Former auditor Randy Brock stresses jobs, the economy in run for Lt. Gov.
MIDDLEBURY — A half-century after earning his bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College, Randy Brock returned to his alma mater on Wednesday to encourage a new generation of Republican activists. He and former Gov. James Douglas of Middlebury were among the senior state GOP officials who helped the Vermont College Republicans group celebrate an election countdown event on campus.
Brock, 73, was happy to offer counsel to the young party faithful — but he was also asking them for votes.
That’s because the former Vermont state auditor and Franklin County state senator is currently running for lieutenant governor. He is facing state Sen. Dave Zuckerman of Hinesburg, who is running as a Democrat/Progressive. Current Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Berlin, is running for governor.
Brock has made a second career out of politics and public service following many years as a businessman. He founded and subsequently sold (in 1983) Brock International Security Corp. He then worked as a consultant for several years before joining Fidelity Investments as its executive vice president for risk oversight, a job that took him all over the world.
He got involved in state politics around 15 years ago after becoming frustrated with regional news headlines about tax increases and various health care/public education policies that were not to his liking.
“At times you get tired of watching the (statewide) news, throwing your shoes at the TV, and finding that it doesn’t really help,” Brock said with a chuckle.
And Brock said he’s never been content to sit on the sidelines.
“You’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution,” he said.
Brock believes his decades of experience in the business world have been, and would continue to be, an asset to state government. As state auditor from 2005 to 2007 and as a Franklin County senator from 2009 to 2013, Brock often took the pulse of various state and federal programs and then pitched ideas to make those programs work better. He now hopes to do that on a grander scale, as lieutenant governor. Brock sees the position as being more than presiding over the Senate and being ready to serve as governor in case of emergency or tragedy. He believes the lieutenant governor should serve as an ambassador to further the state’s economic development goals.
He was emphatic about where he believes the state could make some decent jobs gains.
“Information technology is a core skill that we need,” Brock said. “Why aren’t we focused on building an IT industry here in Vermont?”
And when it comes to schmoozing employers, Brock would like to see the state take a more personal approach than offering some tax credits. He advocated for direct meetings with entrepreneurs at which state officials could ask, “Tell us what you want.”
Brock is among the chorus of state politicians saying Vermont has an “affordability problem,” with high expenses and lower-wage jobs.
“There are people who’ve spent their lives here and say, ‘I don’t know if I can afford to retire here, because the costs are so high,’” Brock said.
He lamented the flow of young Vermonters to other states with more fertile economies. He noted Vermont’s low birth rate and its rank as 49th in the union for population growth.
Brock recalled a conversation with a man he encountered during his visit in August to Addison County Farm & Field Days. The man told Brock that he could no longer afford to live in Vermont and that he would soon be moving to northern Pennsylvania, where he could get a job that could cover his expenses.
“People are really affected by this,” Brock said. “What can we do about it?”
The solution, Brock believes, is boosting the state economy and, by extension, the number of quality jobs to keep young people in Vermont. Making progress in those areas, according to Brock, will lead to advances on other related issues like health care, education and property tax reform.
“It’s the cure to many of the problems that we face,” Brock said of a revitalized economy.
And Brock stressed that he is trying to prescribe potential cures at his campaign events, as opposed to parroting the bad news.
“I don’t want to over-emphasize the problems,” Brock said. “That’s what we Republicans are often accused of, and I think rightly so. We spend so much time talking about the problems that we give the impression it’s all gloom-and-doom. I firmly believe the glass is half full, not half empty.”
In a subtle jab at his party’s presidential candidate, Brock said, “I’m not here to ‘make Vermont great again’; Vermont’s already great. Our job is to make the state even better and preserve the things that’s made it great enough for us to want to live and prosper here.”
For Brock, that means stressing economic development and jobs growth.
If elected, Brock said he would advocate for simplifying the state’s property tax laws and conducting a comprehensive study of how the state’s broad-based taxes (income, sales, rooms and meals) work together to generate revenues.
Brock has pledged to find $100 million of state government savings. He promised those savings would come not from massive budget cuts and/or state employee layoffs, but rather though “prudent cost reductions, attracting capital, promoting new investments, innovating in the delivery of government services and encouraging the development of new niche industries.”
For example, Brock said the state could save money by paying a premium for the most competent administrators to steer state government clear of bad decisions and performance. He cited the Vermont Health Connect health insurance exchange as a prime example.
“I learned in business that if you’re going to be successful, you have to hire competent people to run organizations, otherwise it doesn’t work,” Brock said.
He vowed to call for a “war on error” in state government. He pointed to a study done while he was state auditor that revealed $2 million worth of mistakes in the state’s Medicaid program that had resulted from errors and inefficiencies in how drugs were prescribed and packaged.
“That was $1 million per year in savings,” he said of the impact of correcting the errors.
“We can do that (kind of study) again, and in other areas of state government,” he added.
Brock also wants state officials to do more “innovative thinking” and to collaborate more in their functions. And state government could benefit from periodic, independent performance reviews, according to Brock.
“We have a state government right now that exists in silos,” Brock said.
SCHOOLS AND SOLAR
In his wide ranging interview with the Independent, Brock also touched upon:
• Act 46, a new state law that calls for school governance consolidation within Vermont’s supervisory unions. All of the SUs in Addison County have either passed Act 46 referenda or will soon be holding such a vote.
While Brock understands the rationale behind advocating consolidation — reducing administrative costs and promoting more efficient operations — he is dubious about whether Act 46 will actually produce such results.
“I do have skepticism as to whether there’s really meaningful savings there,” Brock said. “What I have found is that the size of school districts doesn’t seem to entirely correlate with lower costs.”
Brock recalled during his Senate career sponsoring successful legislation advocating “virtual mergers.” It allows any combination of school districts to jointly finance and offer programs and services that they could not offer on their own, according to Brock.
“It hasn’t really been embraced by the educational industry,” Brock lamented.
Brock is also down on Act 46 because he said it will essentially end public school choice in Vermont.
• Solar siting. Brock believes local communities should have a bigger say in the approval process for solar arrays, and is also concerned about the prospect of large-scale renewable energy projects marring Vermont’s scenic landscape.
Instead, Brock said the state should promote smaller “community-scale” renewable energy projects.
“I’m concerned we are destroying the environment in order to save it,” Brock said. “Tourists don’t come to Vermont to see acres of solar panels.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].