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Rep. Will Stevens to step down after eight years in Statehouse

SHOREHAM — Expressing a desire to “recharge his batteries” and devote more time to the family farm, Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham, announced this week that he will not seek a fifth consecutive two-year term in the Vermont House.
“After eight years as your representative in Vermont’s citizen Legislature, I have decided that it is time to return to being a citizen,” Stevens, 59, wrote in a letter he sent on Monday to his Addison Rutland-1 constituents in the towns of Benson, Orwell, Shoreham and Whiting. “You have given me the opportunity to serve at (or near) the seat of power, which is something I’ve been thankful for since the day I was sworn in on January 3, 2007. My goal has always been to serve this district to the best of my abilities, and I hope I have honored the trust you have put in me.”
Stevens and his wife, Judy, own and operate Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham. It was his interest in farming issues that whetted his appetite to compete for a seat in the House back in 2006. Stevens successfully ran as an independent in a district that has historically leaned Republican. Stevens has spent his entire legislative career on the House Agriculture Committee.
“I have enjoyed my time in Montpelier, and I am not stepping away out of dissatisfaction, anger or boredom,” Stevens added in his letter. “I have gained insight into the legislative process, and I would like to think that I contributed some value along the way. I especially enjoyed hearing from you on particular issues, answering your questions, addressing your concerns, and running interference on your behalf with state bureaucracies when necessary.”
Stevens, during a phone interview with the Independent on Tuesday, said he will not rule out a future run for the House. But for now, he wants to spend more time with his family and tending to projects around the Golden Russet Farm that he has had to defer due to work at the Statehouse.
“Every May, I come back to discover that, ‘Hey, I didn’t do this or that again this year,’” Stevens said. “I’m still capable and active enough on the farm that I need to step back in.”
And in stepping away from the Legislature, Stevens realizes he’s opening the door for someone else to step in to represent the folks of Addison Rutland-1. As of Tuesday, the district clerk (Julie Ortuno, who is town clerk of Shoreham) had not received nomination papers from any prospective candidates. Major party candidates have until June 12 to file papers with their respective district clerks.
“It’s a citizen Legislature,” Stevens said. “It’s not a lifelong job, at least it never has been for me. I’ve served some time, so let me step aside and see if someone else wants to take a shot.”
PRODUCTIVE YEARS
Stevens can look back on some very active and productive years spent on House Agriculture. It was during his tenure that the committee played a major role in shaping the Farm to Plate Bill that calls upon the state to make major investments in its local food systems this decade. The goal is to have Vermonters eating 20 percent local food by 2020, a figure that stood at around 3 percent in 2009.
Stevens is also pleased to have played a role in passing the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, which provides for the investment of $1 million in agriculture- and forestry-based businesses; and in the establishment of the Vermont Agriculture and Forest Products Development Board. The board is charged with making recommendations to state policymakers on the adoption and amendment of laws, regulations and governmental policies that affect agricultural and forest products in Vermont.
Most recently, the House Agriculture Committee played a role in drafting Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which required labeling food that includes genetically modified organisms. It is an initiative that Stevens supported.
It should also be noted that the Champlain Bridge closed (in 2009), was replaced and reopened (in 2011) during Stevens’ tenure. Shoreham was among the Addison County communities affected by the bridge closure. That was due in part to the fact that one of the fairies that crossed Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York docked in Shoreham.
Stevens recalled other legislative accomplishments that did not grab as many headlines. Among them was the successful effort to get tax abatements for seasonal farm workers enrolled in the H-2A program; and passage of H.542 this spring, which ensures that bulk loads of compost and potting soil will be tax-exempt.
He looks forward to being back on the farm full-time and credited his wife, Judy, for holding down the fort in his absence.
“I would not be in the House but for Judy and her support,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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