EAST MIDDLEBURY — Amy Sheldon’s first two bids for positions in the Vermont Legislature were abbreviated, adrenaline-filled affairs in the summer of 2010, during which she narrowly missed the cut. She fell less than 100 write-in votes short in the Aug. 24 Democratic primary of replacing then-incumbent Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, on the General Election ballot. A week later, the Middlebury Town Democratic Committee voted 6-5 to select Paul Ralston over Sheldon as the candidate to take then-Rep. Steve Maier’s place on the Nov. 2 ballot, after Maier withdrew from the race.
Now Sheldon, 47, is looking forward to an entire campaign season in which to make an impression on local voters in what is already shaping up to be an active race for Middlebury’s two House seats. Sheldon, a natural resource planner, is in a field that thus far includes longtime Democratic incumbent Rep. Betty Nuovo, former Better Middlebury Partnership President Donna Donahue, and Middlebury College student Calvin McEathron, who is running as an independent.
Interest in the Addison-1 race has been heightened this year by Ralston’s decision not to run for re-election.
“I think the open seat is definitely a motivation,” Sheldon said during a Thursday interview at her East Middlebury home, which is the base for her business, Landslide Natural Resource Planning.
“I have always wanted to serve in the Legislature; this seems like a good time to give it a try,” said Sheldon, who has lived in East Middlebury since 1999 with her husband, Ashar Nelson.
As she did in 2010, Sheldon is emphasizing health care reform and protection of the state’s natural resources during her campaign, which she said will involve a lot of door-to-door visits with constituents.
“I still think health care is a huge priority; it’s going to be a priority in the next biennium,” said Sheldon, a supporter of the state’s transition to a single-payer system by 2017. “I’d like to work on that challenge. It’s affecting us in so many places and bringing us down; we just have to get beyond the costs of health care and how we can pay for it.”
Sheldon believes a single-payer system will reduce health care costs. As a customer of Vermont Health Connect, Sheldon said she has been able to see first-hand how the system needs improvement.
“I think providing universal access to all Vermonters to the health care system will put people on an equal footing and it will be more fair,” she said. “I believe (health care) is a human right.”
It should come as no surprise given Sheldon’s professional background that she hopes to have a voice in Montpelier on natural resources issues. Sheldon graduated from Middlebury College in 1988 and was the Middlebury Area Land Trust’s first executive director, playing a major role in the establishment of the Trail Around Middlebury. She recently stepped down after a decade on the Middlebury Planning Commission, and continues to be an alternate on the District 9 Environmental Commission. Sheldon has played a big role in a community effort to stabilize the banks of the Middlebury River. In her role as a consultant, Sheldon has worked on such projects as Burlington’s Open Space Protection Plan, and in the monitoring — in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene — of five state watersheds as part of the Vermont River Management Program.
“For me, the priorities are around climate change and sustainability in the environment,” Sheldon said. “Through my professional work, I do a lot of mitigation planning and implementation around natural resources. The Legislature’s role is going to be twofold: One is going to be in trying to switch us from fossil-based fuels; and the other is going to be in mitigating the effects of current climate change that we are living with today. I am excited to bring my professional experience to the table.”
Sheldon has had a history of working with various committees with members who have espoused divergent viewpoints en route to productive decisions on issues. She believes this experience could prove an asset in the Statehouse.
Sheldon followed some of the discussion in Montpelier this past session about possibly consolidating school districts as a means of creating administrative savings and greater efficiency for a Vermont public school population that continues to decline.
“I think consolidation is the way to go,” Sheldon said, adding such a move must be carefully explored. “We have been told from numerous studies that Vermont has more school districts than most other states, we have fewer students, and are anticipating fewer students in the future. I definitely think we need to consolidate, both for economies of scale and also for student opportunities.”
If elected, Sheldon promised to aggressively lobby for solutions to local problems. For example, she believes the state of Vermont should help bankroll maintenance of the Cross Street Bridge. The town and Middlebury College are jointly financing the span, which links two state roads (Routes 7 and 30/125). The town has local option taxes in place to finance its $7 million share of the project, along with maintenance costs.
“Maybe the state should be assisting us somehow financially with the maintenance of that property,” Sheldon said. “The local option tax is for local projects. It’s a great bridge, we should be proud of it, but it’s also a state connector.”
She is also concerned about the extent to which various downtown Middlebury construction projects — such as this year’s replacement of the Merchants Row and Main Street overpasses — will affect retailers.
“We have to make sure we don’t push (downtown merchants) over the edge,” she said.
Sheldon is developing a website for her campaign and plans to speak with a lot of people during the coming months.
“I’m excited to talk to the voters about what’s on their minds, and how they think that I could be a better liaison to Montpelier,” she said.
John Flowers is at [email protected]