France, a ‘principled conservative,’ vies for Congress
Mike France’s bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who has dominated second Congressional District elections since he beat Stonington Republican Rob Simmons by 83 votes in 2006, could be a difficult one.
But France, 59, a four-term Republican state representative running for his first term in Congress, is optimistic.
“You look at the trend over the last three or four election cycles, and you can see eastern Connecticut has trended more favorably toward Republicans,” France said. “We’ve had a number of conservatives elected and reelected over time in eastern Connecticut. There’s opportunity there.”
The co-chair of the General Assembly’s Conservative Caucus, France deflected criticism from Courtney that he is too far right to represent the Second District.
“That’s the only thing they have as a personal attack. They don’t deal with any specific issue, they just make a generalization,” France said. “The principle role of government is protecting individual rights…Joe Courtney believes big government is the answer to everything.”
France described himself as “a conservative Republican, a principled conservative, who looks to the Constitution first and statute second.”
A retired Navy veteran, France has worked for Progeny Systems Corporation since 2005 as a submarine acquisition professional, and currently manages a Virginia-class submarine operability program.
“That provides me a groundwork of understanding of the submarine industry in a way that Joe Courtney just does not have,” France said. “Because of my background, the people of eastern Connecticut are looking for the first time at what Joe Courtney has or hasn’t done.”
France took aim at one of the main tenets of Courtney’s record and campaign — the sitting Congressman’s record on submarine procurement.
“The submarine fleet has shrunk because of new construction and maintenance. We have a submarine force that doesn’t meet the needs of the mission,” France said. “Joe Courtney runs around with this title of ‘Two Sub Joe,’ and that’s great, but that announcement was made about five months after he was sworn in. I don’t know what he did to make that happen.”
“He has sustained it, but the number of two new submarine construction a year still means that we are decreasing our fleet over the next almost two decades,” France continued, referencing an op-ed in the Wall Street journal. “That is not serving the needs of our military projection as we look at threats around the world, with China, Russia and Iran. If we don’t have the submarine force, which is certainly the industry in our area, we are not as safe as a country without that.”
Courtney vehemently defended himself against these criticisms. After France’s initial comments on a conservative talk radio show last month, Courtney’s campaign sent out numerous news clips confirming the congressman as a freshman did what Simmons “fought hard to achieve but failed to deliver,” according to a December 2007 story from The Hill. Simmons had secured authorization for a second submarine, but the funds were not appropriated.
France doesn’t much contrast Courtney on military spending, saying he would look at what’s needed “to meet the national military strategy.”
“When you’re looking at readiness across the military, the Navy, we have allowed China to surpass us in the number of ships that they have,” he said.
France’s top campaign issues are inflation and public safety. Ranking member on the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee and former chair of Ledyard’s Finance Committee, France is running on his fiscal know-how.
“Inflation, the ability to put food on the table, and the cost of gas and fuel — as we’re going into the winter we’re hearing more about heating oil costs,” France said. “Inflation and the cost of goods and services is the number one issue.”
He said the federal government has been authorizing spending “that we have no way to support.”
“We’re seeing inflation as a consequence of that … That is a product of a lack of discipline on the part of Joe Courtney,” France said.
He wants to address inflation by reducing the cost of diesel fuel: “Cutting spending doesn’t address inflation...The biggest driver of inflation besides the debt ... is the cost of diesel fuel… Until we can get the cost of moving goods and services down, it’s going to be hard to get inflation down.”
France said government tax policy “needs to support the spending ... to provide the services that the federal government is required to do.”
“I think we are taxing the people too much overall and negatively impacting the economic outlook of this country. You don’t start with revenue and back into policy, that’s backwards,” France said. “You should start with what government has to provide, common defense, securing the border… Go through what the federal government is supposed to do, and when you get to the end of that list, you have things you want to do but should be left to the states.”
On public safety, France claims that in the last six to eight months in the district there was “a significant rise of crime.” While there is no processed data for 2022, the state’s annual crime report for 2021 shows that crime is down overall in the state, although some categories of violent crime are up.
“Across the state and the country we are seeing that issue rise up with the defund the police movement,” France said. “Some of the legislation that’s been passed the last several years has caused the police to not be as present as they have been in the past.” He added that the state is “struggling to get officers to come in and serve.”
France voted against a 2022 law that protects out-of-state women from prosecution for getting an abortion in Connecticut and state medical providers from legal actions taken against them by other states. France said he was opposed to the portion of the law that allowed advanced-practice clinicians — such as advanced-practice registered nurses, or APRNs, and nurse-midwives — in the state to perform suction abortions in addition to medication abortions.
France has advocated for repealing abortion rights laws in Connecticut, is supportive of a parental notification law, and has supported a proposal banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
France reiterated a point he made in Tuesday’s debate — that pro-choice people he has met “universally oppose” late-term abortions.
“Europe’s standard is 12 weeks; the extreme is 15 weeks,” France said. He believes the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade “should’ve been left up to the states.” He also believes Roe v. Wade made abortion a federal issue when it shouldn’t have.
“I don’t believe the court should be making law, so it is incumbent on Congress to take this issue up,” France said. But, he thinks specifics such as week limits are state issues. He supports exceptions in cases of the life of the mother, incest and rape.
“I don’t believe a total ban is appropriate. When you contrast Joe Courtney, who voted for, in the House, abortion all the way up to birth…That’s the debate we ought to have and determine what that standard’s going to be,” France said.
France asserted that the right to keep and bear arms “is a constitutional right.” He said gun laws in Connecticut “are some of the most restrictive in the country.”
As for how he’d address the problem of mass shootings, which happen in the U.S. more than any other country, France said that too often people “attempt to blame the tool, i.e. the gun.”
France said Congress should bolster mental health services and do a better job of enforcing existing laws.
“In Connecticut we’ve seen a lack of enforcement in our own gun laws and choices not to prosecute,” France said. “If we start enforcing laws that are on the books, the people of Connecticut would feel much safer because people committing crimes with guns would not be on the street.”
France said he would not trade individual stocks if elected. He found it “troubling” that the statement from Courtney’s office on the stock trades report said the congressman believes “you should not have the ability to trade in individual stocks.”
“To me that sounds like a principle, but then he blamed his investment advisor. Investment advisors have a fiduciary responsibility to do what you tell them to do,” he said. “If you tell them, ‘I only want to be in mutual funds or index funds,’ they have an obligation to maintain that.”
The 2020 election
France does not question the results of the 2020 election and said Biden was the rightful victor over Trump. But: “Were there irregularities that happened? Certainly. I think there were actions by secretaries of the state and governors across the country that were unconstitutional. They do not have the authority to make election law.” France’s conservative caucus has long maintained that Connecticut’s move toward no-excuse absentee voting during the pandemic was unconstitutional.
During the campaign, France has criticized Courtney for being disconnected from the district, and has said he’s more willing to meet with voters face to face. His main point, though, is that Courtney represents “the heavy hand of government,” and rarely votes against his party, which Courtney disputes.
“The people of eastern Connecticut are seeing a lack of leadership in their pocketbooks every day, and they’re seeing it on the streets with the lack of public safety,” France said. “Those two issues are core to what people are feeling today and determine how they’ll vote on November 8th. Joe Courtney is on the wrong side of both those issues.”