Teen brother of Sandy Hook student running for state Senate in Connecticut

Posted at 1:18 PM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 13:18:22-04

Most college sophomores spend their summers getting internships or summer jobs.

J.T. Lewis is launching his bid for state Senate.

Lewis, 19, felt compelled to run for office to help serve years after his younger brother Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

"This is just a perfect moment for me to do something for my state," J.T. Lewis told ABC News.

He said that one "factor" in his decision to run was what he saw as a lack of leadership by current state senators, his in particular.

He said that current Rep. Tony Hwang, who is a Republican like Lewis, failed to call his mom back when she contacted him to talk about an initiative she launched after the shooting.

J.T. told ABC News that in early 2015, a little over two years after the deadly shooting, his mom called to talk to Hwang about the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, a social and emotional learning program she started in honor of her slain son.

Lewis said that Hwang never called his mom back, and in 2018, after seeing Hwang post something about caring for his community, Lewis called the politician out.

That resulted in Hwang sending Lewis a private message apologizing, and led to a call between Lewis' mom and the state senator but little else.

"They talked for a little while and then he got re-elected and then he fell off the face of the earth," Lewis told ABC News.

Hwang did not directly respond to ABC News' request for comment about Lewis' accusations, saying instead "I remain focused on working tirelessly in the state Senate to address issues of state fiscal accountability, social responsibility, and economic sustainability."

"I am honored and privileged to serve as the State Senator and will continue to do all I can to be a voice our constituents can be proud of. I will always rise above accusations and political negatives," Hwang said in his statement.

Lewis said that Hwang is "not the only one in Connecticut" who he says is "all about taking pictures and not taking action."

There are a number of other prominent politicians who have spoken with Lewis, most notably then-President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.

Lewis went to the White House during both administrations, and said that when the presidents heard about Jesse -- who reportedly urged his classmates to run when he heard the gunshots -- both cried.

"Jesse's known for saving nine of his classmates," Lewis told ABC News.

"Both of them got emotional when they heard that story," he said. "It's the only thing I've seen that's united them. It's a uniting story."

While running as a Republican, Lewis sees himself as a potentially unifying figure, especially on the issue of mental health and gun safety, saying that he can be -- as someone in government who knows the personal loss that comes with gun violence -- an intermediary between lawmakers and constituents.

He also notes that if he wins in the 2020 election, he will still be a college student at the University of Connecticut -- and doesn't plan to leave.

Like many state senators who have full time jobs, Lewis will shift his classes later at night to allow for the business of governing.