A Lot At Stake In 1st Congressional District

With extinction of the middle class, another Great Depression and the rule of law on the line, you would think we'd be hearing just a little bit more about the race in the First Congressional District.

More succinctly, can all of you possibly think that this Wall Street rescue is a good thing?

Despite vigorous disagreement among the three First District candidates — Steve Fournier, John Larson and Joe Visconti — the campaign is passing with barely a ripple, not even a League of Women Voters debate that includes all viewpoints.

The absence of a living and breathing campaign is so disturbing that I invited the three candidates over for coffee. All were eager to attend.

"What will happen if we don't act and put new leadership in Congress is the extinction of the middle class. Period," said the Republican nominee Visconti, a West Hartford resident, when I asked him to sum up the stakes.

People are facing "whether they are going to have a home, have a job or whether they are going to have to move in with their relatives," he said.

U.S. Rep. Larson, the incumbent Democrat, isn't talking extinction. But he said at our little mini-debate that the economic crisis is one "we've faced at no other time than perhaps the Depression. It calls for a Roosevelt-like solution, especially in terms of investing in the American people."

"The constant theme that runs through all of this is deregulation, and the deregulation that has gone on for decades," Larson said. "Where was the administration? Where has the oversight been?"

Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Stephen Fournier of Hartford — who is all for government investment, just not for the bankers — called the Wall Street meltdown "way overblown." He has a more sinister take.

"The rule of law is at stake in this election," Fournier said. "What we've seen is criminality on a large scale, not just in the executive branch but in the legislative branch as well. This is a time to come down on criminals in government."

Whew. It was easy to see why none of us had much appetite for the pastry the other day.

Larson ranks fifth in seniority among House Democrats and is the favorite in a district that hasn't sent a Republican to Congress in decades. He has the confidence of a seasoned politician who would be at the forefront of Obama-administration reforms in Congress.

Visconti, a contractor, musician and town council member, rose to prominence through his opposition to the Blue Back Square development in West Hartford Center. His is a spicy stew of anti-tax Republicanism seasoned with a populist's distrust of corporate America.

Like the other Green Party candidates in Connecticut, Fournier, a lawyer and former Hartford Board of Education member, has been unable to garner much mainstream attention. Unrepentant, Fournier wants free public transportation, an about-face of our military policy and criminal indictment of top officials.

So it wasn't a surprise when Fournier sought, without complete success, to get his fellow candidates to agree that corporate power has fatally corrupted Washington.

Visconti, meanwhile, had even more difficulty finding support from the other two for his aggressive stance on immigration; he favors using federal racketeering laws to crack down on groups or individuals aiding illegal immigrants.

Perhaps not surprisingly, all three are mad as hell at corporate America.

Larson and Fournier want higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy. All support pumping hundreds of billions of federal dollars into the economy.

While generally supporting the Wall Street bailout, Visconti often emphasized his proposal for tax deductions for energy, college tuition and credit-card bills.

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