Interviews with CT Examiner
We kick off our 2022 candidate interviews with seven-term incumbent Congressman Joe Courtney, a Democrat, and State Rep. Mike France, a Republican, in what we expect will be a close race this November.
Courtney and France are vying for the Second Congressional District seat to represent the entire eastern half of the state — a challenge for any candidate — with wealthy towns along the shoreline, rural and agricultural towns inland, a handful of struggling cities, casinos and a booming boom-and-bust submarine industry.
Courtney serves as chair of the House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, a key seat for securing the interests of submarine-building in Connecticut. He is a member of the the House Education and Labor Committee where he serves on the subcommittees for Higher Education and Workforce Training as well as Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.
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He graduated from Tufts University in 1975 and earned a law degree from UConn School of Law in 1978. He lives in Vernon with his wife, Audrey Courtney, and they have one son and one daughter.
His challenger Mike France is a retired career naval officer. Since 2015, France has served as State Representative representing Ledyard, Montville and Preston. He is currently chair of the Connecticut General Assembly Conservative Caucus. Prior winning a seat in the General Assembly, France was elected to the Ledyard Town Council, and served from 2011 to 2015.
France joined the Navy in 1981, later earning a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California, a masters degree in electrical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School, and an MA in organizational management from Eastern Connecticut State University. After retiring from active duty, France joined Progeny Systems Corporation in 2005, and currently leads a joint operability program for Virginia-class submarines.
France and his wife, Heather, live in Gales Ferry, and have six children and four grandchildren.
Each candidate agreed to answer six questions and was given an opportunity to make a final statement and to rebut comments made by the opposing candidate. The interviews are lightly edited for clarity.
Below is our interview with Mike France followed by a rebuttal from Joe Courtney.
CT Ex: What are the main points of your platform? What are your key goals?
“The big thing that I’ve focused on in my entire time in elected office is serving the people that I represent. I’ve done that as a town councilor for three years and now as a state representative for eight years,” France said.
France said he has prided himself on making himself available to answer his constituents’ questions rather than relying on his legislative staff.
He said the main difference between his approach and Courtney’s is “very simple,” during Courtney’s 16 years in Congress, he has put his party before his constituents.
“As you look at people’s perception of him as a moderate, his voting record is anything but: 99% of the time he votes with Nancy Pelosi and 94% with AOC — those are not moderate voting records and that is not serving the people of the second district well,” France said. “If people take the time to look at my voting record, I’ve stood up against the positions of the Republicans in the legislature in Hartford when they don’t really serve the people of the state of Connecticut well, and so that is a difference that we see.”
France said he supports returning freedom to the people of Eastern Connecticut so that they can live their lives without undue interference.
“Frankly what I see in Hartford is the government telling people what they can and can’t do. Whether it be employment, whether it be where they travel, all these things that we’ve seen have been an overreach of government that has really restricted the ability of the people to live their lives.”
He said the key is to restore local government in the face of growing decisions and one-size-fits-all mandates made at the federal level that are more appropriately decided at the state or local level, and often require time or money, or limit a person’s ability to own a business or get a job.
France said when constituents bring problems to him, he works to find the root cause by asking “Why?” multiple times, a method he learned in his training as an engineer.
“What I found many times is the problem was caused by a government rule or regulation that made it more difficult for people to navigate various aspects of living in Connecticut or in our country.”
The best solutions are closest to the people, France said.
“The government should be by the consent of the governed, as in our founding documents, and the best way to have that is at the lowest level possible,” he said.
The principle role of government is to protect individual rights and those rights have been infringed upon by the actions and inactions of government — reflected today in the rise of crime, France said.
“We see the government not demonstrating effectiveness in helping with that — and that’s an aspect of freedom and individual rights that really is the core responsibility of government: to serve the people.”
CT Ex: What do you see as your accomplishments?
“A life of service,” France said, beginning with service in the Navy, followed by involvement in his community and election as a town councilor, and now as state representative.
“Whether that be in uniform or out, I have worked to be in a position to help serve my community, serve the people in my state or my country and that has rolled through now to political office,” he said.
Consensus-building is key to finding successful solutions, which he said he learned in his naval career, as a defense contractor on the Virginia class submarine program and in political office.
France said he values the relationships he’s built in local and state office, and the lessons he’s learned from them. One example, he said, was seeking input on the budget process from Democrat Sharon Wadecki, a Ledyard town councilor, when he was the new chair of the town council finance committee.
“I learned a lot from that relationship and ultimately built a respect so that in my second year when I brought the budget forward — while she made a statement to the council that she may not have agreed with everything that was in the budget — because I did my homework and kept her involved and took her input, she supported the budget.”
In the legislature, France said that as ranking member on the Government Administration and Elections Committee last term and currently as ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, he worked with the chairs of those committees to build relationships and to understand the complexities of issues.
“That has built, frankly, a successful process and mutual respect for how to get things done in a positive way,” he said.
His party has worked to provide free market solutions to problems, which he said reflects limited government, one of the founding principles of the U.S., “instead of growing government which has inherent costs to it.”
He said the state Republicans’ proposed Connecticut’s paid family medical leave program was an example of providing a free market solution as an alternative to a costly government program, and would have “allowed people to freely choose to participate, instead of being forced by government action to pay for something they may or may not ever use.”
CT Ex: What issues do you see in the rural/inland areas versus the shoreline of Connecticut? How do you balance those issues?
“I think that the challenges are different depending on where you are in the district, but the way to success is to ensure that you’re communicating with those various constituencies to meet them at their needs and to provide the government services that are needed, but not beyond the value that is needed to help them be successful,” France said.
He said that along the coastline, environmental issues intersect with business concerns, particularly with the new Columbia-class program, which will have dredging requirements.
France said the workforce boards and manufacturing associations are key in working with technical high schools to ensure a workforce with expertise to support the submarine industry — not only at Electric Boat but at Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies, Raytheon, and hundreds of other defense contractors.
France said agriculture sustainability is one of the challenges in the rural parts of the state and it was important to ensure that the programs farmers rely on meet their needs and are sustainable.
The challenge, said France, is to ensure that government programs do what they are supposed to do.
“Sometimes [the] solution is … helping people navigate that program. It isn’t always creating a new one or making changes.”
CT Ex: What do you see as the main drivers of inflation and what policies will address short- and long-term inflation, affordability and energy costs in Connecticut?
“What we see is the inflationary drive has really been a product of the policies of the Biden administration in the last year and a half,” France said. “One of the first ones was the move away from energy independence and the consequence of that is now we’re seeing high costs for gas and diesel.”
The increased cost of diesel is a substantial driver of inflation and affects every aspect of the state’s economy, with 80 percent of goods and services arriving by rail or truck, he said.
France said there was no economic basis to support the $6 to $7 trillion that the Biden administration put into the economy during COVID. He said the administration’s monetary policy ignored the economic realities and “spent as though the economy was surging when it was contracting,” which worsened the problems of the pandemic and resulting global recession.
He said the first step is to fix the country’s energy costs by opening up opportunities within the U.S. to control supply, starting with the Keystone Pipeline.
He said the next step was to identify impediments to the growth of the U.S. economy and rely less on international sources for goods and services where it makes sense.
CT Ex: Renewable energy – to what extent can CT go it alone and make it affordable for ratepayers?
“I think renewable energy needs to be part of the solution — there certainly are benefits to solar and wind energy — but it needs to be part of the total solution, not the only solution,” France said.
Connecticut has created energy policies that are not favorable to its ratepayers, he said.
“When you create mandates for minimum purchasing of green energy as an example, if that energy is not available within the ISO within New England, then you must go outside and pay a premium for that energy coming in, which makes already expensive energy worse as far as cost to the ratepayer,” France said.
France said that Connecticut has followed the lead of California, enacting similar green energy policies, but said the market should control the introduction of green energy sources.
“Recently, the state of California has dealt with brownouts and blackouts because of the lack of sufficient energy to feed the needs of the residents of California and I fear that that’s the path we’re on in Connecticut because of these mandates,” he said. “We should be looking at a holistic approach that allows the market to drive readiness to provide the services of solar and wind so that the ratepayers are better served by the supply of energy [they need] to support their lives.”
CT Ex: What are the key challenges for CT residents that need federal rather than state solutions?
The federal government has a clear need to continue to support the defense industry in Connecticut regardless who is in office, France said.
“We have submarine work going on at Electric Boat and the congressman from this district has been very supportive of that. Joe Courtney has brought money to EB but I liken that to just saying that you mean like Rob Simmons and Sam Gejdenson and Chris Dodd and Bob Steele before them – two Republicans, two Democrats — and that will continue because it’s a national security issue,” France said.
Federal healthcare mandates are becoming more and more challenging for the average person to navigate, France said, particularly because of increased regulations on insurance and doctors.
Thirdly, he said, the government needs to ensure that its agricultural sustainability programs are effective, which can be done by listening to the needs of [farmers].
Final statement: Mike France
“If we look at the last year and a half of the Biden administration, the direction of our country has gone from a position of strength economically to where we are today — really, frankly, a lot of people are struggling,” France said.
France said it started with walking away from energy independence by canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and the removal of drilling on federal land, which led to the increased cost of fuel, driving up inflation for goods and services.
Second, France said, the Biden administration has not enforced immigration policies at the U.S. Southern border, allowing a substantial number of people to enter the country illegally. The policy has exacerbated the opioid crisis because, he said, “90% of fentanyl that comes into this country comes across the southern border, from China through Venezuela to Mexico” and into the U.S.
“We’re dealing with an epidemic of young people dying from frankly, fentanyl poisoning – overdosing, or they’re finding it in places that they’re not expecting and they’re dying from it — and that is a crisis.”
Third, the Biden administration’s retreat from Afghanistan did not sustain the Trump administration’s plan to end the war and leave the country with conditions — and in April last year Courtney was a “cheerleader” for Biden’s position, France said.
“In his role in Congress, Courtney had access to the intelligence that showed the Taliban racing across Afghanistan between April and August, when the troops were brought home, but said nothing – the whole episode ended. The 13 servicemen and women that were killed in Afghanistan needlessly weren’t even supposed to be there, and a massive cache of weapons that were left for the Taliban — but Courtney effectively said nothing,” France said.
France said that Courtney did issue a statement thanking the military for 20 years of service and pointing out that he had fast-tracked special immigration visas. But, Courtney voted against the amendment that would have tracked U.S. weapons left in Afghanistan, France said.
“And how good are the special immigration visas if you can’t get to the airport to get out?” France said.
France said he is running mainly because D.C. is out of touch and Courtney has become a party-line vote that does not serve the people of Eastern Connecticut.
“When I look at what is influencing those decisions, I think that Joe Courtney has put party over the people and he’s allowed special interests to just determine how he votes and what he supports,” France said. “I don’t owe my position in the legislature frankly to any powerful lobbyists or special interests, but to the people I represent.”
France said that bipartisanship was once the goal but has been lost.
“Now, unfortunately, it’s a talking point and [something] people like Joe Courtney do for the cameras… I think that one of the things that we need to do is return to that bipartisanship in a real sense of the conversation and find solutions that are truly bipartisan and not just talking to the cameras.”
France said that he has been able to provide his constituents with the opportunity to see solutions and to directly interact with him so that he can help them.
“I’ll put their needs first. Unfortunately, the facts are fairly clear that Joe Courtney can’t say that anymore. That’s why people of the second district deserve change. They deserve new leadership that is going to serve their interests and not the interests of the special interest PACs and the Democratic party first.”
Rebuttal: Joe Courtney
CT Ex: In his interview, France said that Courtney votes the party line 99 percent of the time.
Courtney said France’s comments were “just pure Republican talking points that are regurgitated all across the country” and are very misleading.
“What he didn’t tell you is that I voted with Kevin McCarthy over 40% of the time. And, Nancy Pelosi actually votes for only a fraction of the legislation that’s before the House as Speaker… So it’s in many respects a useless statistic,” Courtney said.
Courtney reiterated that he was highly rated by the Lugar Institute, which measures the degree to which members work across party lines on legislation, and when he was in the state legislature, he was voted the Democrat most admired by Republicans.
“Ironically, just a couple of nights ago, we just passed the annual defense bill that passed 329 to 101, which is a very healthy bipartisan number. The 101 who opposed were basically the two extremes of both parties: people on the far right, the Freedom Caucus, and then the Progressive Caucus, including AOC,” Courtney said.
Courtney reiterated his bipartisan efforts to secure federal funding for military children in the Ledyard and Groton schools.
“I just got another bill passed with Congressman Tim Walberg, from Minnesota, who’s a very staunch Republican, [to reform] access to nurse practitioners and physician assistants within the federal health care system, which we passed in the House.”
Courtney said that as co-chair of the Friends of Australia Caucus he worked with Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin to pass two amendments in the defense bill that are going to help implement the new US Australia UK Security Agreement, known as AUKUS.
“So, again, it’s just part of a national script, which on closer examination just completely falls apart,” Courtney said of France’s comments.
Courtney said he works with Republican officials across the district.
“We welcome input and interaction with Republican officeholders — my office gets lots of calls. Even Mike has called sometimes on some veterans issues and, you know, we don’t check your party identification in terms of who we help.”
CT Ex: France said that federal funding for submarine projects continues because it’s a national security priority, not because of Courtney’s advocacy.
“When I took office, the employment level at EB was about 7,000. The authorized funding for submarine construction was a meager one submarine per year, which actually was half a submarine because EB had to split the work with Virginia,” Courtney said.
Courtney said that the employment level at EB was 28,000 workers when U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson was in office [from 1975 to 1979].
“In my first term in Congress, the Courtney amendment in the Sea Power Subcommittee secured $588 million for advanced procurement to take the build rate from one to two — these are $3 billion vessels,” Courtney said.
He said that his subcommittee restored the full funding for a build rate of two per year even though the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations attempted to cut the build rate back to one every year.
“Lastly, I would just say it is just blindingly obvious that having the member from this district as chairman of the Seapower subcommittee — where the subcommittee staff work for me directly and we write the bill, which we did with this legislation that just passed — I think is really important to the district. It’s just sort of common sense,” Courtney said.
“This is never a secure thing. It’s true submarines are of huge importance to national security, but Washington is a very competitive place and having someone situated as chairman of that subcommittee is a huge benefit to protecting the hard fought wins of the last 15 years.”
CT Ex: In his final statement, France criticized Courtney’s role in the U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
“I would agree with him that the Special Immigrant Visa effort, which was bipartisan — which I joined with a number of members on the Armed Services Committee back in either May or June, well before the August tragedy — should have been accelerated and moved quicker to get people through the airport faster,” Courtney said.
Courtney said he thought the State Department and the Defense Department moved “way too slowly” because there was no question that the Taliban was on the rise in the country.
He said that when Trump signed the agreement in February, 2020, the U.S. had about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan. Courtney said that Trump began the drawdown immediately but it was not based on conditions because the Taliban was “definitely on the move” .
“By the time Biden was sworn into office, the troop level was at 2,500. The Taliban, particularly in the provincial rural parts of the country, had already taken over a substantial part of the geography and that was totally in violation of the agreement that Trump put into place.”
Courtney said that the intelligence Congress received definitely predicted that the government could hold on for six months to a year later than August.
“That’s a fact. Avril Haines, the DNI, both publicly and privately, said that the swiftness of the Afghan government’s collapse in security forces was far faster than what they had predicted. And it was 20 years of investment.”
Courtney said the Special Immigrant Visa Program is a very bureaucratic process and his office was receiving calls that the evacuations were going to take too long and the people who were leaving were targets.
Courtney said he joined with other members that signed a letter to Secretary of State Blinken urging the U.S. to evacuate people immediately,
“And that is the one criticism of Biden of which I was not Johnny-come-lately and after the fact. I was joining with other members saying, this is moving too slow,” he said. “And frankly, a lot of people got left behind that should have gotten moved out of there faster and they’re still trying to get some of them out.”
Courtney reiterated that the forces that resulted in the eventual August tragedy started well before Biden was president.
“The only way that you could have reversed what was happening on the ground would have been to send lots more troops back into Afghanistan and no one — Trump, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy — no one was calling for us to send more troops back in there,” he said. “The notion that somehow everything was just hunky dory in Afghanistan, when we had only 2,500 troops there and we could have just kept them there and everything would have stayed the same is just a fantasy. The ground was collapsing and eroding while Trump was still president.”
CT Ex: In his final statement, France said Courtney was a loyal party-line voter and not truly bipartisan.
“It’s really just laughable. I want Mike to point to one significant bipartisan measure that he’s ever supported when you look at budgets [and] bond packages,” Courtney said.
Courtney said there were bipartisan efforts to make the state safer by banning ghost guns, which “attracted a large number of Republican votes in the state legislature” and an effort to allow small businesses to obtain a better rate for solar panels.
“He votes no on all of them. He can’t even work with his own party, let alone the Democratic Party,” said Courtney.
Courtney said an example of his own not following the party line was the defense budget authorization bill totaling $839 billion even though Biden’s original budget was $802 billion.
“There was an amendment in committee to raise that top line to $839. It was opposed by the Democratic chairman of the committee and I was a co-sponsor of it,” he said.
The opposition was partly due to giving an inflation bonus to military service members who are earning less than $45,000, which Courtney said is an important issue in the Second District where many sailors and their families need the inflation bonus.
“Over and over again, our office has made a point of reaching out for bipartisan co-sponsors on amendments, like the spending amendment or the AUKUS amendments, or the impact aid bill that shows a far richer, meaningful record of bipartisan behavior than Mike France, who, as I said, can’t even work with his own party.”
Editor’s note: Joe Courtney and his wife, Audrey Courtney, have one son and one daughter, not two sons. This story has been corrected.
Editor’s note: Mike France said there was no economic basis to support the $6 to $7 trillion that Biden administration put into the economy during COVID, not $67 trillion as previously published. The amount has been corrected.