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CT congressman facing a rare challenge from the left


Tagging him as a “corporate Democrat,” two political newcomers have launched 2022 primary challenges against U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, slapping him with his first primary opponents since Larson first ran for the 1st District seat in 1998.

Seeking the support of political action committees that back progressive primary challengers, Democrats Muad Hrezi, 26, and Andrew Legnani, 32, are preparing campaigns that will target Larson, 72, for not supporting the health care policy Medicare for All, among other issues.

Hardly known as a centrist in the House Democratic caucus, Larson is a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, the climate change proposal championed by progressive firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. But Hrezi and Legnani said they’re running for office because they doubt that Larson would vote for the bill on the floor or defend it.

They hope to launch insurgent campaigns to topple Larson — like that of Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated ten-term Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., in 2018 or Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who unseated ten-term Rep. William Lacy Clay in 2020.

Closer to home, the challenges reflect a division in a Democratic party with a widening lead over the Republicans in Connecticut. In the state House and Senate, for example, a group of 30 liberal Democrats have loudly challenged Gov. Ned Lamont, a fellow party member, to balance the budget by raising taxes on wealthy residents — a move Lamont said he will not make.

Now in his twelfth term, Larson serves on the House’s influential tax law-writing committee, Ways and Means, and previously chaired the House Democratic Caucus, a top leadership position. He served in the Connecticut state Senate and ran for governor before coming to Congress, where he’s made a name for himself championing policies to bolster Social Security among other issues.

Larson grew up in public housing in East Hartford and was a history teacher in that town.

Mary Yatrousis, a spokeswoman for Larson’s campaign, said he is focused on serving Hartford area families during the pandemic and not thinking about his next campaign.

“At this very moment he is in a Ways and Means mark-up, fighting Republican attempts to block more COVID relief, while also keeping an eye on the impeachment trial, a month after the deadly insurrection at the Capitol,” Yatrousis said. “Once he has helped pass COVID relief and a much-needed infrastructure package is underway, and once it is campaign season, he will work hard to let voters know all he has done to get us back on track.”

Hrezi is a former U.S. Senate staffer, and Legnani, a life insurance agent and Berlin Park and Recreation Commission member. Both are driven by their experiences with health care. They plan to seek help for their campaigns from groups such as Justice Democrats, which backs primary challengers to “out-of-touch Democratic incumbents,” and Sunrise Movement, which backs candidates with progressive climate stances.


Justice Democrats is not currently involved in Connecticut’s 1st District, a representative with the PAC said, but the PAC is talking with organizers and voters across the country to hear what people’s concerns are about their district and their representatives.

As they launch their campaigns, Hrezi and Legnani have both pledged not to take corporate PAC money for their campaigns, a popular promise for Democrats in competitive races. Forgoing that funding in their 2022 campaigns is not a large sacrifice now because corporate PACs give almost all their funds to sitting members of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrat Andrew Legnani has lauched a 2022 primary campaign against Rep. John Larson, D-1.

In the 2020 election cycle, 80 percent of the $1.4 million Larson raised for his campaign came from political action committees — mostly affiliated with large corporations like defense and insurance companies, and unions, Center for Responsive Politics data shows. At least half of his campaign funds have come from political action committees in every election cycle since 2010.

“If you’re going to take their money, then how are you not going to do their bidding?” said Hrezi.

Hrezi moved to Hartford in September, after working in Washington, D.C. as a legislative correspondent working on health policy for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. His parents moved to the United States from Libya and he grew up in Naugatuck, where he became a state track star before attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He currently is working as a substitute teacher in Southington and as a caregiver to people with traumatic brain injury in Newington.

Hrezi said he decided to leave his work at the Senate and launch his own campaign after feeling increasingly frustrated about what he saw as political inaction and small ideas in Congress. His goal now is “un-rigging the system,” he said.

“In a lot of ways, it just feels like a sick joke rather than the world’s strongest government,” said Hrezi. “When I left, I was like what’s the next step? And the longer I thought about it I realized that our politics might be broken and as a staffer I have very little power to change that, but the only way that gets changed is by people changing the composition of that body.”

Legnani said he’s launching his campaign because he felt things were getting worse in his community for a decade. He grew up in Berlin and worked as an emergency medical technician for years before earning his bachelor’s degree in political and legal history from Central Connecticut State University in 2017. He ran for the Board of Assessment Appeals in 2019 in Berlin but lost. It was Legnani’s only previous run for elected office.

Legnani called Medicare for All his “cornerstone issue,” and dismissed the Affordable Care Act as “legalized greed.”

Hartford is known as a health insurance capital for the large footprint of insurance companies in the area. A strong supporter of the ACA, Larson supports the Medicare Buy-In and Health Care Stabilization Act, which allows younger people age 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare.

Even if he loses the election to Larson, Legnani said it would be a “gigantic win” if his and Hrezi’s primary challenges prompted Larson to change his position on the issue.

emilie.munson@hearstdc.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson



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