MIDDLEBURY — Calvin McEathron should be pretty well set up to pursue a career as a politician if he successfully earns a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Middlebury College in 2016.
But McEathron, a 20-year-old sophomore, doesn’t plan on waiting another two years before making his mark in the legislative arena. The East Montpelier native confirmed on Tuesday he plans to run for one of Middlebury’s two seats in the Vermont House, a campaign he will pursue as an independent.
“As a lifelong Vermonter and a current sophomore at Middlebury College, I’m deeply affected by the issues facing our state,” McEathron said. “From the exodus of our young professionals to our declining school enrollment and waning dairy industry, Vermonters need someone in office who has grown up facing these challenges.”
And McEathron said he has been affected by many of the issues he hopes to tackle as an Addison-1 House representative. He joins a race that officially includes incumbent Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, and fellow Democrat Donna Donahue. Democrat Amy Sheldon has also declared an interest in running. Incumbent Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, has announced he will not be seeking another two-year term this fall.
“After Rep. Ralston announced he would not be running for re-election, I saw it as an opportunity to make (my candidacy) happen,” McEathron said.
He added he is running as an independent so as to not have an obligation to the major parties.
“It will be a bipartisan campaign, where I can focus on issues that I want to focus on and not what one party is pushing,” McEathron said. “Running as an independent, you can build your own platform.”
The young student has already cleared his campaign with his Middlebury College professors and advisers. He realizes that if he is elected, it will require him to temporarily withdraw from classes and thereby prolong his scholastic career. McEathron has also consulted with former Gov. James Douglas, an executive in residence at Middlebury College (and an alum) who launched his political career as a Middlebury House representative.
McEathron spent summers working on his grandparents’ sheep farm in Chelsea, where he attended public schools. He noted the state has seen its student population decline from 104,000 in 2000 to the current 80,000. McEathron is a graduate of U-32 High School and got his first taste of state politics as a teen, working with Rep. Tony Klein, D-Montpelier, on legislation related to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
McEathron noted the 20 percent decline in Vermont’s student population since 2000.
“This means less resources for the students as schools have to think about shrinking and cutting staff,” McEathron said. “But by doing administrative consolidation, as well as (reducing the number supervisory unions), we can offer students more through the sharing of resources.”
For example, McEathron believes multiple schools could share language teachers.
McEathron favors current legislative efforts to consolidate public school governance and reduce the number of school districts. He specifically supports bill H.883, which, among other things, would abolish supervisory unions and realign school districts into expanded pre-K-12 school districts that would be responsible for the education of all resident children. This change would take effect in 2020. The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee.
“We need to look at how we can bring the education system, particularly the administrative side of it, into the 21st century,” McEathron said.
He believes the state has too many supervisory unions (64) and noted Vermont has one of the highest administrator-teacher ratios in the country.
“By building bigger districts, I think we can bring better resources to the students as well as possibly save some money for the taxpayers,” McEathron said.
Vermont must also do more to retain its young people after they graduate, according to McEathron. Young graduates continue to leave the state in large numbers to pursue economic opportunities in other states.
“The number of 21- to 44-year-olds has fallen by 23,000 between the year 2000 and the last census in 2010,” McEathron said. “It’s a problem.”
Vermont can help reverse the trend through a more aggressive economic development policy, according to McEathron.
“With the importance of the Internet and the importance of technology in today’s world, Vermont has a chance to be a leader in telecommunication, as well as tech companies willing to set up shop here,” he said.
He referred to Dealer.com and SchoolSpring as examples of successful Internet-based companies that have thrived in the Green Mountain State.
“The potential is there,” McEathron said. “I believe by eliminating the cloud computing tax as well as making tax credits available for private investment in Vermont, we can see some changes.”
Doing nothing would keep Vermont’s status as one of the grayest states in the union, said McEathron.
“Vermont has a great college education system. There’s no doubting that,” McEathron said. “There’s no question people want to come here for an education. But it seems more and more they are getting their diploma and immediately heading out. I love Vermont. But as a young person, you want to be around other young people. Having a chance to keep them here is one of the main reasons I’m running for the Legislature.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]