A trio of candidates take a run at five-term Courtney

Candidates for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, from left: incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, Republican Daria Novak of Madison, Green Party candidate Jonathan Pelto and Libertarian Dan Reale. (Day Staff)
Candidates for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, from left: incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, Republican Daria Novak of Madison, Green Party candidate Jonathan Pelto and Libertarian Dan Reale. (Day Staff)

Three candidates are challenging U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney for the 2nd Congressional District seat he's held since 2007.

The Democrat is serving his fifth term in Congress, having won re-election in 2014 against Republican opponent Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh with 60 percent of the vote.

His opponents in this year's race are Republican Daria Novak, Green Party candidate Jonathan Pelto and Libertarian Dan Reale.

There are about 400,700 active registered voters in the district, with about 168,900, or 42 percent, unaffiliated.

Electric Boat and the University of Connecticut are both located in the district, which encompasses 64 towns and covers much of the eastern part of the state.

Supports the gold standard

This is the third time that Novak is running for the seat, but the first that she's won the state Republican Party's nomination.

Novak said Courtney was a "good congressman" in his first term, working across the aisle and in the interest of the district but, after that, "he lost his way."

"Today, we are less prosperous, less free and less safe than only a few years ago," she said.

Novak, 59, who lives in Madison, worked for the State Department for about 10 years, including as a presidential appointee during the Reagan administration.

In 2001, she started ERUdyne, a consulting company for American companies looking to do business overseas. The company later shifted to doing homeland security work, she said. Her sister now runs the company, but Novak still works as a consultant.

Novak co-hosts the weekly cable television show "American Political Zone," and the nationally syndicated radio show "Vernuccio-Novak Report." Both are conservative leaning, and Novak said she's been a lifelong Republican.

If elected, Novak said her first order of business would be to reintroduce the Gold Standard Act of 1984 verbatim. The legislation, introduced in Congress on June 29, 1984, by Republican Rep. Jack Kemp, who was representing New York's 31st District, would assign a fixed dollar value to gold, for which the currency could be exchanged.

The United States abandoned the gold standard in 1933, and Kemp's proposal died in Congress. But Novak sees the legislation as crucial to speeding up job creation and economic security.

Novak is in favor of across-the-board tax cuts, free trade and reducing spending.

Her national security philosophy is "peace through strength."

"If we are very strong, we don't have to go to war," she said.

She wants a bigger Navy — a 350-ship fleet compared to the 272 ships it has now — and called for additional submarine construction. She sees a need for "more permanent and larger facilities" for submarine maintenance in Connecticut.

"One of the things that really bothers me right now is that in essence we're in a second Cold War environment, and yet we've had a drawdown of the military. That to me is unacceptable," she said.

In favor of term limits

Reale, the Libertarian candidate, also has run for the 2nd District seat before, most recently in 2014, when he got 1 percent of the vote. He has run for Congress four times on the Libertarian ticket.

Reale, 34, of Plainfield is a paralegal who specializes in foreclosure defense, which has made him more attuned to the country's fiscal challenges, "many of which are not being managed properly by the two-party system."

"We are in a very, very dangerous financial place as a country. The greatest national security threat is our fiscal position right now," he said.

Reale is in favor of dramatically shrinking the role of the federal government and transferring a lot of its responsibilities, such as funding social services programs, to the states.

He believes in congressional term limits and said he would "go home" after three terms.

"It should be more like jury duty. It shouldn't be like a career," he said.

Reale is an avid supporter of the Second Amendment and said he doesn't support any federal gun-control laws "whatsoever."

He does support reforms in the health care industry, such as price transparency. He cited, as an example, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, which has posted its prices online since about 2009. The center is physician-owned and managed, according to its website.

Reale said his approach is atypical of traditional Libertarians.

"I believe in national defense, which means actually defending the United States," he said. "To do that, you don't need boots on the ground overseas everywhere. You need a strong Navy. You need a strong Air Force. You need strong long-range capabilities."

He supports the current two-a-year procurement rate of Virginia-class attack submarines, and said the country's nuclear defense arsenal needs to be updated and maintained.

There's a misconception, he said, that Libertarians don't support national defense because they don't support nation building.

"Once you're going over somewhere, and saying we want your government to be this way, that's not national defense anymore. That's national offense," he said, explaining that Libertarians believe in "trading with everybody and being friends with anybody, but we don't get involved in conflict."

Increase taxes on the rich

While new to the Green Party, Pelto, 55, of Mansfield is far from a political newcomer. He served for 10 years as a Democratic state legislator, including as deputy majority leader of the House. Most recently, he ran as a petitioning candidate for governor in 2014.

Pelto is using the campaign as a way to push issues that he feels aren't getting enough attention.

"When running for governor, I found that the things I'd been saying for four or five years that had not gotten into the newspaper, were suddenly getting in the newspaper because I was a candidate," he said.

The irony, Pelto said, is that he's always been a fan of Courtney's. The two served together in the state legislature, and Pelto has voted for Courtney and donated money to his campaign. But there are issues on which they disagree.

Pelto strongly disagrees with Courtney's votes in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act and the American SAFE Act of 2015.

While Courtney voted in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which overhauls the No Child Left Behind Act, Pelto opposes the legislation because "it continues the notion that every kid needs to be tested every year."

"Testing intentionally produces failing children and schools. The way privatization works and continues to work under the Every Student Succeeds Act is that the lowest group of schools then have to be privatized," Pelto said.

Pelto is the head of the Education Bloggers Network, an informal coalition of 200-plus education reporters, and writes a blog that mainly focuses on education issues called "Wait What?"

As for Courtney's vote in favor the American SAFE Act of 2015, which calls for greater scrutiny of Syrian refugees, Pelto said it "sent the wrong message."

"For a country built on immigrants and for a Democratic Party that's supposed to be committed to due process and fairness, I found that vote really offensive," Pelto said.

There are "a lot of other visas" that the United States should be scrutinizing much more than refugee visas, he said.

Pelto has laid out a tax plan, similar to Bernie Sanders', which significantly increases taxes on the rich and on corporations, and reduces taxes on the middle class.

He believes the country's military budget is "out of control" and wants to push defense conversion, an idea talked about by former Democratic senator Chris Dodd, whom Pelto worked for.

"We were talking then about taking a percentage set aside of military contracts to use towards retooling. When we need train cars for Metro North, we'd have the opportunity to build them here instead of buying them from overseas," he said.

Supports student loan refinancing

Courtney said he has a tangible, 10-year record that shows "how I produce for this district in a very challenging time in terms of polarized times with a very limited bandwidth of opportunities to enact budgets and legislation."

He earned the nickname "Two Sub Joe" for helping secure the procurement of two Virginia-class submarines a year in 2014.

Congress soon will be negotiating the next block of Virginia-class submarines, which currently calls for nine as opposed to 10 boats, and Courtney said his position on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee will help him advocate for a 10-boat block.

"There's more of a need for someone representing this district to be positioned where I am to make sure that happens," he said of his membership on the committee, which is "critically important in terms of (Electric Boat's) shipyard and the submarine base as far as Navy policy and shipbuilding policy."

He pointed to other issues he's worked hard on, such as the Recovering Missing Children Act, which he introduced and worked on for five years. The legislation allows law enforcement, with a warrant, to access IRS information to help investigators locate abducted children.

He's been a big proponent of student loan refinancing. He and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced bicameral legislation called the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow undergraduate borrowers to refinance their student loans.

Courtney said the issue, which he called "one of the real bread-and-butter issues for families as far as how do you get that monkey off your back after high interest payment," is one that he would keep working at.

Courtney said he has remained focused on the opioid epidemic affecting Connecticut. He supported the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, signed by the president in July that seeks to curb heroin and prescription opioid abuse.

Though he conceded that the bill did not "measure up to the seriousness of the problem, which is why Obama didn't hold a bill-signing ceremony. He did it quietly."

As disappointed as he was that there were no emergency resources included in the bill, he felt there were several beneficial provisions, such as the cap being lifted from 100 to 275 patients a year that doctors can treat with Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone that provides pain relief and mild euphoria while minimizing addiction cravings.

The general election will take place on Nov. 8. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

j.bergman@theday.com

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