During a recent interview the Democratic incumbent in the 2nd District expounded upon the work he’s done on the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, pushing for ramped-up production at Electric Boat in Groton and helping the manufacturer land a contract that gave him a new nickname: “Two Sub Joe.”
Courtney, 63, says he checks two things each morning: the Red Sox box score and the Electric Boat job listings.
“We haven’t seen this much work since the late 80s and early 90s,” he said.
“It’s a pretty narrow bandwidth in this Congress in terms of trying to get results … we’re constantly looking for opportunities to find that sweet spot, and I think I can point to some examples of where we were successful in the last couple of years,” he said. “Defense clearly is a committee, in my opinion, that still has a pretty healthy environment for bipartisan work.”
Maintaining and expanding jobs at Electric Boat and supporting its supply chain of smaller manufacturers across the state is a key piece of his work in Washington, but Courtney, who is also a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, talks about other pressing matters: combating heroin and opioid addiction, helping farmers and making college more affordable.
The massive, 64-town district has an independent streak and a history of flipping between being Democratic- and Republican-held. U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson was knocked out in 2000 by Republican Rob Simmons, who Courtney unseated in 2006. The first nickname, “Landslide Joe,” came after his narrow, 82-vote win over Simmons.
“Hillary Clinton won in ’08 against Barack Obama in the Second Congressional District, it was the only district that went that way, and obviously it went against Secretary Clinton in 2016,” said Courtney, whose campaign has nearly $1 million in the bank. “Interesting bit of trivia: Ross Perot ran [for president] in ’92. His third best congressional district in America was the Second District.”
Courtney also acknowledged the Trump support throughout the rural towns in the district — something his Republican opponent, Daria Novak, is hoping will propel her to victory.
While other members of Congress try to gain recognition by weighing in on the national, partisan topic of the day, Courtney focuses on local issues, supporters like state Rep. Diana Urban say.
“He’s not grandstanding,” said Urban, a Democrat from North Stonington who was a Republican in the state legislature for years before she switched parties. “My House district is mainly unaffiliated. Our corner of the state is all about results. What are you doing? I see him as that kind of congressman — incredibly approachable.”
During an interview Courtney mostly talked about the local projects he’s helped shepherd through the Congress and what he does when he’s back in the district.
“I think Joe is laser-focused on Connecticut and the district,” said Cathy Osten, a Democratic state senator and first selectman of Sprague, the tiny town north of Norwich.
Osten praised Courtney’s work to boost hiring at Electric Boat as well as what he’s done to help veterans and farmers. “His non-political way of doing things … people listen to that,” she said. Osten mentioned last year how U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez visited Electric Boat in Groton with Courtney to see firsthand how federal grants were helping to train workers there.
But Courtney has from time to time waded into national, partisan debates. He was front and center for a sit-in on the House floor to protest the lack of a vote on two gun control bills after 49 men and women were shot and killed in an Orlando nightclub by a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle.
Courtney was hesitant to weigh in on how he stacked up against some of the more outspokenly partisan members of Connecticut’s delegation — like U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauroin the 3rd District.
“I am who I am, I’m not going to compare myself … you just have to approach the job in the most conscientious way you can, and that’s sort of the attitude you take. I’m a Democrat … and in this election I think the choice at the federal level is about as stark as I can ever remember. I think we would do more with a Democratic majority in the House, so I’m certainly committed to pushing that platform.”