Politics

From left, Ivanka Trump, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, Vice President Mike Pence, J.T. Lewis, and Sophia Vetare are shown in New Hampshire.
From left, Ivanka Trump, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, Vice President Mike Pence, J.T. Lewis, and Sophia Vetare are shown in New Hampshire. Photo Credit: Courtesy of J.T. Lewis

19-Year-Old Running For Senate To Honor Slain Brother, Make Schools Safe, Address Mental Health

Most college sophomores are planning spring break, but University of Connecticut sophomore JT Lewis spends his class-free time campaigning for the Connecticut state senate in the 28th district, which includes Easton, Fairfield, Lewis' hometown of Newtown, Weston and Westport.

Lewis, whose platform is school safety, is challenging Tony Hwang (R), a third-term state senator in the primary. A Republican who supports President Trump, Lewis expresses disappointment in Connecticut's political leaders.

"They show up, pose for pictures, and that's it," he told Daily Voice Plus. "I decided to run for senate in my home state. I want to bring a personal touch to leadership."

Just 19, Lewis announced his candidacy on social media in July. He is the big brother of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, whose heroic actions saved nine of his classmates before he was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. Jesse yelled, "Run!" as the shooter's gun jammed, and his first-grade classmates ran. Jesse was shot.

Inspired by his brother's courage and looking to honor Jesse as well as support the Choose Love Movement, which his mother Scarlett Lewis founded following the shooting — the social emotional programming is in 80 schools across the United States and in several other countries — Lewis feels he is in a good position to run and make school safety a priority. 

The seat's election is Nov. 3, but first Lewis has to win the primary election on Aug. 11. He talked recently of his ambitions "to bring a personal touch to leadership" and how he is eager to complete his education and focus on bringing change to Connecticut.

In addition, for months Lewis has been advocating for his brother to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a Feb. 12 Tweet , JT said, "My heroic brother is on the short list to get the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jesse saved nine of his classmates’ during the Sandy Hook shooting; President Trump was just briefed about Jesse’s story."

On Dec. 18, 2018, Lewis and his mother participated in a roundtable on school safety with President Trump and cabinet members during the release of his Federal School Safety Commission's report.  After the meeting, Lewis met privately with the president. He said his mother was asked to come in for a photo and the president signed a picture of Jesse and said his courage was "amazing."

"He gave his life to help save others, and he left a message at home of 'Nurturing Healing Love,' which has become a worldwide campaign through the Choose Love Movement," Lewis recounted.

The words were found written on a kitchen chalkboard by Scarlett Lewis some time after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, as reported here in Daily Voice Plus. 

Earlier this month, Lewis met with the vice president and Ivanka Trump in New Hampshire. "It was very informal. We got to talk about the Medal of Freedom; Jesse is on the short list. He's had the attention of the White House for a while," he said.

Whether he's in Washington, traveling to other states like New Hampshire or at home in his district, so far the campaign experience has been totally positive. 

"I've never met a politician who is against what I'm doing — Republican or Democrat," said Lewis. "People from across Connecticut are supportive. The governor of New Hampshire said he wants to come down and knock on doors with me."

Connecticut's leadership lacks a personal touch, according to Lewis, who, if he wins, would move his classes to Waterbury from Storrs. 

"They call it a part-time position, in name," explained Lewis. I would have to go to Waterbury instead of Storrs and probably drop the class load."

His platform "includes school safety, mental health, and securing schools," he said. 

Recounting the day of the shooting, he said, "There was nobody there to protect any of the students. The principal — Dawn Hochsprung was killed when she confronted the gunman — had to come out to confront him, and my brother had to stand up to him."

"Every time, the day after these [school shootings] the schools become the safest schools in the country. Nothing really matters if your kid's dead. I have so many things I want to do," Lewis said.

"There should have been programs in place to teach him (the shooter) to cope with the problems he was dealing with. To this day, I don't believe our school systems have done the work that the mental health problem requires."