MANSFIELD — In a speech calling this election “the year of the anti-establishment,” first-term Mansfield Republican town council member Mark Sargent announced he plans to run for State Senate in the 29th District during his campaign kickoff event Saturday.
“We need a bold leader who will fight every day for the taxpayers of the 29th District, one who is ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century and bring on innovative ideas to preserve our tax base,” Sargent said in the announcement at the Audrey P. Beck Municipal Building in Mansfield.
Sargent railed against Gov. Dannel Malloy and “the Democratic machine in Hartford” during his speech, calling for new leadership to tackle the state’s fiscal challenges. He is hoping for the chance to oppose first-term state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, in the general election. Flexer was narrowly elected to the seat in 2014.
Joining Sargent at the campaign announcement were state Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, and state Reps. Aundre Bumgardner, R-Groton, and Jesse MacLachlan, R-Westbrook. Each offered their support for the candidate.
“People told me I was too young,” said Linares, who was 24 when first elected in 2012. “The first hurdle that we’re going to have is people telling us that we’re too young and too inexperienced. I’m here to tell you today not to listen. I’m here to tell you today we need fresh people, fresh thoughts, fresh ideas on old problems in Hartford.”
Sargent, who will turn 23 in May, said he has been “told to wait (his) turn” because he “doesn’t have the experience needed” to challenge Flexer.
His response is simple: “No one should be anointed.”
“The problem with the Republican Party here in Connecticut is that we try to run the same people with the same plan and expect a different result,” Sargent said. “We saw that in 2010 and 2014 with our governor’s race. We haven’t won a statewide race since 2006. ... I’m confident that we can bring in fresh ideas that will innovate this district and the state of Connecticut to save it.”
The 29th District contains portions of Brooklyn, Canterbury, Killingly, Mansfield, Putnam, Scotland, Thompson and Windham.
Sargent was elected to the Mansfield Town Council in November, receiving 739 votes out of 2,233 cast. He finished ninth out of the nine candidates on the ballot.
Prior to the town council election, Sargent served as the University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government president from 2014 to 2015 after being elected with 51.3 percent of the vote. His opponent was later disqualified for violations of USG campaign regulations.
Former UConn College Republicans president Anthony Patrone will be managing Sargent’s campaign. Adam Kuegler, a junior at UConn who managed state Sen. Rob Kane’s campaign in 2014, will serve as the Sargent’s political director, according to Patrone.
Sargent said in his announcement that John Kleinhans, former executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party and a managing director at Octagon Strategy Group, will be a senior advisor to his campaign.
Patrone said he is confident this campaign will be “better organized” than the one Sargent ran last fall for town council. He said Sargent plans to knock on doors “from now until November.”
The campaign announcement came exactly “one year and one week,” Sargent said, after he “won (his) battle” with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was diagnosed in June 2014.
Bumgardner said Sargent has to connect with UConn students in the district if he hopes to win the seat, calling their votes “part of the magic number.” He said he believes Sargent can appeal to them through his age and a message that shows students they will have to bear the brunt of the state’s fiscal burden in the future if it is not addressed now.
Dan Byrd, chairman of USG’s external affairs committee, attended the announcement and said he is glad “to see someone young and ambitious” running for the seat – even though Byrd said he disagrees with some of Sargent’s policies.
“I don’t think that when you have a $500 million deficit cutting taxes is necessarily going to fix the problem,” Byrd said. “Cutting taxes and cutting spending isn’t going to fix a deficit. I agree, we might have to cut spending, but revenue, I think, has to be on the table.”
Byrd said Republicans on campus will likely be excited about his candidacy, but that the student body as a whole is more Democratic than Republican.
Sargent said he plans to appeal to students by being relatable and listening.
“I’m not going to go into any room, any door of a voter with preconceived notions,” Sargent said. “UConn’s community is multi-faceted. There are many different ideologies and viewpoints. It’s not a one-size-fits-all ideology.”
In 2014, three-term state Rep. Mae Flexer won the 29th District seat in a tightly contested race against Republican John French. Flexer received just under 51.1 percent of the vote while French finished with 48.9 percent.
Flexer issued a statement Saturday afternoon following Sargent’s announcement, saying she will “remain focused on fighting every waking minute for the people of northeastern Connecticut” for the time being.
“Two years ago, the people of the 29th State Senate District gave me the tremendous opportunity and responsibility to serve as their state senator,” Flexer said. “There will be a time for campaigning later this year.”
A source with knowledge of the campaign confirmed to The Daily Campus earlier this week Sargent is expecting French to challenge him in the Republican primary.