By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — With around six weeks left for candidates to jump into district and countywide races this fall, a survey of incumbent Addison County House and Senate members reveals that all plan to run for re-election in November.
Candidates have until Monday, July 21, to file nomination papers for elected office with their respective district town clerks (House hopefuls) or the Addison County Courthouse (Senate hopefuls).
As the Addison Independent went to press, the county’s two incumbent senators and nine House representatives had confirmed they will run for re-election. Only two challengers have thus far surfaced to take on incumbents, both in the Addison-3 House district. Democrats Diane Lanpher of Vergennes and Jean Richardson of Ferrisburgh will take on incumbent Reps. Greg Clark and Kitty Oxholm, both Vergennes Republicans (see story in May 29 edition of the Independent.
Democrats currently control both of the county’s Senate seats (Claire Ayer and Harold Giard) and six of the nine available House seats. Republicans control both Addison-3 House seats, while Rep. Will Stevens, a Shoreham independent, is rounding out his first term in Addison-Rutland 1.
Ayer, a Weybridge Democrat, will be seeking her fourth consecutive two-year term representing Addison County and Brandon. Giard, a Bridport Democrat and former farmer, is eyeing a third straight two-year term.
Both incumbents ran unopposed in 2006, the first time in recent memory that the two highly coveted seats went uncontested.
Ayer has quickly established herself as power broker in the Legislature’s upper chamber. She served last biennium as Senate majority whip, and she was a member of the Senate Finance and Transportation committees. While she was urged by some fellow Democrats to run for some statewide office, Ayer has decided to seek another term in the Senate.
“I like being a senator; I like making policy and doing the research,” Ayer said, contrasting those duties with the administrative obligations of other elective offices. “I like the focus of committee work.”
If re-elected, Ayer said she will look forward to tackling some big perennial issues, such as keeping the state’s books balanced, making health care more affordable to greater numbers of Vermonters, and growing the economy with new businesses.
“I’m looking forward to a good campaign year,” Ayer said.
Giard, in his second term, served on the Senate Education and Agriculture committees. He has spearheaded many bills this year, including measures designed to require more accountability from the state board of education and education commissioner and initiatives aimed at taking stop-and-hauling charges off of dairy farmers.
“I love my work and I look forward to going back for another two years, if the people of Addison County and Brandon want me back,” Giard said.
With four years under his belt and his party in numerical control of both the Senate and House, Giard believes his presence in Montpelier could pay some big dividends for his constituents during a third term. With seniority comes more influence in shaping the top issues in the Statehouse.
“A lot of it has to do with longevity,” Giard said. “The longer you’re there, the further you move up and the more influence you can have.”
Giard believes affordable housing, energy policy and development of small businesses will be a among the top issues the Legislature will need to confront during the next two years.
Like their Senate counterparts, Reps. Steve Maier and Betty Nuovo — both Democrats — were unopposed in 2006 in their respective efforts to secure additional terms representing Middlebury.
Nuovo, the county’s most tenured lawmaker by far, could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press. Several of her colleagues, however, confirmed her intent to seek another term.
Maier is rounding out his third term. He served as chairman of the House Health Care Committee, which continues to work on legislation to make health care more affordable and available to Vermonters. The panel helped developed the state’s Catamount Health program that took effect last fall.
“I have really enjoyed the work,” Maier said. “And it’s important to me to know that I’m doing work that makes a difference for people.”
He cited energy policy and making further strides in health care as among issues with which he and his colleagues will have to contend during the coming biennium.
The Addison Independent reported in late April that incumbent Addison-2 Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, would be seeking a fourth consecutive term in the district that includes Cornwall, Goshen, Hancock, Ripton and Salisbury. Jewett, a lawyer who has spent his entire legislative career on the House Judiciary Committee, will have more than a political campaign on his mind this summer. He was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very treatable form of cancer that will require him to undergo chemotherapy during the weeks ahead.
Oxholm, who will retire this summer as director of instructional support services for the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, will seek her second consecutive term representing the district that includes Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.
Like her district-mate Clark, Oxholm served on the House Education Committee during the past biennium. She hopes to win re-election and be reassigned to the same panel.
“I think a lot of us who get (to Montpelier) do a lot of work that doesn’t always get finished and we want to go back,” Oxholm said.
If granted another term, Oxholm wants to review and potentially endorse some big changes for the state’s public education system. House Education, she explained, did not have enough time during the waning days of the 2008 session to take up a Senate-passed bill that suggested elevating the Vermont Department of Education to agency status and having the governor appoint the education commissioner.
“This could be the way we have to go … but there was not enough time to make such an important change,” Oxholm said.
She is also eager to tackle issues relating to children and youth, and transportation — maintaining the state’s roads and bridges.
Clark, a longtime teacher at Mount Abraham Union High School, will be seeking his fourth term in the House. He currently serves as vice chairman of the House Education Committee.
He anticipates the Legislature will need to work hard next biennium on developing a state energy plan; improving the quality and affordability of education; and keeping taxes as low as possible for Vermonters.
“I’d like to be one of those folks in the middle of the fray, helping to find solutions,” Clark said.
With two challengers in the race, Oxholm and Clark are preparing for a busy campaign season.
“I’m not expecting a primary, but a good (general election) battle,” Clark said. “The competition is set.”
Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, will seek his fifth consecutive two-year term in the House, while Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, is vying for his fourth in the district that includes Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro.
Fisher, an outreach worker with the Parent-Child Center of Addison County, serves as vice chairman of the House Human Services Committee.
Fisher believes the Legislature will have its work cut out for it during the next few years and beyond, as it tries to make the state more affordable for families while coping with dwindling resources from the federal government.
“Vermont families are working harder and harder in today’s economy and are losing ground,” Fisher said. “It’s a real concern.”
Of greatest concern, Fisher said, are the escalating fuel and health care costs. He said that while many Vermont families are worrying about how they will heat their homes this winter, Exxon-Mobil has been “earning $1,287 per second in profits. And at the same time (oil companies) are making that profit on $4-per-gallon gas, and that is hurting the economy.”
Sharpe, an instructor at the Center for Technology in Essex, now serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.
“This year I was satisfied that I was able to help put funding in place for such issues as domestic violence prevention and accessing criminal records through the Internet” Sharpe said. “If the voters choose to send me to Montpelier for another term, I hope to make progress on improving the quality of public education in order to meet the growing demands of the new century and helping our state deal with the crushing financial burden of fossil fuel costs.”
Rep. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven, is seeking his second consecutive term representing the district that includes Bridport, Weybridge and New Haven. He currently serves on the House Agriculture Committee, a panel that has been tackling some very weighty issues as Vermont farms struggle to keep going amid rising fuel costs, volatile milk prices and mounting environmental regulations.
Like other House freshmen, Bray hopes to graduate to a sophomore term now that he knows his way around the Statehouse.
“I feel as though I’ve gained a lot of tools and relationships that will help me be a more effective legislator during the next session,” said Bray, who co-runs the Equestry horse farm off South Street in New Haven.
Bray believes the next Legislature, of which he hopes to be a part, will have to deal with a tightening state budget. He noted it was roughly a month ago that lawmakers had to cut $24 million from the latest state spending plan.
“It’s very hard,” Bray said of the budgeting process. “People come in with important programs and stories … yet the state has modest revenues, and they are declining.”
Stevens, co-operator of the Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, hopes voters will give him a second term in the district that includes Benson, Shoreham, Orwell and Whiting.
“I would like to take the knowledge I have acquired this first term and take that forward, how that I have a better sense of who the players are,” Stevens said.
A member of the House Agriculture Committee, Stevens wants to continue to work on farming and energy issues.
“This is a transitional time,” Stevens said of energy sources and policy. “The chickens have come home to roost and I’m excited to be part of planning for an energy constrained future.”
He also cited job creation and health care reform as two other major areas on which the Legislature will need to focus.