Democratic lawyer Elizabeth Esty kept the 5th District in her party’s hands by beating Republican Andrew Roraback for the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, who ran for the Senate. Echoing one of her friend Murphy’s oft-stated priorities, Esty pushed to reinvigorate manufacturing in the once factory-dominated district.
Esty was born in Oak Park, Ill., but moved around growing up because of her father’s work as a construction engineer. In an interview, she described herself as the latest in “a long line of feisty women” on her mother’s side, including her grandmother, who lobbied for civil rights. After graduating from high school in Minnesota, she came east to attend Harvard University, where she met her husband, Dan.
Esty attended Yale Law School, then worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Robert Keeton of Massachusetts. She moved to Washington to work for the law firm Sidley & Austin, where she wrote legal briefs in several cases that involved defending women’s reproductive rights. She later taught and did policy work in the health care field. She moved to Connecticut in 1994 when her husband started an environmental law and policy program at Yale.
Her first elected position was on the Cheshire Town Council, where she worked on such issues as providing tax relief for senior citizens and reducing the town’s debt. In 2008, Esty ran for and won a seat as a state representative, only to have her career come to an unwanted halt. She voted to abolish the death penalty even though in her hometown of Cheshire, two convicts killed three people in one of the most high-profile crimes in state history. Esty lost her next election to a Republican who backed capital punishment.
In the race to replace Murphy, Connecticut House Speaker Chris Donovan was the early Democratic favorite. But a pay-to-play scandal engulfed two of Donovan’s top aides, and Republicans were keen on having him as a general-election rival. But Esty, with the help of a $500,000 self-loan to her campaign, brushed past Donovan and businessman Dan Roberti in the primary.
To help manufacturers, Esty promised to push for infrastructure improvements, internships to train future manufacturers, and better access to credit for small businesses. She also pointed to China’s alleged manipulation of its currency, a frequent talking point for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “American manufacturers compete very well when the playing field is fair,” Esty told the Record-Journal of Meriden.
Esty faced state Sen. Andrew Roraback in the general election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly went on the attack, running ads in which it used images of such conservatives as Rep. Allen West of Florida and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and saying that Roraback would “fit right in.” Roraback, who supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage, denounced the ads as “outright lies.” Esty maintained an edge in fundraising and won the endorsement of The New York Times, which pointed to her capital-punishment vote in the state Legislature as “the kind of political fortitude Washington desperately needs.”
Before Esty even took office, she was confronted with a massive tragedy in her district – the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown that left 27 people dead, including 20 children. “It’s refocused my agenda; I know that,” she told The Connecticut Mirror. She said she wasn’t totally certain what the agenda would be, but added, “I just know it will be different.”