One-on-one with State Senator Ted Kennedy Jr.

HARTFORD --  Many were surprised when Connecticut State Senator Ted Kennedy Jr., announced he would not seek re-election in November.

The Branford lawmaker's name had even been tossed around as a governor candidate just last year.

In a one-on-one talk with the state Senator, he explained why he felt he needed to step away from his role in the legislature, and put his efforts into a cause he’s been fighting for most of his life.

“First of all, it wasn't an easy decision for me not to seek re-election because I love my job here in the Connecticut General Assembly,” said Kennedy, “I think I've been able to make a big contribution here. But what really made my decision was what is happening nationwide in the area of disability rights.”

For Senator Kennedy, it's a cause that's deeply rooted in his own personal experience losing his leg to bone cancer at the age of 12.

“This is the cause of my life,” he said.

Kennedy took his struggle and turned it into advocacy, becoming a lawyer, specializing in the healthcare field and disability rights. Just last year, he became Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Lawmaking came second to this Kennedy.

He didn't try for elected office until 2014 and won a Senate seat in the state he'd lived in for more than 15 years. Kennedy was re-elected again in 2016. By 2017 there were people urging him to consider a run for governor.

“I think we have a terrific field of candidates in the Democratic Party running for governor,” said Kennedy. “But really, honestly Jenn, the calculus that went into my decision not to run for governor last year is the same basis for why I'm not seeking re-election now. It was always about looking at my life's work in the area of disability rights."

Which leads to the problem Kennedy feels those with disabilities are facing today.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, makes it illegal to discriminate against those with disabilities in all areas of life, whether at a job, in schools, or in public transportation.

The bill saw bi-partisan support.

The creation, a collaboration that included Conservative Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Kennedy's father, the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy.

The act has come under fire this session by an amendment that would have decimated parts around businesses being ADA compliant, which would have wide-reaching consequences in the disability community.

It’s just one of the many moving pieces in Washington, D.C.

His next move begs the question, how much of his move has to do with President Trump’s time so far in the White House?

“I think what changed everything for me was the election of President Trump. No one expected President Trump to win the election,” said Kennedy. “We expected Hillary Clinton to be the President, and had she won, I probably wouldn't be devoting my time now to protecting the rights of people with disabilities."

Kennedy said he was just in Washington recently meeting with Senator Hatch, asking him to not take up the ADA Amendment.

The partisanship in Washington seems to be at an all-time high, with both Democrats and Republicans finding it hard to get major pieces of legislation passed together.

That’s what Kennedy thinks his father would miss, if he saw the state of Washington today.

"He was the liberal lion of the Senate, but he was always the first one to cross the aisle if he knew he could make progress on an issue,” said Kennedy, “unfortunately, I don't think we have those types of relationships in Washington D.C., that we had, even five years ago, 10 years ago."

While in his two legislative terms in Connecticut, Kennedy championed environmental and healthcare initiatives, passing more than 60 pieces of legislation.

Kennedy said he enjoys the intimacy of local politics, a different experience than his relatives who were making decisions on nuclear war and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I'm going to continue to be involved with the issues that I care about here in the state,” said Kennedy, “I love this state. I think it's got the most amazing potential, yes we have problems, but we have a great state.”

When asked if we would ever see his name on a future ballot in Connecticut, Kennedy left the door open.

“How could I know that? What's going to happen in the future?” Kennedy exclaimed, “No one knows. But I know what I need to do right now.”

Kennedy said he plans to organize the disability rights national resistance. He said that will include trying to register one million people with disabilities to vote around the country.