WNPR

Sen. Chris Murphy Treks Across Connecticut

Sep 2, 2016

"I think part of the job has to be going out and finding people who might not otherwise call your office."
Sen. Chris Murphy

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy has been walking across Connecticut this week to hear from constituents about their issues and concerns, and what they expect from their representatives in Washington. 

Murphy said people are surprised to see him walking through town unannounced wearing shorts, t-shirt, and a Red Sox cap, but he said it's led to the most frank conversations he's had with constituents since becoming a U.S. senator.

Murphy began his trek Monday in Voluntown, which borders Rhode Island. He spoke with WNPR on Thursday, while he was somewhere between West Haven and Bridgeport.

Sen. Chris Murphy: I think it's really easy to do this job by just sitting in your office and letting people call you. But I think part of the job has to be going out and finding people who might not otherwise call your office. I'm going across the state this week because I want to meet hundreds of people who can tell me their stories, tell me what they want from Washington, that might not ever think or call their U.S. senator. And you know, it really left me recharged and inspired to try to make good on a lot of the priorities that I've heard as I've been walking the state. 

WNPR's Ray Hardman: What's the reaction when people along your route come into contact with you and realize the guy in the cargo shorts and the Red Sox cap is their U.S. senator?

It's actually been amazing. I frankly had more authentic conversations this week than probably any other week I've been in the Senate. You know, there's something kind of disarming about running into your U.S. senator, who is sitting there in front of you in shorts and a baseball cap, and that kind of loosens them up to tell me about their story.

Just about two hours ago, I talked to a woman who had just had her electricity shut off, but she was working 30 to 35 hours a week, and she was really honest with me about the struggles that she has. Sometimes people aren't willing to tell you those stories when you walk up to them in a business suit and a Senate lapel pin. 

As you well know, this state is just a patchwork of cities and towns and local municipalities. I guess everywhere you go, there are different concerns that people are having. 

I've heard so many local concerns. When I was out in eastern Connecticut, we're talking about the proposal for a gun range -- when I was in Hadlyme and Chester, we were talking about the... new hours, with less hours, at Gillette Castle. Here in New Haven, we were talking about the epidemic of homeless men and women sleeping on the Green. Every place is different.

And then sometimes, you hear about the same issue, but you hear about in different ways.

So in eastern Connecticut, we talked a lot about guns, and it was mainly from gun owners who were really worried about what my agenda was when it came to the gun policy. I'm talking a lot about guns here in Fairfield County and New Haven. But it's different -- it's people who have experienced gun violence, and who want these illegal guns off the street. So you know, this is a really diverse state. 

What's the most bizarre thing you've seen so far? 

I had a really funny experience in Norwich. I walked into a diner that had been turned into a private breakfast club, basically, so that the patrons could smoke. And they were very angry that they were talking to the guy who had passed the restaurant smoking ban -- back when I was a state legislator -- but also grateful that I had built into it a loophole that I'm not terribly proud of, that allowed them to turn the diner into a private club. 

You've been tweeting a lot about your feet and your body. How are you holding up? 

I just took a bunch of extra strength Tylenol, so I'm feeling okay right now. But this is definitely more than my body wanted to do. I didn't really train for this. You know, I run a lot; I exercise a lot, so I'm luckily in decent shape. But this has been a little bit more than my body really wanted to take part in. 

What did you learn about the state and your constituents that you didn't know before you started this journey?  

I've heard different versions of the same story over and over again on this trip -- people who are playing by the rules, who are working full-time, and who just aren't making ends meet, and those are the people who don't have the time to call my office.

And for all the people out there who think that there's a culture of dependency -- people who want to be on programs like food stamps, or subsidized housing -- people that I've met on this trip are working, working full-time, full-time plus, and they're still not able to go back to college; still not able to pay their electricity bills.

Here's the other thing I've learned: This is a beautiful state. I've lived here my entire life. I've traveled by car to every inch of it.

But there's something different when you walk it. You experience the natural beauty of this state, and are able to stop and appreciate it when you walk in a very different way. That's one of the really neat things about this trip so far. 

Map of Sen. Murphy's first three days walking across Connecticut.

Chris Murphy said that as long as his body holds out, he planned to reach Greenwich, his final destination, by noon on Saturday.