Column By John Murray

Democrats have dominated Connecticut politics for the past 16 years winning every statewide and federal election since 2006.

There was a razor-thin victory for Dannel Malloy in 2010 when he defeated Tom Foley for governor by 6000 votes, but other than that, the Democrats have controlled the political process in Connecticut.

This year, though, national political pundits have identified 5th District Congresswoman Jahana Hayes as the most vulnerable seat in Connecticut’s federal delegation.

The 5th District is a sprawling slice of Connecticut that includes New Britain, Meriden, Waterbury, Danbury, Torrington, and almost all the Northwest corner of the state. The incredible mix of cities and rural towns makes the 5th District the most unique and competitive Congressional seat in Connecticut.

The sprawling 5th Congressional District in Connecticut.

The 5th District leans Democrat, but the races are usually tighter than the other solid-leaning blue districts in the state.

In 2022 the National Republican Party is trying to win back control of the House of Representatives and has targeted Hayes’s seat as a key to flipping the House, and millions of dollars has flowed into the 5th District with a blizzard of TV ads and printed flyers to try and tip the scales to the Republicans or the Democrats.

Hayes’s opponent this year is a former two-time Republican State Senator, George Logan, who lost his seat in 2020 in the Connecticut Legislature, and is director of community relations at Aquarion, the largest water company in the state. Logan is an intriguing candidate who is the front man in a Jimi Hendrix tribute band and speaks fluent Spanish.

An early campaign issue focused on the fact that Logan doesn’t currently live in the 5th Congressional District, he lives in Ansonia, but he has promised to move into the district if the voters elect him. This situation is unusual, but entirely legal if Logan moves into the district by the time he is sworn in, if he wins.

Former two-term State Senator George Logan.

Speaking on NPR’s Where We Live, Logan said if elected to Congress he’ll focus on inflation and affordability.

“I absolutely would describe myself as a proud Connecticut Republican,” Logan said. “I’m more moderate when it comes to dealing with social issues and more conservative leaning when it comes to financial, fiscal issues.”

As much as Logan touts his strengths as reasons why residents in the 5th District should elect him, the electric current running through this race has little to do with him, and everything to do with the balance of power in Washington D.C.

The national battle is being fought across America, and the Connecticut swing district has emerged as a battleground in the larger contest for national political control and the effort to oust Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House.

Repeatedly the national, state, and local media have described Jahana Hayes’s seat as “vulnerable”.

Vulnerable? Why?

The easy answer is mid-term blow back.

History tells us that whatever political party holds the White House during a mid-term election gets a punch in the snout from the voters. Whoever is in power, the voters are frustrated and want a change. Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter. The fickle and frustrated electorate gives a mid-term thumbs down to the incumbents, and early in 2022 there were widespread predictions of a Republican landslide on November 8th.

As Democrats despaired, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade in June, and handed the sinking Democrats a lifeline, an issue that mobilized women and fired up their base. And for the first time in memory, abortion rights became a central issue in a Congressional race in Connecticut.

We’ll explore that issue further in this column, but first let’s take a hard look at Jahana Hayes.

Jahana Hayes celebrated her historic victory in 2018 when she became the first Black woman in history elected to represent Connecticut in Congress.

Many Waterbury residents personally know Jahana Hayes, who has lived and worked in the city for most of her life. Her backstory drew national attention when she first ran for Congress; she grew up surrounded by drugs and violence in the Berkley Heights Housing Project and got pregnant at 17. With the support of her teachers, she graduated from high school, and then seven years later she enrolled at Naugatuck Valley Community College to continue her education, and eventually earned her bachelor’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University and became a history teacher at Kennedy High School in Waterbury.

In 2016 she was named the Waterbury Teacher of the Year, Connecticut Teacher of the Year, and then she was honored at the White House by then President Barack Obama as the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. She spent 2017 traveling extensively around the United States as an ambassador for education, and then accepted a leadership position in the Waterbury School system working out of the Chase Building on Grand Street.

In a surprise she was recruited away from education by United States Senator Chris Murphy and became a candidate in a wide-open race for the 5th District Congressional seat. Incumbent Elizabeth Esty had been tarnished by scandal involving her chief of staff and had decided to not seek re-election.

Hayes debating Republican Mary Glassman in 2018 inside Torrington City Hall.

After a bruising Democrat nominating convention that endorsed Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman, Hayes primaried and seized the party nomination 62% to 38%. Hayes then flattened Republican Manny Santos in the general election to become the first Black woman elected to Congress from Connecticut.

In 2018 the history teacher was suddenly making her own history. In January 2019 she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine with Nancy Pelosi, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar that celebrated a wave of women rising to power in Washington D.C.

During her first Town Hall meeting back in Waterbury, in the Spring of 2019, Hayes told the audience it might have been a mistake to pose for the photograph because she was mistakenly being lumped together with Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan as members of the ultra-left wing of the Democratic Party. The progressive newcomers were named, “The Squad”, and it has taken Hayes several years to shake that label, which is still being thrown at her in 2022.

“I’m a conservative Democrat from Waterbury and going to Washington D.C. has not changed my values,” Hayes told the packed Aldermanic Chambers in 2019. “I’m still the same Jahana you all know.”

And Hayes is very well known in Waterbury, and to Observer readers. Twice Hayes has been voted Person of the Year by readers of The Waterbury Observer, first when she was National Teacher of the Year in 2016, and then again when she was elected to Congress in 2018. Hayes won Waterbury by 7000 votes last election, and her best shot of holding on to her seat is if Waterbury comes out to support her again.

Hayes is well known in Waterbury and won the city by 7000 votes in 2020.

In addition to being raised in a public housing project in Waterbury and teaching at a Waterbury public high school, Hayes is married to recently retired Waterbury Police Detective Milford Hayes, which has given her a birds-eye view of law enforcement. She has described the uncertainty of kissing her husband goodbye in the morning and not knowing if he would return safely at night. Being a black woman raised in a housing project has also provided an alternate view of law enforcement. She has a unique perspective.

After being sworn-in to Congress she twice voted to impeach President Donald Trump and was in the capitol on January 6th, 2021, when protesters attempted to overturn the election results. She has been an eyewitness and participant to some of the most electrifying moments in recent American history and emerged onto the political scene during one of the most partisan divides in America since the Civil War.

In a somewhat remarkable learning curve, the little girl raised in Berkley Heights became a member of the Agriculture Committee in the House of Representatives, as a large swath of the 5th District is dotted with small dairy farms. As the Chairwoman of the Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Subcommittee on the House Committee on Agriculture, she focused on eradicating hunger. Hayes authored the Access to Baby Formula Act which President signed into law and permanently ensured access to a range of baby formulas during a crisis.

The race against Logan is a dead heat with a week before the election.

Hayes routinely visits rural, mostly white Republican towns in Litchfield County, as well as New Britain and Waterbury with environments she was more familiar with. Hayes was a natural fit to be on the Education Committee in the House, and in 2021 was briefly considered a possible candidate for Education Secretary, which eventually was offered to Miguel Cardona, who was the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut at the time. He accepted the position.

After she won re-election in 2020 Hayes sent a letter to the Republican House leadership and urged them to not assign Marjorie Taylor Greene to the House Education Committee. Hayes wrote that Greene’s claims that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was false flag operation disqualified her. Sandy Hook is part Hayes’s district.

Eventually, the US House of Representatives voted to remove Greene from all committee roles on February 4, 2021. The reason cited for this highly unusual move (ten Republicans voted for it) was her extremist statements and endorsements of political violence.

Now, in 2022, if Republicans flip the House of Representatives, it is widely accepted that Kevin McCarthy will become the new Speaker of the House, and Greene will be elevated to a leadership position. Greene has promised to aggressively seek the impeachment of Joe Biden.

Logan with GOP candidate for governor, Bob Stefanowski.

George Logan is not Marjorie Taylor Greene, but if he wins and the House is flipped, he’ll have to deal with the extreme agenda being touted by her. Logan has told the media he is his own man and won’t be distracted or swayed by extremism. Some, including his opponent, wonder how independent a candidate can be when the National Republican Party has invested millions into his possible election.

Hayes has been supported by the Democratic National Committee and has voted with the Biden-Harris administration 98% of the time.

Don’t expect either Logan or Hayes to go rogue on their party in Congress. Logan was a staunch Republican vote in the State Legislature and delivered a lengthy speech on the floor against the Police Accountability Law. Logan voted against Paid Family Leave and against $15 an hour minimum wage.

Much of the campaign has been Hayes championing her experience and accomplishments versus Logan calling for change.

Logan supports a woman’s right to choose, but said he will not support any effort in Congress to make abortion a protected right across the country. He said that should be decided by the states. Hayes says it should be decided by a woman.

Logan’s website states he will oppose massive spending packages, support energy independence, support police officers and firefighters, and stand with the veterans.

Logan’s grandparents left Jamaica for Guatemala during the Great Depression, and his parents left Guatemala for America to build a better life. Logan graduated from Trinity College with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and he went on to graduate with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Bridgeport.

During his two terms in the Connecticut State Senate Logan supported protection of government officials and law enforcement from personal liability. Logan has 67% rating from the National Rifle Association and scored a 0% from Leap Forward when viewed through a progressive lens.

Hayes has 0% approval rating from the NRA, but scores top ratings in supporting women. Hayes has introduced legislation to fight hunger for veterans, low-income college students, and authored three bipartisan bills to eradicate child hunger.

Jahana Hayes is now undefeated in three elections winning by 25%, 11% and 9%. Depending on the poll one reads, the 2022 race is much closer than her previous campaigns. The latest polls, with eight days to the election, have the race a statistical dead heat. The 2016 polling for President of the United States harpooned having blind faith in any poll (Hillary Clinton was ahead in nearly every poll, until Donald Trump won the only poll that matters – the one taken on Election Day).

Several political pundits in Connecticut have cited big leads by Democrats at the top of the ticket (both Governor Ned Lamont and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal are leading by double digits in the latest Quinnipiac poll) as positive indicators that Hayes will be re-elected. Drilling down into the polling data reveals that both Lamont and Blumenthal are pulling ahead mainly due to a large gender gap opening, and they have the support of women 64-33%.

But George Logan isn’t backing down and is campaigning vigorously across the district.

Logan has hit a lot of fairs and parades and events the past six months. He is pictured here helping in the St. Vincent DePaul Shelter in Waterbury.

Logan has been a strong proponent of a woman’s right to choose if it’s legal, safe, and rare. But as the national debate about abortion rights trickled down into Connecticut, he wavered on any federal legislation that would protect access to abortions across the country. He said he would leave it up to the states to decide.

Jahana Hayes has flatly stated an abortion should be the sole decision of a woman, and that the federal and state governments should have no oversight. President Biden supports abortion rights legislation, and Hayes voted for an abortion rights bill that passed the House of Representatives this summer. The legislation was stymied by a log jam in the Senate, but if Democrats can pick up one seat in the Senate, and maintain control in the House, an abortion rights law will almost certainly become a federal law across the country.

Democrats took the pulse of America after Roe versus Wade was overturned in June, and abortion rights took center stage.

With Hayes facing a stiff challenge from Logan and the influx National Republican Party money, Democrat leadership took notice, and action.

On October 5th the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, came to New Britain for a widely covered talk about reproductive rights with Congresswoman Hayes. The move was widely viewed as an effort to fire up support for Hayes’s re-election bid, and to articulate what is at stake on Election Day. Vice-president Harris said her visit was an official visit.

“This is not a political event, but it is a fact that in 34 days, there is a midterm coming up and facts must be spoken,” Harris said.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited New Britain to talk about reproductive rights.

Harris then asked Connecticut to send Jahana Hayes back to Congress for another term. Hayes and Harris developed a relationship in Washington during Hayes’s first term in office.

Hayes said young women today have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers. “This ruling did not only have implications for abortion access but for the right to contraception, and the legality of same sex and inter-racial marriages,” said Hayes. “I don’t think people understand what national implications are still out there, and understanding that the Biden administration is fighting nationally to protect women’s health.”

Hayes has made it clear that she believes neither the federal government or state government have any business dictating abortion rights. Hayes believes the conversation should be limited to a woman and her doctor.

The country is so divided on issues, and voters so entrenched in their beliefs, that few votes will be swayed by this column, by a blitz of TV ads or by debates. The election will turn on who can get their voters motivated to cast a vote on Election Day. George Logan is hoping for a major upset, and Jahana Hayes is hoping to continue making history. On November 8th it’s up to you, the voter, to decide who you want to represent you in Washington D.C.

The stakes are high. A national spotlight has been cast on Waterbury, and the 5th Congressional District of Connecticut.

No matter who you support, it’s important for you to participate in this election.

No excuse, on November 5th, vote. •