|U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (Republican)|
Deemed one of the most powerful women in the House by Washington media, 10-term Republican Congresswoman Nancy Johnson is hoping her 20 years of experience in public service and moderate voting record will appeal to the voters of the newly drawn 5th congressional district in Connecticut.
A Chicago native and the daughter of a Republican state legislator, Johnson holds a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College. She originally moved to New Britain with her husband to teach and raise a family and was involved in community activities. Deciding to pursue political ambitions in 1976, Johnson was elected to the Connecticut state Senate from the largely Democratic district of New Britain -- the first Republican to achieve such a feat in 30 years. She served three terms in state office before shifting her focus to the national level.
Johnson was elected to the first of her ten terms as the 6th District congresswoman in 1982 when Rep. Toby Moffett left the seat to run for the U.S. Senate. The Almanac for American Politics describes Johnson's record in the House as "fairly market oriented on economics, fairly liberal on cultural issues" and calls her one of the House's "most active and productive legislators." In 1998, she became the first Republican woman to be named to the influential Ways and Means Committee and was also the first woman to chair one of its subcommittees. She has gone on to chair other subcommittees in the House on issues such as welfare law and health.
Health care issues have played a large role in Johnson's work as a legislator. She opposed the Clinton health care plan, sponsored 1997 legislation providing health insurance for uninsured children, and supported numerous health care benefits for seniors. If re-elected, she could prove a pivotal player in future Medicare reform, since any reform legislation could have to pass through her health subcommittee.
Johnson has not been afraid to vote against House Republican leadership. She has supported abortion rights and voted against the ban on "partial birth" abortions. A self-proclaimed defender of natural resources, she has also introduced legislation to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Her rise in the congressional ranks hit a roadblock in 1996 when she chaired the House ethics committee that was faced with considering charges brought by Democrats against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Johnson had worked closely with Gingrich in the past, leading to speculation that she would try to stall the investigation out of loyalty to the Republican leadership. She eventually bargained with Democrats to drop some of the more serious charges against Gingrich in return for appointing a special investigation into his use of tax-exempt funds to sponsor the well-publicized college course he taught.
In the wake of her ethics committee difficulties, Johnson returned to Connecticut to face a tough re-election challenge from Democrat Charlotte Koskoff, an opponent she had beaten in the 1994 election by a 32 percent margin. On election night, several media outlets briefly reported that Johnson had lost to Koskoff when she had actually won by a razor thin 50 to 49 percent. When Johnson returned to Capitol Hill, the House voted to reprimand Gingrich and fine him $300,000. Johnson left the ethics committee as soon as her term was up and admitted that her role there "absolutely hurt me," according to the Almanac for American Politics.
Johnson encountered another strong challenge from Koskoff in 1998 but outspent her by well over $1 million and went on to win 58 to 40 percent. Before the 2000 presidential election, Gov. John Rowland named Johnson as the replacement for Sen. Joseph Lieberman if he and then-Vice-President Al Gore were successful in their run for the White House. Johnson was easily re-elected 63 to 33 percent in the 2000 House campaign against Paul Valenti, a much weaker opponent who raised a paltry $14,000 for his challenge.
Johnson now faces a fellow incumbent and seasoned campaigner, Democrat Jim Maloney of the 5th district, after Connecticut lost a seat in Congress following the 2000 census.
Johnson and her husband, Theodore have three grown daughters and live in New Britain.
--By Maureen Hoch, Online NewsHour