Editor’s Note: This question-and-answer interview with Republican attorney general candidate Susan Hatfield is the third in a series of profiles of the five candidates vying for the job.
A former state prosecutor, Susan Hatfield says she is hoping to do something Republicans in Connecticut have not done in 64 years: capture the Attorney General’s Office.
The 46-year-old Pomfret resident is vying to become the state’s top attorney in a traditionally blue environment. While crisscrossing the state, Hatfield has been making the television rounds, presenting her views and insights. As the endorsed Republican candidate Hatfield will face off against fellow party member John Shaban in an August primary. If she wins, she will face the Democratic candidate for attorney general in November.
Following her nomination, Hatfield said an attorney generals’ office under her leadership would be set itself apart from her predecessors by being more pro-business. “Together we will make a case for a very different office of the attorney general for the state of Connecticut,” she said. ”One that can and will help the state be more hospitable to businesses,” The Connecticut Mirror quoted her as saying last month. “My office will be a fierce advocate for state taxpayers. My team will be laser-focused on state contracts and bond packages to root out waste and fraud.”
Hatfield has touted her work as a state prosecutor who focused on tackling human trafficking. She was the first prosecutor to win a human trafficking conviction under state criminal statutes.
Prior to becoming a prosecutor, Hatfield was a public finance attorney with the New York City law firm of Hawkins Delafield & Wood where she represented government entities and public authorities. She earned her law degree from Stetson University College of Law in 1997. Hatfield’s roots in Connecticut run deep. Her family tree in eastern Connecticut dates back to colonial times.
Her chat with the Connecticut Law Tribune covered a range of topics.
Connecticut Law Tribune: How would a Hatfield Attorney General’s Office distinguish itself from George Jepsen’s Attorney General’s Office?
Susan Hatfield: The attorney general represents not only Connecticut state government but, more importantly, is charged with ensuring that the people of the state of Connecticut’s legal rights are fully protected. The duties of the office are clear—to represent the state and the people’s interest in civil court and to advise state offices on appropriate legal issues.
As attorney general, it would be my priority to establish a strong, transparent and respectful relationship with both the executive and legislative branches to ensure policies meet legal standards and are readily available to the people and others with an interest in those decisions.
George Jepsen has done an exceptional job serving as a nonpartisan attorney general. While he had a political background, he has created a professional atmosphere that respects the duties of the office and looks at issues, first from a legal/judicial lens, before imposing any kind of political bias. This is a model that I would continue as the next attorney general. In addition, I believe the attorney general will play an integral role in helping to rebuild Connecticut’s economy, and develop policies that will make the state attractive to business and job creators.
It troubles me that some attorney general candidates are campaigning on a platform to return the office back to a blatant political office, whose sole purpose is to promote a political agenda. I promise the people of Connecticut that I won’t be that kind of attorney general.
CLT: As you know, the opioid epidemic in the state is on the rise. Jepsen said he’s proud of how the Attorney General’s Office has tackled the problem and points to October 2017 when Connecticut joined 40 other Attorneys General’s Offices in the country to issue subpoenas to several pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for information about how the companies market opioids. What—specifically—will you do if elected attorney general to address the opioid crisis?
Hatfield: The opioid epidemic is one of the most complex health care crises that we have seen in recent years. It is tearing apart every aspect of our lives here in Connecticut. We are seeing premature deaths, children growing up in foster care, and many coming through the courthouse doors due to crimes committed by addicted individuals.
As a prosecutor and former mental health nurse, I have seen the crisis from both a health care as well as a law enforcement perspective.
Connecticut must make the crisis a No. 1 health care priority. The approach that needs to be taken is multifaceted. We must reach out to the health care community, law enforcement community, the mental health community, and families that are coping with addicted loved ones. Education is imperative. We need to remove the stigma and increase education and awareness. Individuals need to feel comfortable seeking help, and we all need to be aware of the signs and symptoms to recognize when someone is struggling with addiction.
As attorney general, I would continue Attorney General Jepsen’s efforts to obtain as much information as possible on how opioids are being marketed. This crisis is not unique to Connecticut, as such, I would continue to work with, and seek a leadership role, with my fellow attorneys general to work together, and bring the full weight of our collective offices to address this epidemic.
Addiction does not know gender, age, race, creed or political affiliation. Our next attorney general will have a choice: to seek a political solution that will boost their political pedigree, or to put politics aside and seek a solution to the destruction opioids are inflicting on Connecticut and America. I promise to be the latter.
Further, as a prosecutor, I believe the attorney general and the chief state’s attorney must work collaboratively to address this problem from both the civil side of the courthouse as well as the criminal side. Together, I know we can find a solution.
CLT: While your Democratic counterparts for attorney general are actively criticizing President Donald Trump, you are his ardent supporter. You were a delegate for Trump in 2016 and were one of the state’s earliest Trump supporters during the 2016 Republican primary campaign. One area in which you agree with Trump relates to sanctuary cities. Last month, you said, “Connecticut must stop coddling sanctuary cities within its borders,” adding the state can’t ignore illegal aliens living here. What—specifically—would a Susan Hatfield Attorney General’s Office do with regard to sanctuary cities within the Nutmeg State?
Hatfield: As attorneys, each candidate for attorney general must first and foremost believe in the rule of law. Without it, we are an anarchistic society with no common purpose. The attorney general, as do all our elected leaders, takes an oath to support the U.S. and Connecticut constitutions. It is our responsibility, as elected officials, to uphold the law, to ensure that it is enforced fairly, evenly and without bias.
Sanctuary cities, or any other efforts by any government to circumvent the law, are illegal. Elected officials can change the laws but until they do, elected officials should not be sanctioning with their words, deeds or efforts to undermine the law.
We are a nation of laws, and if the attorney general is willing to ignore our immigration laws, what other laws are they willing to turn a blind eye to? While I agree that an attorney general can and should bring about change, until such time that change is made, I, as the attorney general, will uphold the laws duly enacted in the United States and Connecticut.
CLT: In your platform for attorney general, you said protecting the rights of legal gun owners was a top priority. You have often said the issue of mental health should be a top focus in our society. What—specifically—would you do as attorney general to both protect legal gun owners and put a spotlight on mental health concerns?
Hatfield: I support the Constitution, including the provisions of the Second Amendment. Connecticut has enacted among the strictest gun laws in the country. Sadly, people suffering from mental illness and career criminals continue to use guns in acts of violence. It will be up to the executive and legislative branches to improve mental health programs that keep individuals with mental disabilities away from weapons.
I do not support lawsuits against gun manufacturers as a solution to this important public health issue. Furthermore, while I support the people’s Second Amendment rights, as a prosecutor, I also understand the need to balance that right against ensuring that criminals and those with mental health issues who either, through intent or disability, seek to use guns to inflict harm upon law-abiding citizens, do not have access to such weapons. As all constitutional questions are, it is a delicate balance.
I support mental health awareness and vigorous enforcement of existing gun laws. Unless and until we are willing to deal with the criminal as a criminal, and seek to help those with mental health issues, we will continue to fail to serve the people of Connecticut, and to protect the rights and responsibilities of each citizen of Connecticut.
CLT: You previously served as a policy assistant on the staff of former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who has endorsed you in this race. What—specifically—did you learn from working for Gingrich that you will bring with you to the Attorney General’s Office, if elected?
Hatfield: Speaker Gingrich taught me to think for myself, to challenge the established order and to be fearless in my approach to solving problems.
As a result of his tutelage, I have come to realize that, if we are going to change the way Connecticut operates and make it a more attractive place to do business with predictable fairness and a belief in the integrity of our government, then we must first and foremost respect the voters who entrusted us with this responsibility. Second, we must be bold in our ideas, be unafraid to try that which has not been tried and to refuse to accept the phrase “We’ve always done it this way.”
As I have extensively traveled the state, voters have become excited about my campaign. I believe that is because they see these qualities in me. They do not want a career politician, they are tired of politics as usual, and they want someone to see Connecticut through a new lens who will help lead Connecticut to a brighter future.