HARTFORD, Conn. (AP/CBSNewYork) — Sen. Joe Lieberman’s announcement that he would not seek a fifth term in the U.S. Senate in 2012 marked the latest hit to Connecticut’s political clout in Washington.
Without veterans like Lieberman and former Sen. Christopher Dodd, coupled with the prospect of Republicans maintaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives where all the state’s five members are currently Democrats, everyone from the defense industry to local fire departments could feel the effects of a delegation with less leverage to help Connecticut.
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“Capitol Hill here is run on seniority. So, nothing against whoever takes their place, they simply won’t have the seniority,” said Dave Manke, United Technologies Corp.’s vice president for defense and aerospace policy, who is based in Washington. “I mean, these are two pretty senior U.S senators and that lets them be chairmen of committees — have more clout than even the best new guy coming in will have.”
Dodd retired from office in January after serving five terms. He was replaced by former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has the least seniority among Senate Democrats. Two Democrats, Rep. Chris Murphy and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, have already announced they are running for Lieberman’s seat in 2012. More candidates are expected to emerge in the coming months.
Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, is a member of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee and chairman of the Airland Subcommittee, a panel that oversees more than $70 billion in funding for the Army’s land and air modernization programs, as well as the tactical aviation programs of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.
“He helps to drive that agenda, decide what issues are going to be discussed and what might or might not get included in bills,” said Manke, adding how long-serving senators like Lieberman and Dodd can also help ensure federal funding is secured to buy UTC’s Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines and Sikorsky helicopters built in Connecticut, as well as submarines built at the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Groton.
John Casey, president of Electric Boat, recalled a reception where he met Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, and experienced the two senators’ political influence firsthand.
“When I had my opportunity to speak to the majority leader, he said, ‘Oh yeah, Electric Boat Connecticut. I’m always listening to Joe Lieberman and Chris Dodd, (they) are always haranguing me about the submarine place in Connecticut. So, I’m well aware of what you’re doing and what goes on there because those two guys are always in my ear on the subject.’” said Casey.
Casey said it’s helpful that Lieberman in particular has built a reputation over the years for being an expert on defense and national security matters, making an argument for submarine funding that goes beyond protecting local jobs. About 10,000 people work for General Dynamics Electric Boat — about 7,500 of them in Groton and 2,100 in Quonset Point, R.I.
“It’s just a question of the newly elected delegation members putting the energy into the issues and understanding how to deal within the Congress,” said Casey, crediting Lieberman with becoming educated about issues affecting submarine production.
While Lieberman is leaving in 2012, Casey said his company has other strong allies such as Conn. Rep. Joe Courtney, whose district includes the shipyard, and Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from neighboring Rhode Island, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996.
Former Rep. Rob Simmons, a Republican who has not ruled out running for Lieberman’s seat in 2012, said congressional seniority helps if a lawmaker also knows the intimate details of state issues.
“Nobody can go to the House and Senate and say, ‘Hey, we make submarines in my district and I need your help making submarines,’” Simmons said. “That doesn’t cut it. What cuts it is knowing how this equipment is utilized, how it’s deployed, knowing the cutting-edge technologies that go into it.”
Connecticut’s recent political clout, before the departure of Dodd, Lieberman’s announced retirement in 2012 and the change of power in the House of Representatives, has been ranked within the top 10 of the 50 states. But just having seniority, the foundation for how the Senate operates, is not always a guarantee of success. For example, state officials were stunned to learn in late December that the University of Connecticut Health Center did not receive a $100 million competitive federal grant Dodd included in the health care reform bill for improvements and renovations.
Instead the money went to Ohio State University for its health care facility.
Yet Robert Healey, assistant fire chief in Milford, has seen firsthand that political clout can be useful. His department recently received $231,780 in federal funds to help buy new airpacks for the firefighters. Healey said both Lieberman and Dodd have been actively involved in helping fire departments obtain grant funding.
“It’s been cut in the past and they’ve been allies to the fire service for keeping some funding for us. I’m sure that their seniority helped out,” he said. “They have some influence with their seniority, not only for the fire service but Connecticut in general. I’m a little bit concerned.”
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