MIDDLEBURY — It would be an understatement to say it has been a busy June for Democrat gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne.
Last week saw the Hartland native and Google executive making campaign stops in Burlington, the Mad River Valley, Norwich, Middlebury and St. Johnsbury.
On Tuesday, June 14, Dunne and his wife Sarah Taylor brought a baby daughter, Cora Leah Lawrence Dunne, into the world.
Then on Wednesday, June 16, Dunne formally filed his candidate nomination papers at the Vermont Secretary of State’s office — coincidentally the home office of Deb Markowitz, one of Dunne’s four fellow Democrat challengers vying for the right to face Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie in the Nov. 2 general election.
If Dunne emerges from the Aug. 24 primary, it will not be the first time he faces Dubie, now a four-term incumbent in the office of lieutenant governor who is now running for governor as a Republican. It was in 2006 that Dunne challenged Dubie for lieutenant governor and lost by 6 percentage points, a margin he believes he could overcome this year in a head-to-head match-up for governor.
Since April of 2007, Dunne has been heading up community affairs for Google from a rehabbed bread factory in downtown White River Junction. Google had approached Dunne about the job after taking note of his work as director of AmeriCorps*Vista, as well as his success at mobilizing campaign supporters through community service projects.
“‘Service politics’ was a strategy that people working on the campaign, who knew me through my service life, put together and it was a very exciting way to engage people who were not so much into politics, but were very passionate about their community,” said Dunne, whose gubernatorial campaign strategy is taking the same tack.
He believes Vermonters are ready for substantial change in the way government conducts business, and believes he can deliver on such change.
“This is a unique moment in time in Vermont, where everyone knows what we’re doing right now is not working,” Dunne said. “We are in a very different place than we were four years ago.”
Dunne pointed to the recent $154 million state budget deficit, a sluggish economy marked by high unemployment, increasing under-employment of the state’s workers, health care costs that are going up by “$1 million a day,” an ongoing trend of younger Vermonters leaving the state, and an alarming decline of dairy farms (from an estimated 2,000 in 2002 to a projected 800 by the end of 2010) as evidence that change is needed.
“The good news is that Vermonters know we need fresh, new ideas to be able to move our state into a better place,” Dunne said.
“Vermonters are fairly progressive in their political views, but we are usually pretty conservative when it comes to change,” he added. “But there isn’t a state employee, small business person, farmer or teacher who doesn’t know we need to make some changes and we need to make then quickly.”
Dunne said the state must quickly take three approaches to promoting more business and job growth in the state:
• Enhance Vermont’s transportation and telecommunications infrastructure;
• Create more financial incentives (such as loans and seed money) for businesses;
• And invest more in higher education and job training.
“On this side of the state, there is no reason not to have ready access to rail travel, freight as well as passenger, into New York,” said Dunne, who added that the federal and state government should invest in such infrastructure through bonding and other financing mechanisms. “We have the potential to do that.”
Vermont must also fulfill its potential in delivering high-speed Internet access throughout the state, according to Dunne, who said he would pursue the goal of creating 10,000 new jobs during his first two years in office.
“We can do this with a revenue bond, using our high bond rating to get very inexpensive dollars along with a regulatory package to allow for the deployment to be done quickly and inexpensively…” Dunne said. He added the revenue bond would be paid through leasing the Internet connectivity at wholesale rates.
Dunne criticized the Douglas administration’s pace at boosting the state’s Internet and telecommunications coverage, which he said are essential amenities if Vermont is to capitalize on its geographic vantage point between the business hubs of Montreal, Boston and New York City.
“We are dead last in the country in average Internet speed,” Dunne said. “All I am saying is, we’ve got to get out of the basement.”
Dunne said he believes it will be essential for Vermont to maintain a strong K-12 public education system, even as its student numbers continue to decline. He does not think the state should pass legislation requiring school districts to consolidate.
“We have lost 14,000 school-age children during the past decade; that puts pressure (on the current system),” Dunne said. “But I don’t believe the solution is to undermine what I believe has made Vermont schools so strong, which is their connection with their community.”
Dunne instead favors reducing the number of Vermont supervisory unions from the current 61 to around 20. He stressed that while this plan would reduce administrative costs, it would still preserve school boards.
“You look for ways to reduce costs in areas that are not affecting front-line services,” Dunne said.
Having fewer supervisory unions would require schools to collaborate on programs over greater distances. This would demand more sharing of teachers and video teaching/conferencing, which Dunne said can be accomplished with current technology.
It will also be essential for Vermont schools to establish a “seamless” relationship with Vermont Technical College, Champlain College and other post-secondary institutions to enhance students’ education experiences, according to Dunne. He believes business should also be solicited for input on how schools can make graduates better prepared to enter the job world. He said students who make commitments to public/civic service should receive tuition scholarships for in-state colleges and higher education programs.
But perhaps above all, Dunne said the state must get more serious about Vermonters’ schooling well before college.
“We must make investments in early childhood education,” Dunne said.
Dunne agrees with a majority of current Vermont lawmakers who believe the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant should be closed and decommissioned when its current license expires in 2012.
“Vermont Yankee is no longer a discussion about nuclear power, it is a discussion of safety,” Dunne said, alluding to recently discovered tritium leaks at the facility and a strained relationship between state officials, federal regulators and Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that owns Vermont Yankee.
“As far as I am concerned (VY owners) have broken their corporate citizenship covenant and Vermont Yankee should be retired as scheduled,” Dunne said.
Since VY supplies around one-third of the state’s power, Vermont must move quickly to beef up its energy portfolio, according to Dunne. Some of Dunne’s ideas in that regard include planning for a “new generation biomass” operation at the VY property, using renewable energy fuels (such as switch grass), and taking advantage of the considerable transmission infrastructure already in place at the Vermont site.
“We would have natural gas backup; the line isn’t too far away,” Dunne said.
He also favors development of smaller wind, solar and hydro operations to add more “green” power into the state grid.
Dunne believes that given its size, Vermont could become the first state in the union to provide universal coverage through a self-insurance pool.
“The feds are hungry for a state that takes on a plan that cuts costs,” said Dunne, who believes a self-insurance program would accomplish that directive.
As the state with the second-oldest population, health care “is a cost-driver; it is beating the heck out of our hospitals, which are more and more dependant on Medicare, which is under-reimbursing the costs,” Dunne said. “We are on an unsustainable track.”
Dunne said he is concerned about the dwindling number of Vermont farms, a phenomenon he said also negatively affects related businesses (such as farm implement and seed dealers) along with Vermont’s tourism industry.
He pledged, if elected, to make the preservation and growth of agriculture a top priority of his administration.
“$15 per hundredweight (for milk) doesn’t work,” Dunne said of the financial struggles of dairy farmers. “We absolutely have to have a vibrant agricultural sector in this state.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.