Bocchino says he will bring ‘fresh ideas’ to legislature

Michael Bocchino

Michael Bocchino

As president of the Byram Neighborhood Association and a former president of the New Lebanon School PTA, Michael Bocchino is someone used to getting results. So why exactly is he looking to subject himself to long commutes and legislative frustration by becoming part of the Connecticut General Assembly?

It turns out the first-time candidate running as a Republican for the 150th District seat being vacated by State Rep. Stephen Walko thinks he can actually do some good in Hartford. In an interview recently with the Post, Mr. Bocchino said that for more than 10 years he’s been volunteering his time and abilities to the community he lives in and, when he was approached to gauge his interest, it sparked an interest that he not only had, but that his family shared.

“It just seemed at this time to be the right move to make,” Mr. Bocchino said. “It was turning the page in my life and being able to better serve the community and the town of Greenwich… I was always raised to believe that if there is a job to do, send me, I’ll do it. If you want things done right, sometimes you have to be the one to take charge and take the bull by its horns, so to speak. There are a lot of things wrong in the state of Connecticut right now and the days of the old school, old-time politician are numbered. We need people with common sense ideas who understand what individuals are going through and are not afraid to stand up and hold anyone and everyone accountable for their actions.”

Mr. Bocchino said he can bring “fresh ideas” to Hartford if elected and bring the kind of perspective he feels is badly needed. But it won’t be an easy road. While Greenwich is a Republican-heavy town, the 150th District is a unique one since it’s breakdown is essentially one-third Republicans, one-third Democrats and one-third unaffiliated voters. So nothing can be taken for granted and Mr. Bocchino is facing a race against Democrat Jill Oberlander (see related story on page one). Because of that he said he is making sure people know exactly where he stands on the issues that are important to him.

If elected, he says, one of his priorities will be looking at state spending, which he claims has gotten out of control and is having an impact on Connecticut’s economy.

“More people are moving out of Connecticut than moving in to Connecticut,” Mr. Bocchino said. “That’s not the Connecticut I knew when I was raised here. That’s not the Connecticut my father and grandfather moved to. We need to cut the spending. We need to make Connecticut competitive again and attract in business. Economic competitiveness is one of the most important things that we do. It doesn’t mean you have to be the cheapest, but you have to be the best. You can’t spend more than you make. It’s common sense. It’s what everyone does in their daily lives. You balance your books at the end of the month, why can’t the state?”

But while “running the state budget like you run your family budget” is an oft-used expression during campaigns, it doesn’t always hold true once the act of governing needs to be done. Mr. Bocchino says it would be a mistake to simplify his goal to just one simple expression. He understands the needs of a state are bigger than one family’s, but that cuts can be made to make state government leaner and more efficient while not creating deficits.

Calling state government too big, Mr. Bocchino said that’s where he would like to see the cuts made. To him, a leaner state government won’t just reduce the burden on existing taxpayers, but entice businesses to come to Connecticut and create new jobs.

“The more government tries to do, the less it does well,” Mr. Bocchino said. “I think those are areas we can see cuts in spending. Most importantly, we need to bring in jobs for the people who need them here, and if you’re not competitive you’re not going to entice these industries to come to the state of Connecticut. … We’re the worst state to retire in. We’re the worst state for business property taxes. We have the third highest energy costs and we’re the worst state for small businesses. We tax our people so much and that doesn’t provide us any way to improve our state’s economy through competitiveness. We don’t attract private sector investments, and they’re the ones that are going to create the good jobs and build the healthy communities. If we can address that, we can address quality of life issues not just here in Greenwich but throughout the state.”

In his time working on the Byram Neighborhood Association and the PTA, Mr. Bocchino is used to seeing projects come to fruition and having town leaders willing to work with him. Hartford, however, can be a frustration for even the most experienced of legislators. Mr. Bocchino said he recognizes that, if elected, as a freshman Republican there will be challenges to making his voice heard in the legislature, something he is not used to.

But he also says he would be eager to work with colleagues in both parties and the Democratic leadership on priorities such as transportation infrastructure, an issue those in Greenwich know all too well, given the kind of traffic on Interstate 95 that Mr. Bocchino is quick to call “horrific” as well as issues with commuting on Metro-North, something his wife deals with on a daily basis.

And while Mr. Bocchino said he will look to have more investment in transportation infrastructure, one revenue source he does not favor is the gas tax. Calling it “arcane,” Mr. Bocchino said Connecticut’s is among the highest in the nation and that it has to be re-evaluated and possibly reduced or even eliminated.

“But even if the state legislature determines that the gas tax is necessary, I’m going to damn well make sure that the money that comes from the gas tax is used specifically for what its intended purposes are, which is investing and improving in our roadways, our bridges and our railways,” Mr. Bocchino said.

Mr. Bocchino also said that more had to be done to make sure state roads are safe, allowing them to be easier to travel, and called for a stronger focus on keeping weigh stations open to ensure overweight trucks are off the highway. While he admits that there are no easy answers for solving Fairfield County’s transportation woes, he pledged to work on them in Hartford and said there was no reason to believe a bipartisan solution could not be found.

Another area Mr. Bocchino said he wanted to see investment in was education, most specifically in pre-K, a stance he shares with his opponent, Ms. Oberlander. Mr. Bocchino strongly praised the Greenwich public school system, calling the town’s teachers the best in the state and saying this was something that had to be nourished so it could grow. That’s where he feels early education can have a huge impact.

“Education is absolutely one of my passions,” Mr. Bocchino said. “One of the best volunteer jobs I had was being involved as a PTA president for three years dealing with unique issues specific to our community school but also for the entire district. … The number one thing that needs to be addressed across the state is the achievement gap, and one of the most important ways of doing that is to address early childhood education. We need universal pre-K, especially in those towns that can’t afford the pre-K and are very diverse. We need this across the state. We need to focus on our youngest students.”

Another area of education that Mr. Bocchino wants to see a renewed focus on is having vocational schools in the state help people who either can’t afford to go or choose not to go to college. He said eliminating those schools and training programs in high schools is a “travesty” that has to be addressed.

“You can’t expect every child is going to go off to college,” Mr. Bocchino said. “When they’re in high school we need to give them the opportunity to better themselves and find their niche… If you allowed the manufacturing industry, both large and small, to provide apprenticeships or internships for high school students in exchange for tax credits, you’re allowing these kids to experience the workforce and showing them these opportunities that can keep them in school and inspire them to get their diplomas to get these jobs. We could see the graduation rate in the state go up and have a better trained workforce.”

Mr. Bocchino is an opponent of the new federal common core instruction standards that Greenwich is a part of. He sees this as an effort to take control away from the local Board of Education and believes it has created “an incredible burden for our teachers as well as our students.” He criticized the testing regimens that are a part of the common core as “ridiculous” and they take away valuable time from teachers preparing for classroom instruction. If elected, Mr. Bocchino said he would go so far as to try to get Connecticut to withdraw from the national common core standards.

Mr. Bocchino pledged that voters would never have to be concerned he wouldn’t advocate for these positions in Hartford. He said if elected he would be a real representative of the entire district and would be honest with potential future colleagues in the state about who he is and what he stands for.

“I’m going to be at that table every time there’s a discussion and I’m going to give my two cents, and I’m going to hold people accountable for the decisions they make,” Mr. Bocchino said.

Overall, Mr. Bocchino says what’s needed on the state level is the kind of drive he brings to his work in the community, and compassion and commitment. That means, to him, being willing to work with anyone to get the job done. While Greenwich Republicans dominate races for the legislature, having not elected a Democrat since before World War I, it’s a different story in Hartford and, if elected, Mr. Bocchino pledged that he would be ready to work across the aisle.

“I don’t care who you are or what you do or what your beliefs are,” Mr. Bocchino said. “I’ll find common ground and we can sit down at the table and discuss things.”

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