In her early life, the results and rewards of hard work would shape who she would become, but patience and timing -- knowing the right time to pursue any endeavor -- would consistently produce positive results throughout her life.
“I was interested in politics when I was younger in high school and college,” Harrigan said. “I worked on campaigns like Ted Kennedy’s campaign when he ran for president. I ran for dorm rep when I was at UMaine-Orono. And as a member of the Cheshire Board of Education people have been appreciative of the work I’ve done.”
There are many issues that have earned Harrigan’s focus as she has campaigns in the 89th District (Bethany, Prospect and Cheshire) and one key issue is quality education.
“Getting secured funding for education is important at all levels, including post-secondary schools, universities and public schools to improve access and affordability to public higher education,” Harrigan said. “I would also use my higher education experience to support regionalization of our community colleges, to make the process easier for students while maintaining the unique qualities of each school.
“I want to keep our schools safe and foster healthy, anxiety-free environments for students and teachers. My opponent, Lezlye Zupkus, voted against a bill to ban bump stocks. In March high school students in Connecticut and nationwide walked out of classes to show solidarity against gun violence in schools. Students want to feel safe in school. You need to listen to people. Why would anyone vote against a bill to ban bump stocks? The only thing I can think of is that she (Zupkus) wants to keep her A rating from the National Rifle Association.”
Another issue important to Harrigan is tax fairness.
“The middle class is paying more than their fair share,” Harrigan said. “We are burdened disproportionately the way our tax system is set up. I want to work towards progressive tax reform to relieve the middle class from the unfair burden they bear. I want to revise outdated tax exemptions favoring large corporations over working people and I want to develop a proportional tax structure allowing seniors to retire comfortably in Connecticut.”
Jobs and job training and preparation are other key issues for Harrigan.
“Increasing opportunities for internships, apprenticeships and job training are ways to improve job growth,” Harrigan said. “We need to invest in education and job training to prepare students for good-paying jobs in Connecticut industries. It’s important to develop partnerships between colleges and the business community to create more opportunities for an educated workforce ready for the 21st century.
“We should support small and medium-size business expansion as they serve as the engine of job growth and we need to promote economic growth by investing in transportation and infrastructure. We need to have conversations in Hartford on all these issues and we need to elect a critical mass of new legislators who ask hard questions and not just vote along party lines.”
Growing up in northern Maine, Harrigan had a job as early as age 9 when she joined her brother in delivering newspapers back in the day when there were such things as newspaper routes that children could work for. In September, it was normal to have three weeks off from school to work on the potato harvest. Whole families would work in the fields during harvest season. I would go out with my siblings, we were picked up at 6:00 a.m. and taken out to the fields to work.
“I was one of seven children,” Harrigan said. Her father owned a small convenient store and prior to that he worked as a printer at a small newspaper in Houlton, Maine. “My brother and I would get up at 4 a.m. to do the newspaper route to be ready for our ride to the potato fields at 6 a.m. It was one way for us kids to earn some extra money to buy our winter coats and boots.”
Once Harrigan focused on academics, she studied foreign languages and international affairs as an undergraduate. In graduate school, she studied French and then went on to a Ph.D. program in Education. One day being on her community’s Board of Education was “something I put on my bucket list when I was in grad school. I could see how important it was to use your skills and knowledge to give back to your communities, but I needed to wait until my children were older and I wasn’t needed on PTA and Parent Boards at the schools.”
“Over the years, I learned to pursue my interests only when the time was right, to do things when I felt comfortable that I would be successful pursuing that interest. I was interested in running for political office, but it wasn’t the right time for me.”
While education would become a major part of her life -- getting her Ph.D., teaching and eventually becoming a member of the Cheshire Board of Education – while in high school and college her focus was on international relations and international politics.
“Honestly, I fell into teaching and learning,” Harrigan said. “It wasn’t my chosen career path, I had gaps and I wanted fill in those gaps.”
Filling in one of those gaps came from studying foreign language in college. As a junior at UMaine-Orono she was given an opportunity to study overseas and ended up going to France.
“I was in France for 10 months, by myself and in a new environment,” Harrigan said. “When you are in that situation it gives you that need to focus on what you need to do. At the time I wanted to become involved with International Affairs.
“I was interested in the U.S. relationship with foreign countries. That’s why I am so devastated by what is happening today on the national level. The respect we’ve had as an international leader in the world is null and void today.”
As fate would have it, Harrigan would meet her husband Brad Saxton when she was working in D.C. as a budget analyst for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. They moved to Wyoming when her husband got a faculty position at the University of Wyoming School of Law. They moved to Cheshire 16 years ago when he got a new job as dean of Quinnipiac Law School and now they have two grown children Kate Saxton and Michael Saxton.
Harrigan became an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac and holds that position today.
In 2015, with her two children grown, the time was right for Harrigan to run for political office. Embracing her educational background and desire to give back to the community, Harrigan ran for Cheshire Board of Education with Democrats Neeta Vatti, Cathy Hellreich and Marléna Soble. The foursome went 4-0 and were elected to the Board of Education.
“After I got elected, I said to myself, ‘wow,’” Harrigan said. “What a good feeling when you get that kind of support from your community.”
Today, the timing is right for Harrigan as she makes a run at the state level, taking on Republican incumbent Zupkus for the 89th State Representative District seat.
For Harrigan, it is important for her to meet the people she will be representing in the State Legislature, knocking on thousands of doors to meet her constituents.
“I never thought I would like knocking on doors like I do,” Harrigan said. “But I’m learning something new every day. When I knock, I don’t just tell people my agenda, I want to get a sense of what is important to the people of the district. They see what my values are and it’s important to know what their values are, what’s important to them. It becomes personal.
“In any political race the incumbent has a huge advantage,” Harrigan said. “The hard part is doing it one door at a time when you don’t have that name recognition.”
Moving forward, Harrigan believes she has the experience and background to make a difference for people in Prospect, Bethany and Cheshire.
“I’ve been listening to people, a lot of people,” Harrigan said. “We need to straighten out the budget and getting it in order is a priority. We need to invest in education, invest in our working people, invest in our most vulnerable in the community, including children, and safeguard and improve the health needs of everyone. These will be my priorities when I get to the state legislature. I want to be part of a government that cares about people and community."