By JOHN FLOWERS
BENSON — Nov. 4 could be called “independents day” in Addison-Rutland 1, the Vermont House District that includes Shoreham, Orwell, Benson and Whiting.
That’s because two independent candidates — and nary a Democrat or Republican — are vying for the right to represent the district for the next two years.
Benson Town Moderator John Hill confirmed on Thursday that he will run as an independent challenger to freshman incumbent Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham.
Hill, 56, is an accounts auditor with the firm NEIS Inc. He inspects payroll and sales records for the insurance industry, performing 95 percent of his duties in Vermont.
A Sunderland, Vt., native, Hill and his family have lived in Benson for the past six years. He recently served his community on the Benson school board and is now enjoying his role as town moderator.
“I like fairness and I believe when you give people enough information, they’ll make good decisions,” Hill said.
He believes that same philosophy holds true for a state representative, a role in which he sees himself gathering information on issues to share with his constituents for feedback.
“I’m the people’s advocate to get information out,” said Hill, who is no stranger to political contests. Thirty years ago, he ran as a Democrat in a four-way contest for one of Bennington County’s two seats in the Vermont Senate. Hill recalls finishing a “respectable fourth,” but hadn’t launched another bid for the Statehouse until this year.
He stressed he is not running simply to unseat Stevens.
“My decision is based exclusively on a desire to give back to the community and help the district and state become better,” Hill said.
Specifically, Hill wants to help shape legislative debate on issues like energy, health care, the economy and creating new jobs.
Hill believes the state — and the country — should aggressively pursue renewable energy options, particularly in the area of wind power. He argued that allowing off-shore drilling for more oil would simply delay, for a few years, the need to find alternative energy sources.
“More drilling is not a long-term solution,” Hill said. “Renewable energy is a long-term solution.”
With that in mind, Hill promised to advocate for construction of a wood- or hay-pellet plant in his district, or nearby, to provide a renewable heating fuel source.
Hill would support the state negotiating an extension of its energy contract with Hydro Quebec. But he does not support re-licensing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant under current conditions. He noted the recent collapse of a cooling tower at the plant as evidence Vermont Yankee needs a lot more scrutiny before it should be considered serviceable for the next two decades. If the plant is deemed safe, Hill believes the state should consider short-term re-licensing while Vermont looks at other energy sources to fill the gap.
On health care, Hill believes the state should require all Vermonters to show proof of insurance, whether that be through a private carrier, federal subsidy through Medicaid/Medicare, of through state programs such as Catamount Health. In doing this, Hill believes the state could vastly reduce or eliminate “stranded costs” within the health care system — otherwise known as unpaid medical bills that insured folks end up paying through higher premiums.
Hill also believes that Vermont and the nation in general should look at health care systems in other countries for ideas to improve conditions at home.
“I think we have to move beyond the thought process that we know everything (about health care) and are superior,” Hill said.
If elected, Hill promised to reach out to new employers — and those who may have already left Vermont — to create new jobs in the Green Mountain State. He supports the Douglas Administration’s efforts to make Vermont a hub for “green” technology. He also believes Vermont should create more products in-state with the natural resources it has at its disposal.
“We have sawmills in Vermont that are now cutting lumber that is being shipped to China, then shipped back to Vermont for sale as furniture,” Hill said.
Vermont should also invest more heavily in its farming industry, according to Hill.
“We need to promote agricultural education,” Hill said. “We need to get the younger generation interested in farming.”