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Charbonneau vies for Middlebury House seat

MIDDLEBURY — Going door-to-door in Middlebury is old hat to Jill Charbonneau.
It’s something she did year-round for around three decades as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, until her retirement in 2014. Her visits to homes were quite quick and casual, with time enough for a quick “Hello” or update on a marriage or a graduation.
Charbonneau has now resumed her rounds in Middlebury — this time without a satchel of letters to deliver. She’s going door-to-door as a candidate for one of the two Addison-1 House seats. And this time, she’s trying to linger a little bit at the homes she visits to get residents’ feedback on the problems they’d like to see solved in the Vermont Statehouse.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in Middlebury,” Charbonneau said on Monday during an interview at the Addison Independent. “You get to know people, their families, when children are born and you see them grow up.”
Charbonneau, 60, is among three Democrats in the running this year in Addison-1, the House district that encompasses Middlebury. The other candidates are incumbent Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, and Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Robin Scheu.
That field of three Dems. will be whittled down to two during the Aug. 9 primary election. But regardless of how that Democratic primary plays out, Charbonneau’s name will appear on the General Election ballot for Addison-1, because she’s also running as a Progressive Party candidate.
Once again, no Republicans will be running in Addison-1. Middlebury voters have consistently and overwhelmingly voted for Democrats in recent years.
Interest in the Addison-1 seat is heightened this year by the retirement of longtime Rep. Betty Nuovo. The Middlebury selectboard will be heralding Nuovo’s contributions to state and local politics at a special ceremony to be held at the town offices from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14.
Charbonneau was born at Porter Hospital and was raised in North Ferrisburgh. She is a graduate of Vergennes Union High School and the University of Vermont, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She gave in to wanderlust after picking up her diploma, spending several months living her dream of traveling with a friend throughout the country in a Volkswagen bug.
But she knew her future was rooted in Vermont. She got a job with the post office in 1983, first stationed in Burlington and Winooski. She transferred to the Middlebury Post Office in 1987 and has been here ever since. She has been very active in USPS union causes. Charbonneau is the former president of the Vermont State Labor Council AFL/CIO and is the current president of the State Association of Letter Carriers AFL/CIO.
“I’ve had a long history of union activism,” Charbonneau said. She has represented the interests of around 300 city letter carriers on labor matters and other workplace issues in a governmental industry that has been steadily shrinking. The union has been fighting for, among other things, preserving six-day mail delivery and keeping post offices open. The group also wants to see the reopening of some mail processing facilities that were recently closed, and the resumption of overnight delivery services. She said while letter traffic has been on the decline, the USPS is seeing growth in parcel deliveries.
“For postal service to be viable, we need to go to doors six days a week and we need to be able to deliver mail in a timely manner,” Charbonneau said.
Charbonneau has wanted to run for the Legislature for a long time, but was barred from doing so as a federal employee. Now retired, Charbonneau is happy to run for office, and she’s picked up the endorsement of a politician who has a lot of experience working with unions — U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“I’m ‘feeling the Bern,’” Charbonneau said in repeating the Sanders campaign slogan.
She credited both Nuovo and Sheldon for having maintained what she called a 100 percent voting record on labor issues and pledged to do the same if elected to an Addison-1 seat.
“The door just opened (with Nuovo’s retirement), and I am excited to be running,” Charbonneau said.
She’ll spend the summer and early fall asking Middlebury voters about their priorities on issues including health care, the state budget, renewable energy, taxes and public education. She got her feet wet campaigning while gathering signatures for her nomination petition. The upcoming primary, she believes, will give her and her colleagues an impetus to take the early pulse of the local electorate on this issues of the day.
“We really have three fine candidates,” Charbonneau said. “(The primary) is a motivator to get out, knock on doors and get to see people and hear what they are thinking.”
Charbonneau shared some of her campaign priorities.
She is a longtime supporter of a single-payer health care system for Vermont. She acknowledged the state explored such a transition but the Shumlin administration abandoned it after a major study showed it to be too costly to implement. But Charbonneau said she and some state officials aren’t ready to give up on single-payer.
“It would provide financial relief to families,” she said.
If the state is unable to make a leap to a single-payer plan in one fell swoop, Charbonneau believes in taking a first step through universal access to primary care. The Shumlin administration in January unveiled a report suggesting that Vermont could adopt universal access to primary care for its citizens for around $280 million.
Charbonneau noted that in comparison, the University of Vermont Medical Center has proposed spending $187 million for a new in-patient services building on its Colchester campus. She also pointed to preliminary Green Mountain Care Board data showing that several hospitals statewide took in a combined total of almost $50 million in revenues beyond what regulators had approved for the past fiscal year. Such resources, she believes, could be diverted to universal primary care.
Also high on Charbonneau’s list is increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, up from the current $9.60. She’s conceded that increase can’t occur all at once.
“I sincerely believe people who work full-time should be able to house themselves, feed themselves and look forward to a retirement without poverty,” she said.
Climate change and converting to renewable energy sources are also among Charbonneau’s priorities. She is against hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting natural gas from the ground and thus is not a fan of the Addison Natural Gas Project. That project, now under construction, calls for a natural gas pipeline extending from Colchester into Middlebury and Vergennes.
Charbonneau said she could support legalizing possession of recreational marijuana, so long as it could be done to the satisfaction of law enforcement and health care providers.
“By regulating marijuana, we would have larger control over who has access,” Charbonneau said, adding the state could benefit from pot-related revenues.
She supports school governance unification through Act 46 — a step that several Addison County supervisory unions have already taken.
“It appears to be a good vehicle to save money, ” she said of Act 46. “It brings the community a little closer around education, which I think is a good thing.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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