By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — As director of AmeriCorps*VISTA, Sen. Matt Dunne, D-Hartland, organized thousands of people to perform community service projects throughout the nation.
Dunne, 36, is now organizing a grassroots campaign that he hopes will push him over the top in his bid to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Michael Dubie.
Dunne was in Middlebury last week stumping for support in anticipation of his first hurdle in the election — a primary contest against fellow Democrat John Tracy, a Burlington representative in the Vermont House.
“I want the next generation to be able to earn a living and stay in Vermont, and I plan to work hard to make the state a place where our children and grandchildren can live in strong, vibrant communities,” Dunne said.
A lifelong resident of Hartland, Dunne began his legislative career in 1992, when, at the age of 22, he was first elected to the Vermont House. His peers elected him as assistant majority leader in 1998.
In 2000 Dunne stepped down from the House and his job as marketing director for Wilder-based software company Logic Associates to accept an offer from President Bill Clinton to serve as director of AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America).
“I had the extraordinary honor of overseeing 6,000 full-time people serving in the fight against poverty,” Dunne said. “It was amazing.”
Dunne stayed with Americorps*VISTA until late 2002, when he returned to Hartland with his wife, Sarah Sewart Taylor, who is a journalist and murder mystery writer.
At the time, incumbent state Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, had announced he would not seek re-election. Dunne — who at this point had begin work as associate director of the Dartmouth College Rockefeller Center for Public Policy — decided to run for the Vermont Senate, and was elected in November of 2002.
Now, after four years in the Vermont Senate, Dunne hopes to continue his ascent of the state’s political ladder. He said he wants to take the position of lieutenant governor beyond its largely ceremonial status to a level where it can make a difference in state and national matters.
“I believe that the lieutenant governor’s office has incredible opportunity to become an office of action, to be a place that brings together Vermonters … to tackle the most difficult problems that are facing us today,” Dunne said.
Dubie, argued Dunn, has not shown enough leadership during his time in office, and has espoused positions that are not in synch with most Vermonters.
“Four years ago, it might have been OK to have someone in one of our few statewide elective offices whose values are more in line with that of the George Bush White House,” Dunne said. “But today, with everything that’s going on in Washington, I don’t believe we have that luxury anymore.”
Specifically, Dunn objected to Dubie’s anti-abortion stance. He also believes that Dubie has not reflected Vermonters’ opposition to the Bush administration’s positions on secret wire tapping and global warming.
“Vermont has a long history of individuals who have stood up to Washington when Vermont values have been attacked, and the incumbent has failed to do that,” Dunne said.
If elected, Dunne vowed to promote a legislative agenda that includes stabilizing Vermont’s energy future; fighting poverty; and improving the state’s job market.
“I would like to identify one-third of the state’s energy consumption and convert it into either reductions through efficiency investments, or through creation of renewable energy sources from within the state of Vermont, and do that by 2012,” Dunne said. “I believe we have the opportunity to lead the nation in independence and self-sufficiency from foreign and dangerous fuel sources.”
Dunne believes Vermonters’ sense of community and its small scale are the perfect ingredients for establishing a program to lift people out of poverty.
“I’m putting on the table that we should set a target of reducing poverty by 51 percent over the next decade, and I would back up the investments and strategies to get us there,” Dunne said.
Key in phasing out poverty will be creating new job opportunities for Vermonters, Dunne noted. The lack of such job opportunities is directly responsible for the exodus of youth from the state, according to Dunne.
“I first ran for office because most of my classmates from Hartland Elementary School were not able to stay in our home community as much as they would’ve liked,” Dunne said. “I ran to be able to try to find a way to create jobs without compromising our farm, forest and historic assets.”
To that end, Dunne said he introduced the first “brownfields” legislation to encourage the private cleanup and redevelopment of industrial sites. He also spearheaded creation of the Vermont Film Commission, designed to lure movie productions and their economic benefits to the Green Mountain State.
In the Senate, Dunne has focused on entrepreneurship and broadband Internet. He helped launch the state’s broadband grant program, which communities like Brandon have tapped.
“I believe that an economic development strategy for Vermont is not something that will fit in one committee or another,” Dunne said. “It includes direct investment in entrepreneurs to be able to help them with take their ideas and bring them to the global marketplace; it includes bringing broadband high-speed Internet to the last mile of every community.”
Dunne is not concerned about having a primary. He and Tracy happen to be longtime friends.
“The upside of a primary is that people start focusing on the race earlier,” said Dunne.