There are advantages to being an incumbent Congressman in a largely Democratic district, but U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said last week that he’s taking this race, like his previous races, seriously.
The popular 1st District Congressman, who rose to the rank of Democratic Caucus Chair, said his re-election campaign is focused on grassroots efforts such as canvassing.
His Republican opponent, John Henry Decker of West Hartford, has criticized Larson for the lack of debates, but Larson’s campaign said it can’t control what outside organizations decide to do in an election year.
Chris Licata, Larson’s campaign manager, said they’ve accepted four invitations to forums and have offered Decker an opportunity to share the stage with them.
“I don’t know what more we can do,” Licata said last week.
Decker has also accused Larson of being an absentee Congressman, who is more interested in fitting in with the Beltway crowd, but Larson said all you have to do is go check with the people at Augie & Ray’s, a hot dog joint in East Hartford, to see how often he’s in the district.
He does have a responsibility as caucus chair to travel throughout the country on behalf of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, but he’s home every chance he gets. Larson still has a son in high school so “I’m back in the district almost every weekend.”
When he is home he’s working on issues and holding “Congressman on Your Corner,” events at local grocery stores, in addition to the numerous service medal presentations and senior citizen forums.
That doesn’t include the various announcements regarding the federal funding he’s been able to secure for defense manufacturing and transportation projects in the state.
One of the proudest moments in Larson’s more than 30 years in public service was when Pratt & Whitney was awarded the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contract and a contract with Boeing to build the engines for the Air Force’s refueling tankers.
Larson said the Connecticut delegation’s ability to secure funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, refueling tanker, and two new Virginia-class attack submarines secured with the help of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney will amount to more than $120 billion to the state of Connecticut over the next decade.
“I can’t think of anything I’ve done that has done more for Connecticut and industrial manufacturing base than the Joint Strike Fighter,” Larson said in a phone interview last week. “I think this is a remarkable achievement for us and for Pratt & Whitney and the also manufacturing base in the region, given the stalemate exists in Washington D.C.”
In order to ensure that the engine for the Joint Strike Fighter didn’t have any competition from an alternative engine, Larson worked closely with the newly elected Tea Party Republicans on the other side of the aisle to ultimately kill an alternative engine under development by General Electric Co. and Rolls Royce. It was a tough sell too because the alternative engine was going to be built in U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s district in Ohio. Larson said the decision to cut off funding for an alternative engine demonstrates his ability to work across party lines to get things done for Connecticut.
The more government can augment the work being done in the private sector the better off the economy will be, he said.
While he wouldn’t speculate on the Democratic Party’s chances at taking back the U.S. House of Representatives from the Republicans, he did talk about why he thinks there’s gridlock in Congress.
He said Boehner is not the problem. It’s the Tea Party wave that swept him into the majority.
This new group is “at war with its own government so they miss the point … because they believe government is the problem in general,” Larson said.
Passing legislation for the most basic things such as the nation’s transportation infrastructure or the farm bill, is at odds with the Tea Party’s “own rhetoric that government is the enemy,” he said. Subsidies to farmers and building roads and bridges previously received bipartisan support in Congress, but not anymore.
However, he’s not frustrated enough to get out of politics like U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican from Illinois.
Johnson traveled to Connecticut this summer to speak at an event in New Britain with U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy. He told the crowd he was retiring because he couldn’t deal with the “anger” and “division” in Washington D.C. anymore.
Larson said he is as passionate as ever about public service and his speech at the Democratic National Convention may have proved how deep that passion goes.
He talked about his family and the guarantees the government provides for the middle class in the form of contributions. He refuses to call Medicare and Social Security entitlements.
“Don’t ever tell me that’s a handout! That’s the insurance they paid for!” Larson exclaimed in North Carolina.
“My family’s not alone. Millions of Americans rely on Social Security and Medicare. In fact, for half our nation’s seniors, it’s the only thing standing between them and poverty. What Republicans don’t get is that for so many people like my family, this is personal.”