Middlebury’s Donna Donahue eyes Vt. House seat

MIDDLEBURY — Donna Donahue has spent almost a decade working on grassroots efforts to make Middlebury a more popular destination for entrepreneurs, shoppers and tourists.
She would now like to continue that work in the Vermont House, as one of Middlebury’s two state representatives.
Donahue, 69, confirmed on Monday she will run this November in the Addison-1 district, which is currently represented by Democrats Paul Ralston and Betty Nuovo. Ralston has announced he will not seek another two-year term in office, a declaration that has spurred early interest among prospective candidates. Nuovo confirmed on Monday she will run for re-election and resident Amy Sheldon has also said she will throw her hat into the ring.
This sets the stage for a Democratic primary runoff between Nuovo, Sheldon and Donahue for two spots on the Nov. 4 ballot. And there’s still plenty of time for other candidates to step forward.
A marketing professional with the National Bank of Middlebury, Donahue is former president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, an organization that promotes Addison County’s shire town as a place to shop, dine and do business. She stepped down as BMP president a year ago after a successful stint that saw the group, among other things, organize signature annual community events like the Spooktacular; Very Merry Middlebury; the Chili Fest; and the Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival.
She and her BMP colleagues successfully infused the BMP with new, young blood to ensure the organization’s longevity and ability to adapt to new technology and ideas. Donahue also worked on an ad hoc committee that led to the creation of the Middlebury Business Development Fund.
“Since stepping down as president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, I have been looking for a new way to be involved in community service,” Donahue said. “I believe this (Vermont House) opportunity is the right fit at the right time. I understand and respect the values this community views as important: the goal of making Middlebury a better place to live, work, play and do business, and that goal is really our state’s goal.”
Donahue has already chatted with Nuovo and Ralston about her plans.
“I wanted to understand what the work of the Legislature is all about,” Donahue said.
The more she learned, the more she liked the idea of going to Montpelier to represent Middlebury’s interests. And along with making her town and state a better place to do business, Donahue emphasized the notion of preserving the quality of life Vermonters have come to expect. And it will take a lot of work to maintain that quality of life, according to Donahue.
“If you want a sustainable Vermont and Middlebury, we’re going to have to work for it,” she said.
That work, Donahue said, will include making the state more affordable for young people. She pointed to statistics indicating that one-fourth of Vermont’s citizens will be 65 or older by 2030.
“The younger population is leaving and not coming back,” Donahue said. “We need to work hard to allow people to settle here and start families.”
That will mean creating more jobs and affordable housing, according to Donahue. Job creation has become a trickier proposition given the national and statewide decline in manufacturing operations, she said. Vermont is currently home to 77,000 small businesses, ranging from one to 20 employees, according to Donahue. She believes the Middlebury area continues to be a prime area for telecommuting workers. Donahue also thinks the town could become a magnet for value-added agricultural jobs and tech operations.
Donahue finds herself at home in business circles, a quality she believes could serve Middlebury well in the Statehouse.
“You have to have a sense of compromise, cooperation and commitment,” she said of the skills needed to promote economic development. That development, Donahue said, will be key in generating new property tax revenues to ensure the survival of programs that Middlebury holds dear.
If elected, Donahue said she would like to be assigned to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee. She pledged to look at the state budgeting process to find more efficient ways of delivering services and ensuring that the various agencies aren’t duplicating offerings for Vermonters.
She supports Vermont’s current march toward a single-payer health care system.
“There are role models out there where (a single-payer system) has worked,” Donahue said, adding she believes the state and national health care transition should be given time to work without risk of being dismantled.
“It’s easy to poke sticks at things you don’t like,” she said. “You have to keep plugging away to make it better.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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