Party votes show competition lacking

Connecticut's five Democratic members of Congress, like most of their colleagues, are devoted followers of the party line in the votes they cast.

Their agreement with their party ranges from a high of 96 percent of the time for Reps. Rosa DeLauro and John Larson, who have extremely safe Democratic seats in the New Haven and Hartford. The others are not far behind, with the 2nd and 4th District Reps. Joe Courtney and Jim Himes voting with the party 93 percent of the time and 5th District Rep. Elizabeth Esty, right up there at 92 percent.

The lowest party line voter in the current Congress is Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota at 71 percent, followed by Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, with 74 percent.

The rare departures from the party are usually for measures favored by constituents, also sometimes known as donors. On other votes, congressmen are given a pass by the party leadership if the member must break ranks for survival purposes on such hot button issues as guns - or Obamacare. Leadership permission usually happens only when their votes aren't crucial.

So it hasn't been surprising to see endangered Democrats in the House beginning to join Republican majorities in meaningless votes on Obamacare. While few have gone so far as to join their Republican colleagues in casting votes to repeal the law - there have been nearly 50 such votes - growing numbers are casting votes to show constituents they're not entirely happy with it.

Given the law's faulty debut and the president's decreasing influence, it was not surprising when a record 67 Democrats defected on the most recent anti-Obamacare measure. That was the bill in which the House voted 291-122 on Jan. 10 to require the government to notify people within two days if their personal information had been compromised on the federal website,

Voting with the Republicans were two of Connecticut's five House members, Rep. Esty, whose vote was not particularly surprising, and Rep. Himes, whose was.

The freshman Rep. Esty is the only member of the state delegation that any pre-election survey finds even remotely in trouble. Her vote on Jan. 10 was the third she's cast against one detail or another of the health care law since she supported its passage. Like this one, the other votes were only for show and died peacefully in the House, having served their purpose.

It's been said the best thing going for Ms. Esty so far is her opposition, which to date consists primarily of Mark Greenberg, a tea party conservative who was denied the Republican 5th District nomination in the two previous races.

Mr. Himes's opposition is more formidable in Dan Debicella, who ran against Mr. Himes in 2010 and came within 7,000 votes of unseating him. Mr. Debicella has been picked by the national Republican Party as one of its "Young Guns," 36 challengers considered worthy of financial support. There are no others from Connecticut among the 36.

So far, there appears to be little need for pre-election concern in the delegation. The authoritative Cook Report lists Mr. Himes's district as one of the four "Solidly Democratic" in pre-election evaluations and only Rep. Esty's 5th District is somewhat downgraded to "Likely Democratic."

Nevertheless, it would be healthy for the state and the entire region to see the Republican Party produce strong candidates to challenge the all- Democratic New England congressional delegation, just as it would be beneficial for the nation to see a revival of the two-party system in other regions dominated by Republicans.

To make this even remotely possible, the opposition must produce good candidates, something it hasn't always done here or in other one-party states.

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