Courtney Meets Courtney
to discuss politics and funding

Courtney Kelleher: What are you doing to help veterans to keep their homes and find jobs?

Congressman Courtney: If you look at the map of Connecticut and where we live in the eastern half of the state, it has the highest number of veterans compared to the other Congressional districts. We have a navy base with 8,000 sailors and a lot of them stay here after they leave the service, as well as other branches of the service.

We just finished a very long war in Iraq which ended last December. We have 80,000 troops in Afghanistan and we owe them a lot because they volunteered - they didn't have to sign up - and when they leave the service we should do everything we can to help them find work. If you look at the number of people out of work who are ex-military, it is actually a little higher than the national average. We should be making sure they have every opportunity to get back into the workforce.

The good news is that the skills they have from the military make them every attractive to employers. Last October [2011] President Obama signed a law that makes it easier for employers to hire veterans by giving them a tax credit. Since that law went into effect, the number of out of work veterans has been coming down. We still need to do more. We are getting the word out to veterans [about job fairs]. We have asked a lot of these people and they have a lot more to contribute.

Courtney Kelleher: What kind of work do you do as a congressman?

Congressman Courtney: Part of my job is to go to Washington and work down there on committees. I sit on the Armed Service Committee, which deals with military issues, the Agriculture Committee, which deals with food security, nutrition issues and farm issues, and the Ethics Committee, which deals with complaints against congressmen.

Part of the job is committees and part of the job is voting on bills. We just had a big vote on student loans to keep the interest rates lower for students going to college and I was at the bill signing with President Obama about a month ago.

A lot of the work is also back home though, in terms of helping people you represent. We have about 700,000 people in our Congressional district and a lot of them have problems with the government, whether it is veterans getting their benefits or social security issues, or helping towns with different grants their looking for. The City of Norwich just got a grant for a half million dollars to hire four more police officers for the department. The nice thing about the grant is that they have to hire veterans, which the police department is very happy about because those are the kind of people they would like to hire. It is a pretty transferrable skill.

Courtney Kelleher: My friend Louie is a member of The Arc staff. He also works for Electric Boat. He builds radiation shields for submarines. What are you doing to keep Louie's job?

Congressman Courtney: That is about important a job as I can think of. I actually got a chance to ride on a submarine for two days and they brought me back to the nuclear power plant on the sub and I am glad Louie did a good job! They put a little isotope on your belt to measure whether you have been exposed to radiation and I am happy to say that when I got off the boat it was zero.

Electric Boat is by far the best shipyard in the world in terms of building submarines. There were almost 30,000 people working there in the 70s and 80s, it has changed a lot because the number of ships has changed, but the good news is in the last couple of years I have been able to work on the Armed Services Committee to boost he ship building rate. For about 17 years, our country was only building one submarine a year and now we are up to two. They also are starting design work on a whole new class of submarines so the number of employees at Electric Boat, which was hovering around 6,000 or 7,000, is now over 8,000 just in Groton. There are about 2,000 in Rhode Island as well.

I think Louie is in a really good place right now because I think with the orders the Navy has already put in for new ships he is going to be a busy guy. We are lucky to have him. It is an extraordinary group of people we have working there. I was in an airport recently when a priest stopped me, wanting to talk about immigration, and at the end of it he told me his uncle worked at Electric Boat and he wanted me to know that the engineering that goes into a submarine is more complicated than that of a space shuttle. It is pretty amazing what they do. When you see Louie, tell him I said hi and thank you!

Courtney Kelleher: How are you helping young people with developmental disabilities in school?

Congressman Courtney: Right now, the Federal government is getting a little more involved in education. If you go back about 10 years, the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, which started to put more rules in place on testing students and setting national requirements. We really need to update that law; hopefully in the next Congress we can change that law to make it smarter and work better.

For kids with intellectual disabilities, one of the issues we really need to look at is trying to accommodate the whole series of issues, whether it is dyslexia, which quite frankly we don't do a very good job of creating accommodations for students who have that condition. There are a rising number of kids with autism that we need to understand and figure out better strategies. But right now everything is on hold until the next Congress and frankly when people vote they need to be thinking about the question you just asked.

A lot of these children have a lot to contribute to our country but sometimes our educational system isn't working with them to maximize potential. What we need to have is more flexibility in the federal law so good teachers and good schools aren't locked in to testing, testing, testing, as opposed to trying to work with and accommodate individual students.

Courtney Kelleher: Are you married?

Congressman Courtney: I am. I just celebrated my 23rd wedding anniversary. My wife Audrey is a pediatric nurse practitioner and she works at Saint Francis Hospital up in Hartford. She is a pretty amazing person. I have two kids. I have a son who just graduated from Georgetown University. He's a math major, which I am in awe of. And I have a daughter, who is a junior in high school.

Courtney Kelleher: How are you helping people get jobs?

Congressman Courtney: As I said earlier, next week we are going to be doing a job fair to help people find jobs. This is the third one in the last three months. We did one in Willimantic with about 20 companies and had about 500 people show up looking for work. We did one right here in Norwich about six weeks ago, where we had 33 companies that showed up and over 1,000 people came. It was overwhelming but it really shows that people want to work and they are struggling.

We have to stay focused on that [issue]. In my opinion it is the most important issue to get things growing again so people can find a job. A job is the best social program of all. It gives people dignity and the ability to support themselves and their families. That?s why I am so impressed you have had the same job for 19 years. That's great!

Courtney Kelleher: Are you a Yankees or a Red Sox fan?

Congressman Courtney: That's a great question, coming from Connecticut, since we are halfway to Boston and New York. That time I was on the submarine, I was sitting at the breakfast table drinking coffee with all the sailors. We were about 500 feet below the ice up in the Artic and they asked me that question and I am sitting there thinking someone was going to shoot me out of a torpedo if I gave the wrong answer!

But I am a Red Sox fan, through and through, and not having a good summer. But I am old enough to remember the bad years. We've won two World Series in the 21st century, which is more than the Yankees have won in the 21st century.

How about you? Are you a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan?

Courtney Kelleher: I'm not saying anything!

Congressman Courtney: Who's the politician here? You're good!

Courtney Kelleher: Who is your idol and why?

Congressman Courtney: As somebody who's involved in politics, you get a chance to see some pretty impressive people. I was a history major in college and I still like to read biographies and histories and learning about how people lived their lives. You learn a lot about the challenges they had. There are quite a few people that I really admire a lot.

President Harry Truman, who will probably be the last president ever who didn't get a college degree. He was a veteran, fighting in World War I. He ran a clothing store in St. Louis Missouri and ended up getting involved in politics.

It is just an amazing story how he became president, obviously at very difficult time, but he ended racial discrimination in the military, ahead of the civil rights movement, he was somebody who was for Medicare for seniors to help with their healthcare issues, very strong in education, he was also a short guy with not so much hair and near-sighted - I can relate to that.

But he was also very direct with people. He would answer their questions, he was not somebody who avoided difficult decisions and I admire that and frankly wish we had a little more of that in Washington today.