42nd House District: Candidates address opponent criticisms

The election for the 42nd House District might look familiar to voters: Republican Mike France and Democrat Tim Bowles are once again competing to represent Preston, most of Ledyard and parts of Montville.

It was by only 302 votes that Bowles, of Preston, pulled ahead of France, a Ledyard town councilor, in the 2012 election.

The two have found common ground on a number of issues, from gun control to improving government efficiency to right-to-die legislation. But their priorities vary as they express subtle policy differences, and their contrasting backgrounds have led them to develop different approaches to politics.

A former Green Party candidate, Bowles, 64, is also a former foster parent. His resume includes stints as a social worker, a zookeeper, a security guard and a shipping clerk. He's worked for five state departments and six governors, and he's managed his family's nearly 300-acre farm in Preston for 40 years, raising alpacas.

Clean energy and environmental sustainability are among Bowles' top priorities, and not just in Hartford. He hosts a young couple on his farm, allowing them to use about half his land for sustainable agriculture, and plans to have his farm run on 90 percent solar energy within two or three years.

France, 52, decided to get involved in politics after the 2008 presidential election. He spent more than 20 years in the Navy and earned a master's degree in electrical engineering. He retired from the Navy in 2005, settled in Gales Ferry and continues to work with the Virginia class submarine program as a defense contractor.

In 2008, France said he "watched what was going on and felt like I had a background and skill set that could be useful to somebody."

"With my background in engineering, we're problem-solvers," France said. "We don't like lingering issues hanging out for a long period of time."

It's that engineer's attitude that drives his strongest criticism of incumbent Bowles.

"What I've observed of Mr. Bowles in his two years is that everything that he proposes is a study," France said. "Let's study that, let's study this. The time for studying is done. We need activity. Because if we don't have activity soon, we're not going to have a state left."

France's chief concern is making the state more fiscally responsible by balancing the budget, decreasing regulation on businesses and eliminating unnecessary services. He said it is so unaffordable to live in the state that not only are retirees fleeing, but families with teenagers are counting the days until high school graduation so they can sell the house and leave.

Bowles rejects France's criticism, saying that as a member of the Municipal Operations and Regionalization Efficiencies Commission, he has not just studied regionalization but has a piece of legislation to show for it.

His regionalization efforts have reduced the state's councils of governments from 14 to nine and will create human services departments under those councils to focus on regional needs.

"These are active bodies," said Bowles, who added he has accomplished other things - such as pushing for legislation to address frivolous lawsuits.

But he believes there is a place for committees.

"A legislative commission is the first step in taking action," he said, because it "has the stature to be effective."

Bowles wasn't shy about pointing out France's weak spots, either.

"I'm not hearing any substance, and I'm not hearing any specifics" when it comes to reducing the budget, said Bowles, whose own platform outlines in detail his proposals for regional economic development, such as creating an economic and environmental heritage corridor and developing the Preston Riverworks property, and for improving government efficiency.

"It's too easy to say 'cut taxes and reduce spending,'" he added. "Where?"

France admits that he comes up short when asked about specific areas to cut, other than his proposal to eliminate the businesses entity tax.

But he said that's only because his experience has taught him to review the budget in detail before making such proposals.

The assembly, France said, should ask, "Are we providing more services to the residents of the state than we should be?" Then it should get to work making cuts.

"I'll take the same approach that I have as chair of the (Ledyard) Finance Committee. I will sit down, I will look at the budget, I will talk to the departments," France said. "You have to get into the details of what the department does with the revenue ... If you don't do that, then you're not really solving the problem. You're putting a Band-Aid on it; you're giving a political solution to something that needs an immediate answer."

During the candidates' debate last month, France also made an unexpected proposal: bringing California's system of allowing citizens to add propositions to the November ballot if they gather enough signatures. France believes it would help make the legislature more responsive to residents.

That could be a good idea, Bowles agreed.

He said it should be studied further.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

Twitter: @kccatalfamo

UBOX

CANDIDATE NAME: Tim Bowles

Party: Democrat

Incumbent?: Yes

Town: Preston

Age: 64

Occupation: Farm Manager

Elected/appointed offices: Two terms on the Town of Preston Board of Selectmen Appointed to the Preston In-land/Wetlands Commission and to the Conservation Commission Elected to the Preston Planning and Zoning Commission Elected to the Preston Zoning Board of Appeals

Contact: Phone:860-705-5613

Email: tbowles117@comcast.net

CANDIDATE NAME: Mike France

Party: Republican

Incumbent?: No

Town: Gales Ferry

Age: 52

Occupation: Engineering Manager

Elected/appointed offices: Town Council, Ledyard, CT, November 2011-present; Chair, Finance Committee, Ledyard, CT, November 2011-present; Liaison to Historic District Commission and Conservation Commission, November 2011-present; Liaison to Permanent Municipal Building Committee , May 2013-present; Liaison to Pension Board, November 2013-present; Chair, Ledyard Republican Town Committee, March 2013-present; Elected Member, Republican State Central Committee, 19th District, June 2013-present.

Contact: Phone: 860-271-3816

Email: MikeFrance2014@gmail.com

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