Monkton Democrat enters race for Bristol-area House seat
MONKTON — Monkton selectboard Chairman Stephen Pilcher on Saturday officially launched his campaign to win one of the two seats in the Addison-4 Vermont House district, which represents the communities of Bristol, Monkton, Starksboro and Lincoln.
Pilcher, 61, has lived in Vermont for more than 40 years. He attended Middlebury College, where he majored in math and also took an interest in political science. After earning his bachelor’s degree at Middlebury in 1977, he attended graduate school at the University of Vermont, which set him up for a lengthy career in computer engineering.
“When I got out of grad school, I decided I had done enough renting and it was time to buy a place,” Pilcher said.
So he set down roots in Monkton in 1986.
For 35 years, Pilcher worked for a variety of small tech companies in and around Vermont, including Irvine Sensors, Ascension Technology and Microprocessor Designs. He found the work fulfilling. But Pilcher recently stepped away from computers in order to do more interfacing with people — as a public servant.
It all began with his participation in the much-respected Snelling Center for Government’s Vermont Leadership Institute. The institute was established in 1995 with the goal of stimulating citizen enthusiasm for, and participation in, public service.
Pilcher graduated from the institute in 2014. And he has wasted no time becoming involved in various local and countywide boards. He has served as the Monkton selectboard chairman since 2013. He is a member of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union’s Act 46 Study Committee, which is exploring new education governance options for the Bristol-area school district. Pilcher is also Monkton’s alternate representative to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and Addison County Solid Waste Management District.
Pilcher has long been interested in representing the Addison-4 House district in Montpelier, but has never seen a reason to run against two fellow Democrats who both held seats for more than a decade. But that changed in 2014 when Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, was defeated in his re-election bid by Bristol Republican Fred Baser.
Pilcher hopes to unseat Rep. Baser and join Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, as the new Addison-4 delegation.
“There is now an opening for a Democrat to run alongside Dave Sharpe,” said Pilcher, who referred to the veteran lawmaker as “a mentor to me.”
He described himself as “fiscally conservative, socially progressive and community minded.”
Not content to simply read about goings-on in Montpelier or catch the latest on the 6 o’clock news, Pilcher travels to the Statehouse at least once every two weeks to see lawmakers in action. He attends various House committee meetings to see the genesis of new bills and to get a sense of parliamentary procedures at the Vermont Legislature.
“It’s very informative,” Pilcher said of his observation sessions under the Golden Dome.
He’s been able to catch debate on some of Vermont’s hot-button issues, including school governance unification, health care reform, solar siting, Lake Champlain cleanup, property tax reform and state tax policy.
Pilcher is particularly plugged in to the school governance issue. He noted residents in both the Addison Central and Addison Northwest supervisory unions passed Act 46 referenda. Act 46 is a state law that encourages supervisory unions to consolidate their governance under one school board and a single education budget. He said the ANeSU Act 46 Study Committee on which he serves is still at work, but added it’s likely that residents of the Bristol-area towns will field a unification referendum either this November or next March.
“I happen to think unifying makes a lot of sense,” Pilcher said.
Health care reform, Pilcher acknowledged, remains a conundrum that has been worsened by glitches in Vermont Health Connect (VHC). VHC is a health care exchange designed to link Vermonters with affordable health insurance options. But the VHC website has ben plagued by technical problems that have prevented the resource from being used effectively.
“I don’t think there is anyone who has touched Vermont Health Connect who wouldn’t say, ‘It’s busted,’” Pilcher said.
At this point, Pilcher concurs with a state-hired consultant who is recommending against adding new features to VHC, and fixing the bugs within the VHC website and seeing how much it would cost to replace portions of the program.
He does not believe that bailing on VHC would be a good idea at this point.
“Jumping to the federal exchange means giving up the state premium assistance,” Pilcher said. “That would make it more expensive for low- and middle-income users of VHC.”
If elected, Pilcher vowed to support legislative efforts to establish a “livable wage” in the Green Mountain State. A livable wage is defined as the hourly wage or annual income sufficient to meet a family’s basic needs, including food, housing, child care, transportation, health care, clothing, household and personal expenses, insurance, and 5 percent savings.
Vermont’s livable wage is currently estimated at $13 per hour, according to Pilcher. Minimum wage in Vermont right now is $9.60 per hour, a rate scheduled to rise to $10.50 by 2018.
“That Vermont livable wage is based on two people sharing a household with no kids, and health care provided by your employer,” Pilcher said of the $13-per-hour calculation. “It’s really pretty minimal. We’re talking about $26,000 per year.”
Pilcher has been following the progress of a bill this year that would legalize possession of small quantities of marijuana. He agreed with advocates who believe legalization might eliminate black market sales of the drug. And he likes the fact that the Vermont bill would still prohibit the sale of edibles made with marijuana. But while Pilcher agreed with the Legislature’s decision a few years ago to decriminalize medical marijuana, he is not yet sold on its legalization.
“I don’t want to see Vermont become a tourist destination for marijuana consumption,” he said.
Pilcher promised to be an active campaigner.
“I’m looking forward to knocking on doors and getting people’s opinions,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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