In the first TV ad of her congressional campaign, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire, indirectly criticizes a rival, House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, with a line saying she “took on her party leaders to fight for honest budgets — even cutting her own pay.”

Donovan was speaker during Esty’s only term in the House, beginning in January 2009. But the jab at unnamed leaders is a subtle one, and Esty’s first 30-second spot is mainly an upbeat biographical piece, introducing her as a fiscal moderate who supported school funding, while concerned with higher taxes.

The indirect knock at Donovan provoked a direct response from his campaign.

“Esty didn’t take on party leaders, she took on the values of the Democratic Party with a Republican-like plan to protect millionaires on the backs of seniors and children,” said Tom Swan, Donovan’s campaign manager.

The Donovan campaign said the Democratic alternative budget supported by Esty would have cut services for the poor and seniors.

Esty’s campaign manager, Julie Sweet, suggested that Swan’s attack on Esty’s Democratic credentials was a reflection of Donovan’s campaign struggling with the arrest of his former campaign finance director on charges of conspiring to accept illegal contributions.

“It’s unfortunate that Speaker Donovan has decided to engage in the same old attack politics with a sad attempt to distract from his own campaign’s serious troubles,” Sweet said. “Elizabeth is a proud Democrat and believes we should stop the political bickering and work together to extend middle class tax cuts, while ending tax cuts for millionaires and big oil companies.”

Esty took a voluntary 10 percent pay cut during her one term in the General Assembly, beginning in April 2009, according to her campaign. Rank-and-file legislators are paid $32,500 annually, a $28,000 salary and $4,500 in unvouchered expenses.

Her husband, Dan Esty, a prominent member of the Malloy administration as commissioner of energy and environmental protection, makes a cameo appearance at the end, appearing in a family shot with the candidate and their three children.

Announcer: Elizabeth Esty’s worn a lot of shoes.

As a community leader, she went door to door for better school funding.

On the town council, Esty worked to balance the budget while protecting seniors from higher property taxes.

And as a legislator, she took on her party leaders to fight for honest budgets – even cutting her own pay.

And in Congress?

Esty: It may take combat boots, but I’ll do whatever it takes to get things done for the middle class. I’m Elizabeth Esty and I approve this message.

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Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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