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Rep. Ralston won’t run for re-election

MIDDLEBURY — Rep. Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, will not run for re-election to a third consecutive term in the Vermont House.
Ralston, 60, confirmed the news in a brief written statement and during an interview with the Addison Independent on Tuesday. He cited increasing professional commitments as a primary reason for his decision to leave the Legislature when his term expires at the end of next year.
“I am happy and humbled to have had the opportunity to serve in the Vermont Legislature as one of Middlebury’s representatives in the General Assembly,” Ralston said. “I have long been interested in and active in politics, and my election in 2010 was a big step for my activism — and a big commitment. Now, my growing responsibilities to my customers and employees require that I return my focus to their interests.”
Ralston is president and founder of the Vermont Coffee Company. He established “Vermont Sweet Maple Kindling” in 2012. Both growing businesses are based off Middlebury’s Exchange Street. Vermont Coffee recently doubled its physical presence at 1197 Exchange St. and is in the process of installing equipment that will significantly increase its production capacity.
Moreover, Vermont Coffee has begun to aggressively market its products in southern New England and along the Eastern Seaboard, while fortifying its presence in major area stores, such as Shaw’s, Hannaford and Price Chopper.
“That’s been very successful,” Ralston said of his company’s expansion efforts. “I am very busy.”
While the “official” legislative session is supposed to last from January to May, it routinely exceeds that timeframe, Ralston noted. And legislative committees are increasingly meeting during the off-session for research projects and to take public testimony on major bills. Ralston lives at a hotel in Montpelier during the session; the alternative is a 90-minute commute each way between Middlebury and the state capital.
“I am away from home and I’m away from the business,” he said. “And more and more, there has been ‘session creep.’ Things are happening in the Legislature outside of the official legislative season … There is a lot to pay attention to.”
At the same time, lawmakers must respond to constituent concerns year-round. Together with Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, Ralston represents the county’s shire town, home to Middlebury College, many businesses, residents and a variety of nonprofits that justifiably want their interests thoroughly represented at the Statehouse.
Ralston stressed he remains committed to giving his legislative job his “all” through 2014. A member of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, Ralston pledged to continue to advocate for programs and policies that encourage business growth in the state. That growth, he said, will be essential in bringing new jobs and new state revenues to sustain the programs on which Vermonters have come to depend.
LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
Ralston said his 2014 legislative priorities will include:
•  Furthering what he called “Code Green,” a series of initiatives to make Vermont more attractive to companies dealing in intellectual property, such as technology, patents, trademarks and licenses. He believes new, growing economic opportunities will be built from what he’s calling “knowledge capital.” With that in mind, Ralston was a big supporter this past session of the so-called “patent troll bill” that gives Vermont businesses legal tools to protect themselves against illegitimate claims of patent infringement.
•  Developing new funding sources to assist growing and emerging businesses and encourage entrepreneurship.
•  Encouraging more private investment in Vermont-based businesses.
Ralston believes he has provided, and will continue to provide, good representation for his Middlebury constituents.
“There are very few entrepreneurs and employers in the state Legislature,” Ralston said. “I think my perspective has been useful.”
It was in late August of 2010 that the Middlebury Town Democratic Committee voted 6-5 to select Ralston as Rep. Steve Maier’s replacement on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. Maier had resigned from his post to accept a job with the Department of Vermont Health Access. Ralston earned his ballot spot by narrowly edging fellow Middlebury Democrat Amy Sheldon. Ralston and Nuovo ran unopposed in 2010 and again in 2012 for Middlebury’s two seats in the Vermont House. Middlebury has long been a Democratic stronghold, and Ralston hopes that his early announcement spurs interest in prospective candidates.
“Come November 2014, Middlebury voters will make a choice for a new representative in Montpelier,” Ralston said. “We are also facing big decisions at the town level. We need a robust, civil debate about our future, and I hope people with strong ideas about the future of our town and our state will step up and run for election.”
Sheldon said voters might see her name on the ballot.
“I am still very interested in serving our community in the Legislature,” she said. “It is a bit early, but I am considering a run in 2014.”
Paul Forlenza, chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee, sympathized with Ralston’s decision and early announcement.
“When business and personal needs conflict with being a legislator, I think it is wise for the individual to seriously consider what one’s priorities are,” Forlenza said. “It is tough to serve two masters, so I think Rep. Ralston was wise to give his continuing in office serious consideration. I’m delighted that Ralston announced his plans early. This gives Middlebury residents plenty of time to find a candidate without having to rush the process.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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