know what the community wants until she gets out there.
“I want to get out in the community and see what people care about,” she said.
The state’s economy is an area she feels she needs to discuss with residents before forming stances on issues such as taxes, spending, state employee benefits, job creation and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“This is where I really need to talk to people,” she said. “Know what they’re thinking, what their daily struggles are.”
When it comes to Common Core, though, as a mother of three children in Fairfield public schools, she has a definite outlook.
“It’s an interesting dilemma because we obviously need to keep finding new ways to teach our children,” she said.
Her concern is that Common Core is being rushed without parents understanding it.
“And teachers aren’t being properly trained,” she said.
She feels standardized tests are not a fair assessment of children’s abilities.
“Not all children test well or learn the same,” she said. “Who’s benefiting? A private company.”
She wants there to be more time to evaluate things.
“We are teaching for the sake of taking tests and not for the sake of knowledge,” she said.
Cook-Littman also has opinions about Metro-North, gun control and the environment.
“I have a commuting husband,” she said. “It took him seven years to get a [parking] permit [at the train station].”
And during that time his trip to and from his job as general counsel for an investment bank in Manhattan has become more arduous.
“His commute has gotten longer and his stress level has gone up,” she said. “Trains are never on time and we worry about safety.”
She feels there are serious problems that need to be addressed.
“The infrastructure needs to be fixed,” she said. “The wires are old, the tracks are old.”
Cook-Littman said this situation is unacceptable.
“We have to do better,” she said. “This is one of the busiest commuter lines in the country.”
When it comes to gun control, Cook-Littman is in favor of what she considers “common sense gun control” but she doesn’t want to limit discussion.
“We have to think about mental health, community support for people going through hard times,” she said. “We have to think about related issues.”
Environmental and health issues, though, are her passion.
“If our land and water and air is polluted, we cannot possibly be healthy,” she said. “Our health is interconnected with the health of our planet.”
With Cook-Littman spending so much time in Hartford working with legislators on the GMO labeling bill, she feels she learned a lot.
“It was about democracy,” she said. “About the government working for our people.”
And while she relates to Democrats on social issues and has been a lifelong liberal, she said that she has an agenda that is unrelated to political parties.
“I believe in doing what’s right,” she said. “Last year, I questioned Democrats as much as Republicans.”
And she wants to work with both sides as state representative.
“[I want to] do what needs to be done to help,” she said.
But first she wants to talk to people. She plans to walk around neighborhoods and knock on doors and attend important community events.
“People shouldn’t be surprised if they get a phone call from me,” she said.
And her ultimate goal?
“Giving people a voice in Hartford,” she said.
Cook-Littman has served seven years as a board member of Operation Hope, started a preschool at Beth El Synagogue on Fairfield Woods Road and is on the women’s auxiliary board at the Jewish Home for the Elderly.