Esty promises to bring the people’s voice to D.C.
CORNWALL — Northwest Corner Democrats got a look at a candidate for the seat of Congressman Chris Murphy (D-5) on Monday evening, Nov. 21, as Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire spoke at the Cornwall Free Library.Esty spoke off the cuff for about 30 minutes and took questions afterward.She began with some family lore. The day her mother was born in 1933, her grandfather lost his bank job, Esty recounted. For two weeks he got up, dressed and left the house before the reality set in.“He was embarrassed and ashamed,” said Esty. “And he shouldn’t have been.”Esty said the same issues are in play today — and “as Democrats, we believe government has a moral responsibility” to assist those in difficulties.“We need to do some things in America, and we don’t have a lot of time.”She told a story of a Chinese individual working in the U.S. who, when asked, expressed no interest in becoming a permanent resident or a citizen — signifying a change in international attitudes Esty called “pretty startling.”Esty thinks of herself as a problem-solver. In 2005, she remembered, she was complaining about the actions of the Cheshire school board when her daughter, then 15 years old, called her out.“She told me to either run for office myself or quit complaining. That pulled me up short,” said Esty. “But that’s what democracy is — putting ourselves out there.”She was elected to the town council in Cheshire in 2005 and quickly became involved in disputes over the school budget.“It was unpleasant and destructive of the community. But I was trying to find a solution.”In the process, Esty said she started on the side of the parents. “But I listened to my neighbors who were worried about their property taxes.”Ultimately a solution was found — a program that gave significant tax breaks to low-income property owners.Now she is thinking about how to go about fixing the economy. The problems are numerous, she said, rattling off a list: difficulty in obtaining loans for small businesses, paying for 99 weeks of unemployment insurance while big banks and corporations hold onto their assets — and the decline in Connecticut manufacturing jobs.“We need to get back to manufacturing things,” said Esty, while acknowledging the inherent problems. “It’s dirty, it’s icky.”She noted that the high cost of higher education — with students graduating already tens of thousands of dollars in debt — and urged creating apprenticeships and putting “more support in areas we need, like engineering.”She was sarcastic about the so-called Super Committee of Congress that last week failed to come up with a deficit-reduction plan. “I guess the Super Committee’s super powers weren’t enough.”“I know it’s possible” to break through political logjams, she continued. “We did it in Cheshire.”Esty, whose husband, Daniel Esty, is commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, is critical of what she believes is a complete failure to create a national energy policy.“We have compromised our moral integrity and spent far too much in blood and treasure in the Middle East for access to foreign oil.”She invoked the gas lines and oil embargoes of the 1970s. “And yet we go on.”She said a national policy has to include getting off foreign oil and to use renewable sources “to the extent we can.”“We have great assets but we need to put them together differently.”Esty was elected to the state House of Representatives from the 103rd District in 2008 but lost a re-election bid in 2010 (the margin of defeat was 140 votes).She chalked it up to the furor over the notorious Cheshire home invasion murder case, and her opposition to the death penalty — for reasons of faith, and because, as an attorney, she doesn’t believe the death penalty works.“Leadership means an obligation to exercise your best judgment, even if it’s bad politically.“Do I regret my position? Absolutely not. If more people in Hartford or Congress did this...”She said the “partisan breakdown” in Washington occurs “because the people don’t know each other.“They used to go out for drinks. Now they make calls to replenish their coffers.”Esty was asked if the state Democratic Party “machine” will favor state House Speaker Chris Donovan (D-84).“Machines don’t decide elections, voters do,” she replied. “And look what happened to [Martha] Coakley in Massachusetts, or [Anthony] Weiner’s seat.” (Coakley was upset by Republican Scott Brown to replace the late Democratic icon and longtime Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy; and after Weiner’s fall from grace in a sex scandal, his seat was won by a Republican for the first time in decades.)“You have to earn support,” Esty added.She was asked if she would quixotically charge ahead as a reformer, particularly of the relationship between legislators and lobbyists, as a freshman member of Congress.“Change the whole thing? Not going to happen,” Esty replied. “But I learned in the [state] Legislature, if you’re willing to do the work and let someone else take the credit it’s amazing what you can get done.”Asked about the “Occupy” demonstrations that have sprung up around the country this fall, Esty said the protests are “a profound indictment of what people think of our democratic institutions.“And the Tea Party meets them around the back side — a sense that if you work hard and play by the rules you don’t succeed.“Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party share that” — which, she added, should alarm “professional politicians.”How would she handle the job if elected?Esty said the representative “needs to be in the district, and be around nonpolitical people who are worrying about their own lives.“If you’re not out there buying your own groceries then you’re not getting the feedback.”