Executive Director of the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors and Interim Executive Director of the Commission on Equity and Opportunity
Steven Hernandez grew up wanting to be an international human rights attorney. After clerking in the court of appeals and working for Human Rights Watch, he began to understand the effects of local policy and practice. His first job in the Council of the District of Columbia, the legislative branch of the district’s local government, taught him to appreciate the burden of carrying the public trust while representing constituents’ interests. “Always have an eye out for fraud and waste,” he says, “and promote good government.” These experiences eventually led him to his current position in the Connecticut General Assembly.
Hernandez’ position is unique. Connecticut has bicameral legislative commissions that target the needs of underserved populations. While the staff serving the commissions are nonpartisan, “we have an opinion,” he says. Staff sometimes opposes legislation that negatively affects those populations, or they draft competing measures.
“It’s human rights at home,” he says. “The most immediate reward is that I get to be inside the ‘velvet rope’ working with elected officials who can have an impact on the issues that I care about.” The nonpartisan approach of the commissions is important to him. “It requires us to look beyond the headlines and into the nuance, and to understand that behind every great argument that is politically based is a kernel of research and best-practice-based truth.” That kernel, he says, is usually the right thing to do.
Hernandez takes pride in the commissions’ work on a two-generation strategy to offer wraparound services to families in Connecticut and sister states, as well as their efforts to improve school climate and curb bullying through improved interventions. The commissions are also working to continue improving early literacy programs, with the goal of closing the achievement gap by ensuring that all children, especially those of color, are reading by third grade.
Connecticut feels like home because it has “a little bit of all the places” where he’s lived, he says. But working with his friends and colleagues across the nation is vital to his role. Learning from initiatives in other states allows him to bring back fresh ideas and approaches that inform his work in the General Assembly.
“It’s a dream job.”
Adrienne Fischer is a policy associate in NCSL’s Education Program.