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Candidates Bowles, France stress differences in debate in 42nd House District race

Preston - Candidates for the 42nd House seat faced off in an elementary school gym on Tuesday night, attempting to differentiate themselves on issues such as the economy, taxes and gun control.

Rep. Tim Bowles, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican Mike France, who narrowly lost to Bowles in 2012, met again in the debate held by The Day, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut.

France, a retired Navy officer and a Ledyard town councilor, emphasized his focus on the state's finances, high taxes and struggling economy.

These are "almost universal" concerns of voters in the 42 District, which represents Preston and parts of Ledyard and Montville, France said. He said the state must "get our fiscal house in order," balance the budget and ease up on business regulations before trying to enact big ideas.

Bowles, a Preston alpaca farmer, said his priority is to import lean business practices from the private sector and reorganize the state government in order to have it operate more efficiently.

He said state government is "largely ineffective" in several ways and suggests, among other measures, reorganizing the state's human services departments. Bowles also supports increasing the terms of state representatives from two to four years, enacting term limits and decreasing the number of representatives from 151 to 148.

"I have no illusion that this is easy to do," Bowles acknowledged, but he said he has already secured support from some colleagues in Hartford.

The incumbent touted his participation in several task forces, such as the task force he began in April 2013 to explore the possible creation of a clean energy center at the site of the former Norwich Hospital, which is now known as the Preston Riverwalk.

But France criticized Bowles and task forces in general for failing to follow through on the work they begin.

"We are very good as a government, at any governmental level, at forming task forces that do nothing," France said. "We need action, not more studies."

The task forces often fail to "put the rubber to the road" and put legislation on the table, France said. He said Bowles announced his task force on clean energy "with fanfare," but "as far as I can tell, they haven't met."

Bowles defended his record and said he helped secure a $5 million grant to finish cleaning up the Preston Riverwalk site. He also said he plans to propose revitalizing the energy task force to take advantage of a clean energy site in Mansfield for the manufacturing of new, green technologies.

Although Bowles referred to himself and France as having major philosophical differences, the two found plenty of things to agree on at Tuesday's debate.

France, although more enthusiastic about balancing the budget, was supportive of Bowles' interest in bringing lean practices to state government. And when France later said the government should be careful to use money only for its designated uses - such as upgrading infrastructure - Bowles backed him up. And they each support a review of - and possible changes to - the state's tax structure.

The two had differences on the governor's post-Sandy Hook gun legislation, although minor: Bowles did not vote for the bill, a "difficult decision" that he stands by, but does not support repealing it. Amendments, he said, might be in order.

France said he would not have voted for the bill, but he is in favor of repeal.

Neither France nor Bowles support a controversial bill advocated for by state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, in favor of physician-assisted suicide.

France said he took a libertarian stance on the issue and said the government does not need to be involved in end-of-life decisions. He said the number of people interested in physician-assisted suicide is minimal and that the bill is attempting to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

Bowles said his Christian faith, his experience watching his mother die of ovarian cancer and his concern about asking doctors to potentially violate the Hippocratic Oath have all contributed to his opposition to the bill.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

Twitter: @kccatalfamo

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