Muad Hrezi, a progressive 26-year-old substitute teacher and track coach from Connecticut, is challenging corporate interests and spreading a message of fairness in government.

Seated in front of his laptop camera in a dress shirt and glasses, Muad Hrezi, a 26-year-old congressional candidate and former Senate staffer, waits anxiously as more people join his IG Live. Hrezi points to three colorful paintings on the wall behind him. “My little sisters are artists. They painted these themselves,” he said.

Hrezi proceeds to talk about his family and background, and how as a Senate aide, he witnessed a partisan fight over surprise billing, and was frustrated when corporate interests blocked legislation aimed to prevent companies from charging large sums of money for emergency room visits.

Now, he is running for office.

Muad Hrezi announced last month that he is running for Congress in Connecticut’s 1st District. The substitute teacher and track coach from Hartford is challenging U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-CT), who has represented the district since 1999. If elected, Hrezi would be the second youngest member of Congress and one of only three Muslims.

Larson has not had a primary challenger since taking office, and won the 2020 general election with 63.8% of the vote.

“I want to deliver the prosperity and justice we’ve all earned and deserved,” Hrezi said. “Our government has been captured by corporations. Corporations run the show.”

Hrezi grew up in a middle-class family in Waterbury and Naugatuck, Connecticut with five siblings. His parents immigrated to the  U.S. in search for a better life, after living in Libya under the repressive Qaddafi regime.

Facing the realities of campaigning during a pandemic, Hrezi has been hosting virtual events from his home in Hartford, and says he is qualified at a young age given his legislative experience in the Senate. He says he wants to reduce the corporate influence on politics, and is particularly passionate about health policy.

“If I could pass one policy right now, it would probably be Medicare for All,” Hrezi said during an Instagram Live.

Hrezi said his support for Medicare for All comes from his own personal experience with the healthcare system. As a 17-year-old, he was sick with severe pneumonia and crawled into an emergency room gasping for air, but was delayed health care due to his inability to pay and his family’s medical debt. “It felt really gross and humiliating, and something that the world’s wealthiest country should not be engaged in,” Hrezi said.

He went on to study health policy at UNC Chapel Hill and later became a Health Policy Analyst for Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT). While working in the Senate, Hrezi saw what he considered a broken system functioning for greedy corporate special interests and not centered around middle-class families.

Values instilled by his family and religion such as trying to serve the vulnerable influence Hrezi’s campaign message.

“Don’t ever forget the vulnerable and the poor,” his mother always told him.

The message stuck with him.

“I have a degree of privilege, and I should try to use that as much as I can to serve others,” Hrezi said.

As a Muslim running for federal office, Hrezi is taking a historic step. He says he wants to “make people who share [his] creed proud” by fighting misinformation and “provide a better encapsulation of what our religion is actually about.”

Ayoub Ouederni, Hrezi’s close friend and college roommate, said Hrezi approached him with what seemed like a crazy idea. It excited him because he thinks Hrezi embodies qualities that make good public servants, such as empathy for people left behind and commitment to justice at the individual and systemic levels.

Ouederni is now a student at Yale Law School and serves as Hrezi’s campaign advisor. “We need people that are reluctant to put themselves in the spotlight and run for public office but feel the need to do so out of a sense of commitment to their community,” Ouederni said. “It should be seen not as an opportunity, but also as a burden.”

Hrezi says the most inspiring part of the campaign is the encouragement from people who believe in his message. “I don’t think any campaign should be about an individual. It’s about a platform, a message, a vision,” Hrezi said. “I’m not the only one who wants to see a government that actually serves us.”

Although Hrezi is frustrated with the corporate influence on politics, he describes himself as a zealous optimist who wants people to get involved in politics. “The most beautiful thing about democracy is that as long as we have the most important elements, the system has to respond to community interests.”

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