On Jan. 3, 2011, the control of the gavel in the U.S. House of Representatives will change from Democratic to Republican hands as Speaker-designate John Boehner takes over from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the wake of the historic November 2010 elections. Though it seems practically commonplace after the past six years, such transfers are actually quite rare. In the last 100 years, control has changed only seven times.
Connecticut’s representation in the U.S. House has trended closely with the overall control of the body over much of the last ten years. From 2000 to 2006, three of the five Congressional Districts were represented by Republicans as they held the majority. In the 2006 elections, Connecticut flipped with the nation and sent four Democrats to Washington. Fairfield County’s Rep. Christopher Shays stood as the lone Republican in the delegation until he too was swept away with the Barack Obama tide in 2008.
Rowing with the tide has been to Connecticut’s benefit in the U.S. House, as the rules that govern that body give wide leverage to the majority and render the minority virtually powerless as the “loyal opposition.”
But in the 2010 elections, in which Republicans nationwide netted 62 new seats in the U.S. House, Connecticut was one of just a handful of states that bucked the trend. In fact, the Nutmeg State is now just one of seven states that send completely Democratic delegations to Washington. With this new balance of power, Connecticut’s Members of Congress face the possibility of being in a weaker position than at any other time in recent history.
Some of the effects have already been seen as stalwart Members like Reps. John Larson and Rosa DeLauro have lost some of their influence at the Capitol and continue to face challenges from their colleagues for leadership posts.
Diminished influence will manifest itself in many ways. At a time when state officials seem to be hoping that the federal government will again provide funds to balance the state budget, a Congressional delegation with diluted influence may be unable to offer much federal help. With a dramatically imbalanced federal budget, very difficult choices are certain to be made about which programs to save and which to cut. But when the new majority in the U.S. House prepares to enact these changes, they will likely seek little input from our delegation.
Connecticut’s need for infrastructure investment in our highways, ports, airports, and submarine base remain significant. But without the clout in Congress to advocate for them, they face a potentially perilous future. With a dwindling ability to make things happen in Washington, Representatives may turn to in-district efforts to make up the difference in other ways.
Second District Congressman Joe Courtney, for example, worked with the leadership in Washington, D.C. to speed up the nation’s submarine building schedule so that new Virginia-class submarines could be constructed at the General Dynamics-Electric Boat dockyards in Groton. This accomplishment was a winner in eastern Connecticut and was featured in a Courtney campaign advertisement.
But as a member of the minority caucus, Courtney and his fellow Members are likely to shift their focus toward delivering results from within their districts as opposed to Washington. Mr. Courtney, for example, was lauded this week by the President and CEO of the Mystic Aquarium, who praised Courtney’s role in brokering a deal that will keep the Aquarium from sinking under an ocean of debt.
With a Democratic President and a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, House Democrats certainly will not be powerless. But when the 112th Congress is sworn into office on January 3, 2011, Connecticut’s delegation will be far weaker than they have been in years past. How this shift ultimately impacts the state will play a major role over the next two years.
Heath W. Fahle served as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party from 2007-2009. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com