State Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, announced on Feb. 23 that he is challenging Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney, who represents Connecticut’s second congressional district, covering most of the eastern half of the state.
Courtney unseated former Congressman Rob Simmons, a Republican, fifteen years ago, winning that election by just 83 votes. Since then, Courtney has comfortably won reelection each cycle, including last November with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
France is a retired U.S. Navy officer who has served in the statehouse since 2015. In a conversation with the Connecticut Examiner, France shared how he would represent eastern Connecticut differently from Courtney in Congress.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why did you decide to run for Congress?
I’ve been asked a number of times over several years to consider running. In the past, it didn’t fit with where I was in life, and I didn’t feel I had the right experience. I started making phone calls after the last election to see if there was support, and there was enthusiasm for it, so I continued to look at it, and decided it was the right thing to do to serve residents of the state of Connecticut and make a run for Congress.
Joe Courtney won handily this past November, with his Republican opponent only earning 38 percent of the vote. What do you plan on doing differently in your campaign to try to flip this district?
I’ve noticed that federal candidates tend to get into the race late, often right before the convention. It takes time to build up momentum and raise resources to get a message out there and let people know who you are. That takes time, and that’s something most candidates have not given themselves. You have to be able to raise sufficient money to have a campaign, which also takes time.
The other thing lacking in most of our candidates has been experience. Most came to the federal cycle as their first time running for office, but there’s a lot of things you learn along the way running other campaigns. I learned a lot running for local offices, and learned even more running for state office.
Over time, eastern Connecticut has gone more and more Republican, and I’ve seen more legislators elected into the state legislature from eastern Connecticut each cycle, so that’s one reason why I believe I have a stronger case.
What would you have done differently in this last term had you been in Courtney’s seat?
The only specific thing that drew my attention was the COVID relief bill that was debated and discussed from late last summer into the fall. The statement afterward by Speaker Pelosi that it was held up for political reasons was, for me, disappointing. That’s not what the government is supposed to do. I think that’s where the impetus came that drove me to take a more serious look at running.
One difference that comes with serving in Congress rather than in a statehouse is the need to weigh in on national issues.
Had you served in Congress during the previous presidential administration, how would you have handled the impeachment votes, as well as the votes around certifying the presidential election?
I think we always need to go back to the Constitution. As an outside observer, I watched Congress go through the process laid out in the Constitution to certify the election. When you look at history, in most elections where there is close turnout, there are objections to the vote, and that’s just part of our political process.
Similarly, our founding fathers said impeachment was a political process, and that’s what we saw. Congress is within its rights to offer the articles of impeachment, hold a trial and vote, and we saw the merits of the case born out both times in the Senate with no conviction. That is part of our constitutional process, and the founding fathers put that in place for reason.
I didn’t hear all of the testimony, but to me, it did not appear that there was merit in either impeachment case, and I did not see sufficient evidence to warrant the charges brought, so I think that’s why the Senate voted the way they did.
What experiences, in government or otherwise, do you feel have best prepared you to represent the 2nd district in Congress?
Service in uniform provides leadership, understanding of organizations and personnel, and certainly provides a skill set that is valuable when you’re called to serve in elected office. I served in uniform and have personal knowledge of the defense community in eastern Connecticut, so I bring a point of view to the table that would help represent the defense industry in the district. Serving my local town by sitting at the town council of Ledyard and putting town budgets together really showed me how the government is supposed to work. Citizens of town come into the Board of Education or Town Council and seek redress from the government, and that’s how our country was envisioned.
Moving from the town level to the state level, that sometimes gets disconnected, and at the federal level, it’s even more removed. That’s not how the government is supposed to be. In the state legislature, I have tried to be available to the public with town hall meetings once a quarter. I’ve been diligent about that because I feel as an elected official, my responsibility is to be available for the public to come talk to me directly. That’s a valuable lesson I learned serving on the town council in Ledyard.
In my first year in the legislature, there were six or eight individual constituent issues that I worked with other legislators on both sides of the aisle to resolve. That is what drove home the impact you can have if you are truly of a mindset of serving others. That’s what I’ve done my entire life, in uniform and out.
This Congressional session has brought back earmarks, which allow individual Congressmen to allocate specific funds to needs in their districts.
If you were in Congress, is there anything you’d want to direct funds toward to help the 2nd district?
The federal government has a role to play in rail transportation and our ports, and I also think the Coast Guard museum is something the federal government can play a role in. Every other service has multiple museums in various places around the country, and the Coast Guard doesn’t have one. Having that Coast Guard museum on the waterfront in New London in the same vicinity as the academy is important, and the federal government has a role to play to provide whatever they need to generate success in building that museum. Beyond that, it really depends on what the needs are in the 2nd district and ensuring that those needs are within the role of the federal government.