Lincoln Democrat Mari Cordes touts health care experience in run for House
LINCOLN — Mari Cordes has helped heal a lot of patients during her many years as a Registered Nurse.
The Lincoln Democrat is now writing a recovery plan for the state of Vermont that she hopes to administer as a member of the House of Representatives.
Cordes, 57, confirmed last week that she will run for one of the seats in the Vermont House representing Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro. She joins a growing field of candidates in the Addison-4 district.
Her bid sets up a Democratic primary on Aug. 9 that will involve Cordes, Monkton’s Stephen Pilcher and incumbent Rep. Dave Sharpe of Bristol. The two who emerge from that race will then compete with Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin and incumbent Rep. Fred Baser of Bristol in the November general elections.
Prospective candidates have until May 26 to file their nomination petitions to run for the House, so the Addison-4 field could grow even larger.
Cordes has for the past 15 years worked at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She and her family have lived in Vermont for around 30 years. They moved to Lincoln in 2003. Her husband, David Walker, is a builder, and they have two grown daughters. They live in an off-the-energy-grid home off Downingsville Road.
Though this is her first run for the House, Cordes is already quite familiar with the Vermont Statehouse. She has delivered testimony there on behalf of the UVM Medical Center nurses’ union on such issues as health care reform, paid sick days and safe hospital staffing levels for patient care.
Cordes helped create the Equal Care Coalition, to advocate for the elimination of health insurance policy exclusions for transgender patients. She said she worked successfully with state officials to eliminate those policy exclusions in Vermont.
“I am very proud and pleased with that result,” Cordes said.
She currently serves as treasurer for 350Vermont.org, a grassroots group that advocates for remedies to climate change.
“The issues most important to me are rooted in my childhood,” Cordes said.
She and her brother grew up in a household with a mom struggling with mental illness and an alcoholic father, Cordes recalled. She and her sibling benefited from a safety net of other adults who made sure their basic needs were met. As such, Cordes said, she has been able to relate to, and help, people working to improve their lots in life and extricate themselves from tough situations.
For example, she has visited Haiti to lend her nursing skills to the post-earthquake recovery efforts in that ravaged nation. As a health care professional, she sees part of her role as delivering compassion to the patients she sees.
“I have a deep-held belief that in working with people around me, I have the power to create a positive change in our communities,” Cordes said.
Cordes — long involved with Vermont’s Progressive Party — has for many years wanted to run for the House, receiving encouragement along the way from folks like former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin.
She decided the time was right for her to make a political run this year.
If elected, Cordes promised to support economic policies aimed at improving conditions for those at the lower end of the wage scale.
“My focus, first, is on economic justice,” Cordes said. “I know that many of us campaigning now, regardless of what party, there is a recognition that many Vermonters are struggling. As our economy improves, it is improving for those at the very top and not for the rest of us — which has a direct impact on the health of our economy and our ability to provide direct services to those who really need it.”
With that in mind, she said she’d support “progressive tax reform to bring the balance back.”
Over the past few decades, “the balance of economic justice has tilted away from ordinary community members in Vermont,” according to Cordes. “It has shifted to those at the very top.”
Cordes supports an increase in Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, and making wealthier individuals and corporations responsible for a greater proportion of the state’s tax levy.
And a greater proportion of tax revenues, Cordes believes, should be spent on education and investment in a new energy economy. For example, she believes in greater investments in technology for more eco-sensitive vehicles.
“(Transportation) is one of the biggest producers of carbon dioxide,” she said.
Cordes was candid in her opposition to the Addison Natural Gas Project, a pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes. She objects to the notion of Vermont importing “fracked” natural gas from Canada, noting Vermont has banned fracking within its borders.
“I will continue to actively work to prevent (the pipeline) and further, new fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont,” Cordes said.
She also criticized a recent proposal by the Vermont Public Service Board to close hearings on the ANGP out of concerns over potentially disruptive protests. Cordes also proposed that members of the PSB be selected by the public, as opposed to being governmental appointees.
Cordes said she will advocate for developers and state government to plan energy and transportation projects with more of a long-term vision.
“When you don’t build long-term costs into an endeavor, those costs are going to come back and bite you at some point,” Cordes said. “I think, in general — it’s been hard for us to follow a model where long-term costs are incorporated into the true costs of energy. In a capitalist society, it is true that unless there are incentives put in place, it may take a long time to be able to plan well to cover costs like carbon pollution.”
To that end, Cordes said she would support a carbon tax “if it were drafted well. I would want to make sure that this tax would not affect those who could least afford it.”
Cordes believes local communities should have more of a say in the siting of renewable energy projects — including solar arrays — within their borders. Currently, the PSB is the arbiter for such applications.
“I support solar arrays and wind turbines, with the caveat that it should be that community deciding together what that should look like,” Cordes said. “Planning needs to happen at the community level.”
Several area supervisory unions have voted to consolidate their governance and budgeting under Vermont’s Act 46. Cordes believes the new law includes too many mandates.
“The most important thing in correcting Act 46 is to provide incentives, not mandates,” Cordes said.
“For some districts, consolidation makes sense,” she added “For others, it doesn’t. I think smaller schools in rural areas need to be protected. They are still providing quality of services that are very much needed in those areas.”
Progressive tax reform, Cordes believes, would allow extra funding in the state’s General Fund to ease some of the education tax burden and still provide necessary services in schools.
Cordes is opposed to the notion of privatizing prisons, which she believes house too many inmates.
“I’m very concerned about the numbers of individuals we have in prison that probably don’t need to be there,” she said. “It’s a huge expense.”
She believes the state could minimize incarceration in the future by investing more in mental health services in the schools and providing more counseling on opiate addiction. Cordes also advocated for more rehab opportunities in light of the current waiting list for such services.
“I would like to be part of the concerted effort that is gathering around this issue,” Cordes said. “As a nurse, I have seen people die way too young, because they were trapped in the opiate addiction cycle.”
Cordes wants Vermont to revisit the notion of creating a publicly financed health care system.
“I think we’re going to have to get there in stages,” she conceded.
She noted two prominent bills now in the House, one that would set up a universal primary care system, the other calling for expansion of the state’s Dr. Dynasaur health care coverage for children.
“I do believe health care is a right and not a privilege,” Cordes said. “Many countries have very successfully come up with health care systems that are publicly financed.”
The current system is untenable, she said.
“I feel very strongly about how the health care system is rigged so that pharmaceutical companies can make billions of dollars off of human suffering, and at the same time refuse to make a medication that will save millions of lives because it won’t bring them enough profit,” Cordes said.
“I believe we need to remove profit from the system,” she added.
Cordes is looking forward to visiting a lot of people during her campaign.
“I am excited about this campaign,” she said. “I am driven.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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