October 14, 2019

Joe Courtney Wins a Bitter Sweet Re-election to Return to Congress

The Congressman circulates with well wishers at victory celebration

Congressman Joe Courtney’s re-election figures were impressive. He received 138, 657 votes (60 percent) to 88, 325 votes (40 percent) for his Republican challenger, former television anchorwoman, Janet Peckinpaugh. A third, Green Party candidate, Scott Deshefy, received 3,063 votes.

However, while winning his third election to Congress, Courtney has also lost immeasurable power, because of the loss of Democratic control of the House of Representatives. At the next session Congressman Joe Courtney will no longer be a member of a ruling Democratic majority, rather, when the new Congress convenes in January, he will be a member of a much shrunken Democratic minority.

In many ways shifting from being in the majority to the minority is like going from being a “player” to being a mere “spectator” of the proceedings. Majority members in Congress chair committees and introduce bills that are reported out to the floor and even pass. Some cynics have said that House minority members have no more legislative power than those persons seated in the visitors’ gallery.

When asked how he was going to manage in his new role as a minority Democrat in a Republican controlled body, Courtney said without further elaboration, “It is going to be a much tougher game now.”

All this may have been why Courtney’s victory celebration on election night at the Holiday Inn in Norwich was a somewhat muted affair. For one thing, no more than sixty people showed up to celebrate, and lobbyists in attendance were very few.

Congressman Joe Courtney on stage with his campaign workers

Also, Courtney’s remarks at the gathering concentrated on his personal gratitude to the many volunteers who assisted him in his campaign.  He was effusive about his love for the working people in his eastern Connecticut district, singling out the workers in the shipyards, the dairy farmers in the rural areas, and the teachers, police and other local government workers, who keep our towns running smoothly.

Missing entirely from Courtney’s remarks was even a hint of a legislative agenda for his next term. That may well have been realistic, because members of the minority rarely have a leading role in passing legislation.

Traditionally, in the U.S. House of Representative, it is the all-powerful Speaker who calls the shots. Ominously, for newly re-elected Democrat Joe Courtney, the ideological divide between him and the new Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is wide indeed.