Candidate Q&A: Five vie for two Senate seats
ADDISON COUNTY — All of Addison County’s incumbent state senators and representatives will run for re-election Nov. 3, and many challengers have stepped up to make sure there will be competition for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore, as well as in five of the county’s six House districts.
As part of our election coverage, the Independent is publishing a series of legislative candidate Q&As, grouped by contest.
We asked each candidate the same six questions and offered them space for additional comment. For a list of the questions, see the Q&A sidebar.
In the Addison Senate race five candidates are running for two seats: incumbent Christopher Bray (D), incumbent Ruth Hardy (D), Peter Briggs (R), Jon Christiano (R) and Archie Flower (Libertarian). Peter Briggs, a farmer, took a pass on answering our questions because he was too busy with the harvest.
1. Economy: COVID-19 is a profound challenge that Vermont is managing well — achieving best-in-the-nation health status — by pulling together. Our economic future too is strong when we pull together, and we build on Vermont’s unique strengths: our people and environment. We have seen, and can continue to see, growth in our food, agriculture, energy and outdoor recreation economies.
Through the Vermont Farm to Plate program I started a decade ago, Vermont has grown a more diverse and sustainable food and agriculture economy. In a similar way, my clean energy economy work is creating good-paying jobs in renewable energy, weatherization, and efficiency work.
And the Trails Bill my committee just sent to the Governor supports our growing outdoor recreational trails industry.
We’ve created 26,000 new jobs, 842 new businesses, and over $100M in new revenues.
There is only one Vermont, and when we celebrate our unique strengths, we position ourselves for our strongest, best economic future.
2. School outcomes: In today’s job market, over 60% of positions require education beyond high school. To help graduates build a more secure and rewarding career, we need to help them go on to appropriate, affordable additional education through technical training, or two-year or four-year college.
Vermont already has programs to help high school students earn college credits at no cost, and, at UVM, 45% of Vermonters attend tuition-free. Even so, Vermont has long ranked near the bottom for level of state support to higher education. This year, the legislature approved increased supports for UVM and the entire state college system to help Vermonters gain the education and training that can become the foundation for a lifetime of better wages, benefits, job opportunities, and more satisfying work.
Our Department of Labor needs to partner more closely with our businesses, many of which are looking for help, to offer focused training that leads to employment upon graduation.
3. School consolidation: When we talk about school size, we need to distinguish between the size of the physical buildings and the size of the associated administration. We can have numerous small schools operating under a consolidated administrative structure; this can reduce administrative costs and facilitate the sharing of resources, so that even our smaller schools have stronger, broader programs, with art, music, and foreign languages.
We have opportunities to further reduce administrative costs and sharing resources. Why not have, for instance, the state’s best physics teacher offering AP Physics via computer to dozens of students at high schools around the state?
The ultimate driver for making decisions about how we run our schools must be equality — to provide the best possible education to all students.
4. Environment: I plan to work in the same way I have over the last 12 years, leading the development and passage of major environmental and energy bills, including the Vermont Clean Water Act; the Renewable Energy Standard; the Energy Project Siting laws; our Weatherization and Energy Efficiency programs; the Single-Use Plastics ban; the reduction of exposures to toxic chemicals (such as PFAS); Act 250 reform; and more.
My top environmental priority will be addressing climate change. I am already working to introduce a statewide all-fuels energy efficiency program. Just as Efficiency Vermont over the last twenty years has reduced our electrical usage, saving us roughly $4 for each $1 invested, while also reducing emissions (the equivalent of taking 240,000 cars off the road for a decade), we can build a similarly smart and effective approach to tackling the two largest sources of energy costs and emissions: transportation and heating.
5. Health care: I support reducing health care costs through universal primary care (UPC), which can drive down health care costs for the entire community by ensuring that people get to a doctor as soon as they need to. Today, too many people avoid the doctor’s office because of expensive deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance charges.
Timely primary health care avoids expensive hospitalizations and emergency room visits by pre-venting disease and treating conditions earlier. Primary care saves everyone money because we are all insured in “pools” of patients. When any patient in the pool seeks timely care, it reduces not only the cost for that patient, but for everyone in the pool by reducing program’s costs.
Since 1989, Vermont has successfully operated a universal health care program for children and pregnant women: Dr. Dynasaur. We DO know how to run such a program in a cost-effective manner, and we can do this for everyone.
6. Agriculture: Since I introduced the Farm to Plate program in 2009, Vermont has diversified its agriculture and shifted its attention to creating food through direct relationships with appreciative customers who value their farmers and who pay fair prices, not those dictated by the federal system.
Today, we recognize and support local milk, butter, cheeses and ice creams; fruits and vegetables; vineyards and wineries; orchards and cider making; grain and hops production for brewing, distilling and baking; hemp and biomass for energy and fiber; nurseries and greenhouses; honey and maple syrup; beef, chicken, pork; and a thousand more bright spots in our growing and diversifying food and agricultural economy.
7. Candidate’s Choice: As a member of the Senate Government Operations Committee, which oversees many aspects of public safety and law enforcement, I have worked, and see much more work to do, to help Vermont foster communities that are more just, safe, and secure.
Today, we ask our schools and our police departments to take on more and more responsibility to help create and support safe, healthy communities — including providing help with food, clothing, shelter, and responding to mental health and addiction challenges. This is a big change, and one on which we need to work together to make genuine progress.
1. Economy: The most important thing we can focus on to improve our state’s economic well-being is ensuring that Vermont continues to control COVID-19, and our country as a whole commits to an empathetic, science-based plan for combatting this deadly virus. If our nation is not first able to control COVID-19, then we will not be able to safely and fully reopen Vermont’s tourist-driven economy. The pandemic has underscored the necessity of a strong safety net to ensure that Vermonters and our economy are protected. The healthy Unemployment Trust Fund has provided crucial benefits to many unemployed Vermonters, but investments in childcare, paid family leave, and health insurance are crucial to ensure Vermonters of all ages are able to both work and care for their families, and will help drive business stability and success.
2. School outcomes: We are fortunate that Vermont has excellent public schools, but not every student benefits equally. We need to commit to ensuring our schools are equitable, inclusive and anti-racist, and that teachers have the training and support they need to meet the needs of all students. We should better integrate career and technical education into secondary education, and also ensure students have strong access to arts and cultural education. Focusing solely on K-12 education is not enough. Investing in early childhood education is crucial to ensure families are supported and students have a strong foundation, which includes investments in better compensation for these educators. Finally, Vermont ranks at the bottom in the country for support of public higher education. The legislature has provided “bridge funding” for the Vermont State Colleges, but a long-term plan for sustaining and strengthening these institutions is crucial to our state’s educational and economic future.
3. School consolidation: School improvement efforts should focus on providing an equitable, quality education to all students, regardless of where they live. At the state level, we’re involved with an analysis of the school financing system to ensure that schools with high rates of students in poverty, English language learners, and in remote areas have sufficient funds to provide a quality education to all students. The specific configuration of schools is not the work of the state legislature, but rather is the current focus of many local school boards. In the face of declining enrollments and financial insecurity brought on by the COVID crisis, school districts may be faced with difficult decisions about how best to deliver education. In some cases that may mean merging small schools and in others that may mean maintaining small schools. Either way, the focus of schools should be effectively educating and supporting students first and foremost.
4. Environment: Ensuring the long-term viability of our planet for future generations requires us to address all of the interconnected impacts of climate change and environmental degradation — it’s not an either/or situation. As a state senator, I have advocated for and supported multi-faceted environmental initiatives. In 2019, the legislature passed and funded major water quality legislation that engages local and regional partners. In 2020, we passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which establishes a legal and administrative framework to ensure Vermont reduces greenhouse gas emissions. We also passed legislation to prevent forest fragmentation, and I introduced legislation to enhance the ability of forests to sequester and store carbon. Finally, supporting diverse agriculture operations, investments in ecosystem services, and intergenerational land transfers will protect open farmland from development.
5. Health care: To reduce costs and expand access, I support universal primary care, which would ensure all Vermonters could afford to go to the doctor for routine and preventive care. During the COVID crisis, the legislature has expanded telemedicine and ensured that all Vermonters have access to COVID testing and care. In 2019, I introduced legislation that enabled the largest expansion of dental care access in 30 years, allowing more Vermonters to go to the dentist for teeth cleanings and preventive care. In 2019, we also passed legislation to codify access to crucial women’s health services, including effective birth control and safe abortions. We have incrementally expanded mental health services and substance use treatment, and more must be done, particularly as a result of social isolation during the COVID crisis. Finally, more comprehensive health care reform must be tackled on a national basis so all Americans have access to affordable health care.
6. Agriculture: I have spent the past two years listening to farmers about their challenges and needs. Particularly during COVID, it has become clear that in order to survive, farms must be resilient to both climate and market changes. We provided over $35 million to help the farm and forestry sector recover from COVID, investing in both dairy and non-dairy businesses and creating opportunities for technical assistance to transition or diversify farm operations. Stabilizing the reeling dairy industry is important for the agriculture economy, and refocusing energy and investments to diversified farming is crucial for a vibrant agricultural future in Vermont.
7. Candidate’s Choice: As your state senator, I have worked hard to be as accessible and responsive as I can. Throughout the COVID crisis I have written regular updates about the virus, healthcare and financial resources, and community stories; helped hundreds of constituents access vital benefits and services; and listened to many constituents to better understand their perspectives and needs. I have been a strong advocate for the Addison District, ensuring my constituents have a voice and seat at the (virtual) table. It has been an honor to represent you. I again ask for your vote this fall. Thank you.
1. Economy: COVID-19 was overemphasized and the state shut down for too long in my opinion. More emphasis on work from home for industry jobs. At the best of times Vermont has had too many regulations that inhibit business. A minimum wage sounds good but owners have to balance profit/loss on their investments. Provide tax incentives to build here and hire locally.
2. School outcomes: Emphasize core skills (3 R’s), Utilize existing facilities with decreased enrollment to form trade schools.
3. School consolidation: This should be a local decision and the state should not pre-empt the localities that know best. Students should be required to meet or exceed state learning requirements. How they accomplish that should be up to parents and local school boards. Consolidation may be appropriate if it includes services and reduces costs.
4. Environment: Common Sense approach: Climate variations have existed for some 6,000 years and will no doubt continue regardless of how many electric cars are operated. Incidentally, where does the electricity come from to recharge batteries and where are they disposed of. Stop beating on farmers and focus on the sewage spills and run off by municipalities.
5. Health care: High cost due to lack of competition. Single payer cost structure will not work. Institute a tax advantaged, self-funded health plan that encourages individuals to be more responsible for their own health and welfare.
6. Agriculture: We don’t truly “enjoy” living in a farming environment, rather our Legislators, many of whom wouldn’t know a carrot from an onion, fail to talk to the farm community to ask what they need. Provide low interest loans to farmers, not corporations, for the sole purpose of equipment replacement, and repair of same and farm structures. We have enough laws already, divest some. Who pays? We all do.
7. Candidate’s choice: The Vermont Legislature has abrogated its responsibility to the people. Regardless of your position on Global Warming the Legislature has failed to represent Vermont residents in the matter. We are left with a group of 23 unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats to decide, in many respects, Vermont’s financial future. Vermont deserves better, much better. Additionally, the legislature has not upheld the Vermont Constitution as it has excluded the Executive branch from decision-making in this matter.
1. Economy: Vermont’s economy is foremost on many people’s minds, and this was true even before the pandemic closures. All around us we’re seeing many small businesses closing their doors for the last time. In all of this uncertainty, the legislature ought to focus on what it can do best, rather than continually micro manage us — as is its habit. What can they do to enable economic growth? Help bring in high tech industry concentrating on the manufacture of nuclear reactor cores for advanced generation liquid fluoride thorium reactors. This would ensure excellent high-paying, high-tech jobs, for decades to come, which would have the added benefit of keeping Vermont youth from leaving the state. Furthermore, by “re-lighting” Vermont Yankee with this technology, we could have a super-safe, super-abundant and super-clean supply of energy for the whole state — literally helping to energize our economy.
2. School outcomes: Education is the single most powerful force we know of to build and maintain civilization. At the dawn of the information age, we’re using old models for schooling — why? Because we’ve put the awesome responsibility of educating our children into the hands of the state. We need to change this, and we need to allow for more home-school and private school options. Our children should have a vast and dizzying array of excellent options to choose from to help them learn — centralized modes of arranging education are the actual opposite of this. As your State Senator, I will work to give children more options — enriching the quality of their education while allowing for every child to have ample access to the tools, materials, and teachers they need in order to achieve their full potentials as adults.
3. School consolidation: Vermonters are very proud of their strong sense of neighborliness and community ties. There’s nothing quite as much as a school and its children that helps bring a community together. Decentralized schooling allows for more options and more opportunities, while helping to give their communities this sense of togetherness. Should we cram everyone from small towns into a neighboring town meeting? How ludicrous an image that is! So why should we work to get rid of our community schools? This would only serve to, generation over generation, reduce the rural character of Vermont that is its hallmark. I believe that Vermonters ought to seriously consider these hidden costs, ones which I do not believe we want to pay, before we try to “save a buck” at the expense of our very character, and the educations of our children.
4. Environment: Global climate issues are a vital concern to all of us, and I believe Vermonters are truly environmentalists. We live in a beautiful state and we care for our home. We can set the example for the nation and the world if we convert our energy infrastructure to use liquid fluoride thorium reactors — this will have multiple benefits including: a) processing the waste Vermont Yankee has already created by using it as fuel b) nuclear energy is carbon free and extremely safe c) this technology would allow us to create synthetic hydrocarbons, creating a closed carbon cycle. This last benefit can’t be overstated. This technology would allow us to start today the process of undoing the damage we’ve already done, by reducing atmospheric carbon, and perhaps more importantly, oceanic carbon. Our leadership on this could truly change the nation — and the world — for the better.
5. Health care: Certificate of need laws are the epitome of economic centralization, and this therefore limits supply and competition in healthcare markets. This is the opposite of a free market, which is what most Vermonters (and Americans) are told is what we have. Artificial restrictions to the supply of health care increases prices, reduces competition, and reduces tangible health care outcomes. This should be no surprise — imagine if before opening a grocery store in a community, you had to prove the community needed more food. We can see how absurd and backwards that is in comparison to free market outcomes. Empirical studies of more versus less centralized markets always show that less centralized freer markets produce more goods at lower costs. As your State Senator I would work to eliminate certificate of need laws so that we could work towards a true free market in health care.
6. Agriculture: Physicians should run hospitals. Entrepreneurs should run businesses. The list goes on, and no one questions these fundamentals. So why doesn’t Montpelier let farmers farm? I’m not a farmer, and I can’t therefore speak to the specific principles of how to make a farm more productive. But I do know that Vermont farming traditions have intensely deep roots, and we’re ignoring those traditions and that whole body of knowledge by micro-managing farms and farmers. Farmers already do plenty of hard work — as your State Senator I would work to get Montpelier off the backs of our farming community.
7. Candidates choice: Our legislature is out of control in its addiction to micro managing our lives. Montpelier has lost its marbles, and its memory of what public service actually means. Article six of our state constitution makes it clear that all of their rightful authority comes from the people of Vermont. One key way to correct this, and remind them they serve us and not the other way around, would be to enforce perjury against any government official who violates their oath of office by passing or enforcing any unconstitutional law. Government ought to always be kept in check by the people.