Public Office: East Hartford Board of Education, 1978 to 1979; East Hartford Town Council, 1979 to 1983; State Senate, 1982 to 1994 (Senate President Pro Tempore 1986-1994); Member of Congress, 1998 to present
Current Position: Member of Congress; Democratic Caucus Chair
Background: Larson has gone from a childhood in East Hartford public housing to the fourth most powerful member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He became Democratic Caucus chair in 2008, the same year he was re-elected to a sixth term with 72 percent of the vote – each a culmination of a steady, understated climb through the political ranks.
In Washington, Larson has amassed a solidly liberal voting record but in 2002, became a hero to anti-war Democrats by opposing the use of force in Iraq.
He got on the leadership track in 2003, winning a three-way race for vice chair of the caucus. He did so in typical, low-key Larson fashion. He solidified his own base, then presented himself as the second-best choice to the other camps. His strategy avoided him from being low man out on the first ballot. On the second vote, he won what was then a two-man race, 116 to 87.
In recent years Larson, who serves on the Ways and Means committee and Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has become a champion of energy independence and of fuel cell technology – an industry Connecticut has spearheaded. Also locally, he has been part of the effort to have the Coltsville section of Hartford designated a national park.
As an arm of the House leadership, Larson has supported nearly all of President Obama’s major initiatives, though consistent with his anti-war beliefs, has remained skeptical about the troop surge in Afghanistan and in July voted against $59 billion to fund the war there and in Iraq. He voted in favor of setting a timeline and exit strategy for Afghanistan but also supported a more far-reaching proposal that would have restricted use of the war funds only to draw down U.S. forces, not for further military combat.
On the other hand, he has also helped lead the delegation’s efforts to maintain defense-related jobs, especially those involving Pratt and Whitney, which is headquartered in East Hartford. Generally Larson supports increased spending as a way to reinvigorate the economy. “I’ve come down in favor of more infrastructure,” Larson told the Mirror, whether that’s roads, bridges, or new technology for schools. That’s the best way to create new jobs, he said.
His leadership position is one that cuts both ways as Democrats face an expected Republican surge in the fall. As caucus chair, it falls to him to keep the caucus together, a task that often requires negotiating truces among rank-and-file, leadership and the White House, as well as keeping Democratic members informed about legislation and tactics. These are skills Larson, who has a gregarious and affable personality, developed in his days as a state legislator.
After a career as a high school history teacher, coach and owner of a small insurance company, Larson was elected to the state Senate in 1982, and to the top leadership post 1986. He authored and passed a groundbreaking family and medical leave act. But during the income tax fight of 1991, Larson refused to consider voting for the politically dangerous tax on wages proposed by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., allowing the biggest issue of his generation to be shaped and resolved without his participation. Liberals blamed Larson for not helping Democrats get a more progressive tax rate, but his ability to remain as Senate leader was a testament to the strength of his personal relationships with colleagues. Lingering liberal resentment undoubtedly hampered him in a 1994 primary for governor. But he made a comeback four years later, winning a four-way nomination race for the congressional seat he still holds.
Education: B.S., Central Connecticut State University
Personal: Larson is 62. He and his wife Leslie have three children and are life long residents of East Hartford.