Washington – Many lawmakers who will retire at the end of this Congress or who lost re-election have shuttered their offices and gone home by now. Not so Connecticut Democrat, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
Esty, who represents the 5th congressional district, continues to meet with constituents, often in a borrowed conference room that belongs to Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and is helping gun control advocates draft a list of priorities for the next Congress.
She also wants to shepherd one last piece of legislation – the Women in Aerospace Education Act — into law. That bill, which President Donald Trump is expected to sign next week, will prod NASA to encourage the recruitment of women and others who are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science.
“I’m still getting things done,” Esty said.
Not so many of her colleagues, who like Esty had to terminate staff and close their congressional offices so they could be refurbished to accommodate a large incoming freshman class.
“A lot of people have checked out and bagged it,” Thompson said. “But not Elizabeth. She’s working until the last minute.”
Esty, 59, decided against running for re-election after she was sharply criticized by Connecticut Democrats for her handling of an abusive chief-of-staff. She failed to fire the aide for months, and then gave him severance and a good recommendation for a job with Sandy Hook Promise in Ohio. Rep.-elect Jahana Hayes, a fellow Democrat, was elected in November to fill Esty’s seat.
Esty has represented the 5th district for six years – all that time as a member of the minority party in the U.S. House. She is leaving just as Democrats seize control of that chamber, which would have boosted her chances to advance gun control and other issues on her agenda.
“She’s going to be missed. Not only by her constituents but also by those fighting against gun violence,’ said Thompson, who worked with Esty on the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
Because she represented Newtown in Congress, Esty was thrust into the middle of a national debate on gun control when she took office in January of 2013, just weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“You don’t always choose the issues, the issues choose you,” Esty said the time.
She is now regretfully leaving a job she says will never be able to replicate.
“I’m not going to find anything that gives me the opportunity to work on the same breadth of issues,” she said.
Esty said she is done with politics and won’t seek another elected office.
“It’s hard to imagine that now,” she said.
But Esty, who served in the Connecticut legislature, clerked for a federal judge, was a Supreme Court lawyer for a prestigious law firm in Washington D.C., and taught at American University, would like to keep a hand in public policy.
She said others who have left Congress have advised her to take some time off before she takes the next step in her career.
With her husband, Dan Esty — a former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — on sabbatical from Yale to write a book, Esty said she plans to take that advice.
She said she plans to do some traveling and think about “where do I think I can make the most difference?”
Esty’s truncated congressional career may be a cautionary tale to other politicians. Or not.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., accepted the resignation of one of her top aides Wednesday after it was revealed the California Department of Justice paid $400,000 to settle sexual harassment complaints against him.
Harris’s office says the senator did not know about the lawsuit or the harassment claims until recently. In an editorial Friday, the Sacramento Bee said that’s not likely.
“(He) wasn’t out on the periphery of Harris’ staff; he was a senior aide she knew for 14 years — hardly a stranger,” the newspaper wrote.
Ron Schurin, a University of Connecticut political science professor, said he does not expect Harris to resign. But he also said the incident “will have an adverse impact on her presidential aspirations.”
As far as Esty, Schurin said her bad judgment in handling an abusive aide cut short a promising career in politics.
“Had the scandal not happened, she would have continued to serve her district well and been a productive member of the House of Representatives,” Schurin said.
As a retired lawmaker who served more than five years in the U.S. House, Esty will be eligible for a congressional pension when she turns 62. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and an average of the highest three years of her congressional salary.
Former lawmakers have other perks. Esty will always have access to the U.S. House chamber – and is entitled to the honorific “congresswoman” for life.