Mike France is running unopposed for state representative from the 42nd District

Mike France (R), unopposed for the 42nd General Assembly District, chats with another legislator before participating in a tourism caucus at Waterford Town Hall Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Mike France (R), unopposed for the 42nd General Assembly District, chats with another legislator before participating in a tourism caucus at Waterford Town Hall Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Ledyard — It's not a typical campaign for state Rep. Mike France, who is running unopposed in the 42nd District.

While he said he knocked on as many doors as he could during his election to town council in 2011 and his first campaign for state representative in 2014, France said he's mostly been focused on advocating for his district this time around.

He's spent his time holding periodic town halls with constituents in Ledyard, Preston, and part of the village of Uncasville alongside fellow Republican State Rep. John Scott, who represents the 40th District.

For many who bring their concerns to these meetings, the economy is "the big issue, the constant issue," he said.

In particular, he cited residents in the middle of their career with children in the school system, who tell him they intend to leave the state once their kids graduate.

"They're leaving for a place they can afford to live," he said.

He said he and other Republicans feel that it is the state's failure to improve the economy, while continuing to fund many services, that's left the state in the budget crisis it's in.

He said it was serving as the chairman of the town council's Finance Committee that gave him exposure to the management of government budgets, which he said provides a model for how government can work effectively.

He pointed to the town's food pantry, which transferred from town management to run by volunteers on the Ledyard Congregational Church property.

"Service is being provided backed by a community organization that doesn't cost the taxpayer money," France said. "That's a model ... on how we're delivering services (and) how we're looking at state government."

Among his committee appointments, which include the Government Administration and Elections as well as Planning and Development, he served on the Appropriations Committee, which he said has given him a good look into the state's financial woes. Fundamentally, he said, budgets are built the wrong way by starting with expenditures.

"What we don't do a good job is talking about the revenue side ... (it) doesn't get enough exposure or critiquing," he said.

He said economic factors included in the budget, which include predictions of economic growth and tax receipts, are often overly optimistic.

He also recently questioned the Sikorsky helicopter agreement and voted against it, telling the General Assembly that he didn't think the government ought to serve as a venture capitalist.

New regulations are also a concern for France. He said he would like to see a new step added to the legislative process for a bill, requiring advocates to defend the bill in front of the appropriate legislative committee.

His detail-oriented perspective on the budget comes from his background — France spent 20 years in the Navy on active duty, much of it as an engineer, and eventually receiving a Master's of Science degree in electrical engineering. He came to Groton as Program Manager's Representative at the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, and retired in 2005.

"I'm an engineer. I happened to be elected to office but I approach problem solving based on my background in engineering," he said.

Currently he works at Progeny Systems in Groton, serving as the engineering manager.

Education is also locked into the issues around the budget, he said. In particular, he cited the suggested cuts to the state technical school system as being particularly dramatic.

"We've not invested in our technical high school programs," France said. He introduced a bill last session that was not brought up for a vote that would have created a bridge program for students considering transferring from traditional high schools to technical schools in their sophomore year.

He said he was also disappointed with the 180-day timeline given by Judge Thomas Moukawsher in a ruling that the state's education aid choices are unconstitutional. However, he said some of the ruling had merit, and he hoped it would start a dialogue about special education and what outcomes educators want for their students.

"We need to take a hard look at one size fits all," he said.

For now, while most are campaigning, he's going to be meeting with the school boards and  government officials in each town, and ask them what their needs are. 

"My goal is first to find out from the three towns what their needs are ... craft bills and advocate for them," he said.

n.lynch@theday.com

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