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For all their apparent differences, both Republican Mike France and Democrat Timothy Bowles, running for the 42nd state House District seat, say they are fiscal conservatives.
In fact, they may be more alike than they project. They are both serving on their respective towns' municipal governments: France, 49, is in his first term on the Ledyard Town Council, and Bowles, 62, is in his second term on the Preston Board of Selectmen. They share a disdain for new taxes passed in this year's state budget - ones they both say particularly harm the southeastern Connecticut region, its small businesses and its high unemployment rate.
It is their careers and their broader views on government that shed light on their differences.
France, a lifelong Republican who settled in Gales Ferry after a 20-year Navy career, now works as an engineering manager in the Navy's Program Executive Office, Submarines. Bowles, a retired planning analyst with a nearly 40-year career in civil service for the state, lives on his alpaca farm in Preston and was affiliated with the Green party prior to returning to his Democratic identity.
They agree those differences are significant in terms of who will better serve the 42nd district - parts of Preston, Montville and Ledyard - as they compete for Rep. Tom Reynolds' open seat.
France, who was elected to the Ledyard Town Council last fall, said he found his political awakening during the 2008 election, when he said he realized it wasn't enough for him just to vote. He began to learn more, eventually landing his seat on the council.
Now France is running on a platform of decreased government involvement, which he said has stymied local businesses.
"The basic thing right now is that it goes back to jobs and the economy and taxes," he said. "There are ways to bring more efficiency to government without changing the level of service."
Bowles' resume is filled with work at state agencies - from the state Department of Children and Families to the Office of Policy and Management. Working within the system - particularly once as a legislative liaison - gives him unique perspective and knowledge in approaching his own possible legislative role, he said.
France said he sees that as a disadvantage.
"It's difficult to be on the inside and be a critical thinker on how the system is supposed to work," he said.
But Bowles sees his experience as a strength that sets him apart from France.
"I think the biggest difference is my depth and breadth of experience in a number of different arenas," he said.
Bowles' platform touts a specific plan to create technology, research and manufacturing jobs. He supports the development of a clean energy center - a proposed public/private partnership with the University of Connecticut and Yale University to create a renewable energy cluster.
Bowles said he would look to private equity first in the creation of such a center, with government involvement limited to its partnership with the private sector. The same goes for economic stimulus coming from the state.
France said the biggest challenge in approaching the economy has to do with the mismanagement of the state budget and spending too much on areas that should be combed for inefficiencies, such as with Medicaid and Medicare fraud.
"You should not do something on the state level that local government can do better," he said.
But in times of economic tumult, Bowles said, the state has an obligation.
"Regional and state government has a significant role to play in terms of the safety net of social services for people right now," he said. "I think people are hurting, I think the economy is still floundering. People are treading water and starting to drown in it."