Rep. John Larson (D)
Connecticut 1st District
In 1871, Mark Twain moved to Hartford to become director of an insurance company, and in time, became the Connecticut capital’s most famous citizen. And Hartford became the nation’s best-known insurance center. This was not what the Puritans who founded Hartford had in mind, but Connecticut’s Yankees turned out to be shrewd businessmen. Hartford is the boyhood home of financier J.P. Morgan and also home to the nation’s longest-circulating newspaper, the Hartford Courant, established in 1764. Thanks to the broad Connecticut River, Hartford also became a seaport. Its merchants wrote fire insurance, using the capital they had accumulated in the Napoleonic Wars to finance their ventures. One was Samuel Colt’s gun factory just south of downtown Hartford, which became one of the nation’s great arms plants.
2008 Presidential Vote
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Although each sector has downsized, insurance and arms are still economic mainstays of Hartford, Connecticut’s biggest metropolitan area. Connecticut has the largest concentration of financial and insurance firms in the nation, mostly in the Hartford area. The Hartford Financial Services Group, Aetna, and St. Paul Travelers are the largest employers, with a total of nearly 25,000 employees statewide in 2006. Across the river is the Pratt & Whitney jet engine plant in East Hartford, cornerstone of Connecticut-based United Technologies. Though its local workforce is less than one-fourth its size in 1980, it still builds engines for more than 600 customers around the world. The central core of Hartford is suffering, however, with bedraggled, high-crime neighborhoods filled with abandoned buildings, a school system that’s deeply troubled, and downtown landmarks such as the Civic Center and Broadcast House in Constitution Plaza that are in jeopardy. Many words have been written about the sad decline of this once rich city. Where 177,000 people lived in 1950, there were 125,000 in 2006. Its population is 38% African-American and 41% Hispanic, the largest share for a city in the Northeast, and heavily Puerto Rican. Beyond Hartford, the metropolitan area is more affluent but growing slowly.
The 1st Congressional District of Connecticut is centered on Hartford and upscale West Hartford. On the map it looks like a lobster claw. The claw extends west, excluding some affluent suburbs while including small towns and part of Torrington in the north. Southwest of Hartford, the district includes Bristol, site of the sprawling headquarters of ESPN, the multimedia network that revolutionized sports broadcasting and employs about 3,400 locally. East of the Connecticut River are East Hartford and more affluent suburbs. Politically, the Hartford area has long been more Democratic than the rest of Connecticut. It owes some of its Democratic character to John Bailey, an old-fashioned political boss with a scandal-free career who promoted a raft of first-class candidates. Bailey was state Democratic chairman from 1946 to 1975 and national Democratic chairman from 1961 to 1968.
Rep. John Larson (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: July 22, 1948, Hartford .
Home: E. Hartford.
Education: Central CT St. U., B.S. 1971.
Family: Married (Leslie); 3 children.
Elected office: E. Hartford Bd. of Ed., 1977-79; E. Hartford Town Cncl., 1979-83; CT Senate, 1983-95, Pres. pro-tem 1986-95.
Professional Career: H.S. teacher, 1972-77; Insurance broker, 1977-98; Sr. fellow, Yale Bush Ctr., 1995-1998.
The congressman from the 1st District is John Larson, a Democrat first elected in 1998 to replace Rep. Barbara Kennelly, John Bailey’s daughter, who ran unsuccessfully for governor. One of eight children, Larson grew up in the Mayberry Village public-housing project in East Hartford. His father was a fireman at Pratt & Whitney who worked a second job as an auto mechanic, and his mother worked at the state Capitol. He graduated from Central Connecticut State, taught high school and coached athletics. He also worked in the hometown industry as an insurance agent. His family liked politics. His mother served on the town council, and his brother Timothy was mayor of East Hartford. In 1982, at age 34, John Larson was elected to the state Senate. Four years later he was Senate president. He sponsored one of the nation’s first family-medical-leave laws, a prototype for the bill sponsored by Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Democrat, and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.
|John Larson (D-WF)||211,493||(72%)||($1,379,640)|
|Joe Visconti (R)||76,860||(26%)||($15,816)|
|Stephen Fournier (Green)||7,201||(2%)|
|John Larson (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (74%), 2004 (73%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (72%), 1998 (58%)
He seemed headed for the governorship and in 1994 won the party designation at the state convention. But Comptroller Bill Curry built an organization of unionists and liberal activists and beat him 55%-45% in the primary. When Kennelly announced her retirement, Larson decided to try for her seat. In the primary, he faced Secretary of State Miles Rapoport, who led in the polls and fundraising. But Larson raised impressive sums as well, built a local organization, did a lot of door-to-door campaigning, and benefited from the support of Hartford Mayor Mike Peters. He won 46%-43%. In the general election, he competed against Kevin O’Connor, a 31-year-old former law clerk and Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who was endorsed by the Hartford Courant. Larson won 58%-41% and has not been seriously challenged since.
In the House Larson’s voting record places him near the center of his party. In 2002, he actively opposed authorizing the use of force in Iraq, saying that unilateral action could unite Arab countries against the United States. In 2004, he added a provision to the defense bill to reimburse soldiers and their families who have purchased body armor before deploying to Iraq. In 2005, Larson secured a seat on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. The 2005 energy bill included his provisions expanding tax incentives for fuel-cell technologies. In 2007, he won federal protection for local tax breaks for volunteer firefighters and other emergency first responders. On an important parochial issue in 2008, he won National Historic Landmark status for the original Colt factory and grounds.
In 2003, Larson became the senior Democrat on the House Administration Committee, the congressional housekeeping panel that handles office space and other perks of interest to colleagues. Leadership on the committee can be a stepping-stone to better things. Then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi brought Larson into her circle of advisers, and his influence in the Democratic Caucus grew. In 2006, he won a hotly contested race for caucus vice chairman. His competitors were the better-known Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Joseph Crowley of New York. But Schakowsky finished third on the first ballot and was eliminated. She then threw her support to Larson. With Schakowsky’s former supporters, Larson prevailed on the second ballot 116 to 87 over Crowley, who was allied with Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, Pelosi’s arch rival in leadership. Larson also got help from John Murtha, the powerful senior Democrat of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. In 2007, Larson planned to run for caucus chairman, but he stepped aside when it became apparent that Rahm Emanuel of Illinois had broad support for the job. When Emanuel quit the House in November 2008 to become chief of staff to President-elect Obama, Pelosi persuaded Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to remain as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, clearing the field for Larson to finally become caucus chairman.
Larson has taken on a number of assignments for Pelosi, including coordinating the Democrats’ 2008 initiative against oil speculators and high energy prices. He sought to tamp down party dissidents who complained that Pelosi’s Iraq strategy was too accommodating to President Bush. Some Democrats privately dismissed him as a Pelosi cheerleader. Larson discounts the criticism, saying that his “bottom-up, member’s member” approach is very different from the aggressive, in-your-face style Emanuel was known for, but it’s no less effective. “If you were using generals as analogy, [Rahm] would be Patton. I would be Omar Bradley,” he says. Larson says his goal is to spread the limelight to members and groups across the party. His quick move up the leadership ladder left him on the rung behind the top three party leaders, and he is well-positioned to advance further. He retained interest in another run for governor or perhaps for the Senate. Whatever the course, Larson was well-positioned for further advances.