DARIEN — When Terrie Wood was first asked to run for state representative of District 141, she said no.

“My first response was ‘No with an expletive way,’ she said with a laugh. “But I changed my mind, clearly.”

The incumbent state representative is now running for her fifth term to represent Darien and Rowayton in Hartford. But her path to politics wasn’t direct. After graduating from Rollins College with a degree in art history in 1975, Wood worked as a commercial and voiceover actress for 14 years before starting her own portrait photography business.

In 1990, she began her career in nonprofits and public service by starting the Darien Environmental Group. From there, she went on to serve as a trustee of the Darien Library and The Community Fund, and was a member of the Republican Town Committee, as well as the Representative Town Meeting. She also was a co-chair of the YES ... DHS Referendum Committee for a new Darien High School back in 2000.

Wood’s role in persuading people to vote to fund the building of a new high school in particular ignited her passion for politics.

“It was the largest margin of victory, largest voter turnout in the history of the town,” she said. “We had a ball. The day after the referendum, I just sat at my computer and went “Oh my God, where is everybody?” I was so used to the energy and enthusiasm and camaraderie. It was a thrill.”

It was during this work that Wood learned one of her first lessons in politics: never talk down to the voters. During this and her other work in town, she began to earn a reputation as a nonpartisan politician who listened to both sides. Finally, she gave in to requests to run for office and was elected for her first term in 2008.

“I didn’t want to not try it. I had a lot of support to do it from both parties because I’d done all these things in nonprofits and on the board level and had a proven track record of being nonpartisan. I am a registered Republican, but that doesn’t drive the debate for me. You look at people’s issues from both parties and you solve them,” she said.

That curiosity evolved into a full-on passion as Wood served through the economic crisis in 2008 and largest tax increases in Connecticut history in 2015. Now, after seeing the state’s budget grow tighter and tighter, Wood said in her next term, she’s determined to fix the economy by putting forward bills to do things like repeal the estate tax and eliminate corporate surcharge.

“Certainly, if the Democrats are amenable to bills I put forward before, that would be helpful,” she said. “We’ll still push the things we push, but it’s like a football team. The more players you have, the more votes you have. That’s the only time Hartford becomes partisan is on the budget. Unlike Washington, there’s a lot of us where we have great relationships with each other. It’s a very, very rich relationship. We have great affection for each other and respect for each other and we get a lot of bills done and passed. When it comes to the budget, it’s partisan. The rest of the stuff is not.”

Wood also said she’s looking to continue focus on her other great passion: education. She wants to eliminate state mandates in Darien schools as state funding gets cut.

“In the session last year, because there was short revenue again, they cut all education funding. They cut education funding across the state, but they cut the high performing districts even more,” she said. “I get that. But then eliminate some of the mandates you require on us. It’s that top-down government that most people can do for themselves. They don’t need government to do for them what they can do for themselves. It’s the same thing with towns.”

Wood also co-chaired the special education task force and is working on helping consolidate services in Norwalk schools, as well as help better prepare Norwalk students for preschool.

Wood’s passion for education has been one of the driving forces of her career and the motivation behind some of the things she’s most of proud of doing during her time serving as state representative. She said her education legislation requiring more training for teachers on how to teach students with dyslexia is a particular high point of her career.

In addition to this, Wood said she also takes pride in her work co-chairing the mental health portion of the gun safety bill and the passing of bills to protect open spaces, another passion of hers. But her goal should she be re-elected is to help save the state she’s loved representing.

“We’re not rooting for failure,” she said. “We absolutely want to see this state return to vibrancy. I don’t go anywhere, whether it’s the library, Dunkin’ Donuts, the supermarket, where people don’t say “Oh my God, when are you going to stop with the tax increases? What are you doing?”

“Eight years ago, when I stepped forward to run, it was because I didn’t want to not try it. I was sort of intrigued,” she added. “Now I get up like we’re going to beat this, we’re going to win this, turn this around. There’s a real fire in the belly, enthusiasm, and energy and feel very energized to turn this around.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata