Connecticut: Sixth District|
Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R)
Last Updated July 18, 2002
From its Yankee past to its Ellis Islander present and ahead to its third wave of immigrants future, Connecticut has been a land of tinkerers specializing in precision work, of inventors able to transform vagrant ideas into profitable products. Over the years this stony soil has become the home of some of the most affluent people in the nation and the world. This is true even in the hills of northwest Connecticut, off the interstates and far from Connecticut's small urban capital of Hartford and its sometime booming edge city of Stamford. Here are exquisite Yankee towns like Washington and Kent, prosperous once in the post-Revolutionary era when Connecticut's ship owners accumulated capital and invested it in factories and mills, and now the "anti-Hamptons," a country-home mecca for ultra-rich New Yorkers seeking to avoid the glitz of Southampton and Easthampton. Not far away are small industrial cities like New Britain, America's ball bearing capital for years, and Bristol, where sports announcer Bill Rasmussen dreamed up the idea of transmitting satellite feeds of UConn games to his neighbors by cable TV, an idea which became ESPN, now headquartered on its 43-acre Bristol campus. Nearby is the American Clock and Watch Museum (northwest Connecticut is where Americans started manufacturing clocks) and the New England Carousel Museum (not far from America's oldest amusement park, Lake Compounce).
The 6th Congressional District of Connecticut covers approximately the northwest corner of the state, stretching from Enfield and Windsor Locks, north of Hartford on the Connecticut River, across the affluent Farmington valley suburbs of Hartford to industrial New Britain and Bristol, and includes all of Litchfield County. Here is Winsted, the hometown of Ralph Nader, where he has kept his voting residence. Historically, this was rock-ribbed Federalist and Republican territory; in the 20th Century, with Italian immigrants heading to Enfield and Windsor Locks and Poles to New Britain, it moved toward being politically marginal.
The congresswoman from the 6th District is Nancy Johnson, a Republican first elected in 1982. She grew up in Chicago, daughter of a Republican state legislator, came east to school, then lived in New Britain as a doctor's wife and a teacher, raising three children while active in charitable and community affairs. She was elected to the Connecticut Senate in 1976 from a heavily Democratic district. When 6th District Congressman Toby Moffett ran against Senator Lowell Weicker in 1982, Johnson won the House seat, beating Bill Curry, then a 30-year-old nuclear freeze organizer and later the 1994 Democratic candidate for governor and a Clinton White House aide.
Johnson is now a high-ranking member of Ways and Means and chair of its Health Subcommittee. Her record has been mostly market-oriented on economics, fairly liberal on cultural issues. For some years she has been one of the most active and productive legislators in the House. She opposed the Clinton health care plan, enduring gratuitous and sexist insults from then-Chairman Pete Stark in hearings, and her efforts contributed to its demise. She was the lead sponsor of the 1997 CHIP program for health insurance for uninsured children, which passed in July 1997. After many health insurers started paying for Viagra, she and Nita Lowey sponsored a bill to provide contraceptives to federal employees with health insurance covering prescriptions. She has worked on reshaping Medicare, sponsoring the first preventive health care benefits for seniors, measures to strengthen community hospitals, nursing homes and Medicare Choice plans. She helped to make premiums for long-term health insurance deductible from income taxes and seeks a $3,000 tax credit for families' spending on long-term care. She got funding for children's hospitals to conduct training for children's health care and more mammograms to detect breast cancer. On Medicare, she stands to play a key role. The Bush administration has said its model for reform is the bill developed on the Medicare Commission by Senator John Breaux and Bill Thomas, now Ways and Means chairman; that may very well go through Johnson's subcommittee. She says her first priorities are a prescription drug benefit for seniors and making long-term care more affordable.
Also on Ways and Means she took the lead on eliminating the old child care tax credit, which tended to help high-income parents, and replaced it with $300 million in vouchers to low-income working mothers. She worked to increase the Independent Living program for older foster care children and to help fathers on welfare get jobs and develop parental skills. In 1999 and 2000 she worked with ranking Democrat Charles Rangel to develop a $25 billion tax credit for school construction bonds, but this foundered as other committee Republicans concentrated on education savings accounts and the Clinton administration demanded school construction be covered by the pro-union Davis-Bacon Act. As chair of the Oversight Subcommittee, she was a chief sponsor of the IRS reform bill, which moved the presumption of correctness away from the agency and otherwise changed rules of many years standing.
Johnson has often bucked the House Republican leadership on issues. She voted against the Contract with America crime package, has supported abortion rights (Johnson harshly criticized George W. Bush's executive order reimposing a ban on federal aid to international organizations that promote abortion), was one of the first Republicans to sign a discharge petition for the Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill, and in February 2001 introduced legislation to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain. But she also worked cooperatively with Speaker Newt Gingrich on many issues, and her connection with Gingrich ended up causing her electoral trouble.
In 1996 Johnson chaired the House ethics committee, which was considering the charges brought by Democrats against Gingrich, an issue committee Democrats were determined not to drop. At home, Johnson faced a sudden electoral challenge. Charlotte Koskoff, a Democrat Johnson had beaten 64%-32% in 1994, now had the endorsement of the National Organization for Women, which had long endorsed Johnson, and greater funding. Bill Clinton carried the 6th District 50%-36%, and Johnson was hard pressed. The networks reported on election night that she lost; in fact she ended up winning 50%-49%. Johnson readily admitted that her role on the ethics committee "absolutely hurt me." On January 21 the House voted 395-28 to reprimand and fine Gingrich an unprecedented $300,000; Johnson, her term up, immediately left the committee. Koskoff was off and running again, and Johnson went into legislative high gear, sponsoring funding of the National Endowment for the Arts, an American Heritage Rivers bill and a law barring convicted sex offenders from federally financed public housing--as well as health and tax legislation. Koskoff called her "an enabler and participant in the right-wing Republican agenda," and national liberal groups targeted the district. The hottest argument came over a bill Johnson sponsored to prevent the Customs Bureau from changing the rule allowing companies to market tools including overseas-made components as "Made in the U.S.A." Among the companies interested was Stanley Works of New Britain, and in October 1997 it was revealed that Johnson owns over $100,000 of Stanley stock (her husband inherited it from his father, who was a Stanley foreman). Koskoff ran ads accusing Johnson of helping Stanley Works export jobs, and accusing her of trying to benefit herself and responding to $6,000 in contributions from Stanley Works executives. Johnson replied tartly that the bill would increase jobs in Connecticut and added, "I've busted my butt for local industry." Outspending Koskoff more than 3-1, Johnson rebounded, winning 58%-40%, carrying practically all small towns but one and losing only in New Britain, Bristol, and (Koskoff's home town) Plainville. In 2000, against weaker opposition, Johnson was re-elected 63%-33%, carrying every city and town except New Britain.
Just before the November 2000 election Governor John Rowland said he would appoint Johnson to the Senate if Joseph Lieberman were elected vice president. But that became moot December 13. Now comes the question of redistricting. Connecticut lost one of its six House seats in the 2000 Census, and under state law the new lines will be drawn by a bipartisan commission appointed by the legislature. It has long been thought that the district most likely to be eliminated would be the elongated 5th District, just south of the 6th, and that Johnson and Democrat James Maloney would be put in the same district. The advantage would seem to lie with Johnson. Amid all her national legislating she has kept working on local projects--redevelopment in New Britain, funding to protect the Great Mountain Forest and the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial, Army contracts for Tru-Hitch Inc. in Torrington. But this could be a seriously contested district.
Highly Competitive. As a moderate Republican who isn't afraid to buck the Republican leadership, Johnson has built a profile that is well suited for this district. However, it is likely to be impacted greatly by redistricting: There is serious talk that her New Britain-based district will be combined with Democrat Jim Maloney's 5th District which would create a showdown between two very skilled, moderate politicians.
Update: July 18, 2002
Connecticut lost a seat in reapportionment, causing an incumbent face-off in the new 5th district between Jim Maloney (D) and Nancy Johnson (R). The district has a slight Democratic tilt, but Johnson is sitting on a significant war chest.
- Pop. 2000: 567,851; Pop. 1990: 547,747, up 3.7% 1990-2000.
- 91% White,
0.2% Amer. Indian,
1.5% Two+ races,
5.8% Hispanic origin.
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