Briggs launches second try for Senate seat, calls for lower taxes
ADDISON — Addison Republican Peter Briggs is taking another run at the state Senate, where he hopes to rally support for growing the economy and decreasing taxes.
Briggs, a 27-year-old dairy farmer, is making his second consecutive bid for one of the two seats in the Vermont Senate representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore. He finished third in 2016 in a four-way race that saw re-election of incumbent state Sens. Claire Ayer of Addison and Christopher Bray of New Haven, both Democrats.
Ayer has decided not to seek re-election after a 16-year run.
Briggs took a pass this year on running for a House seat representing the Addison-3 district. It could have been a smoother election path for him to join the state Legislature in January. Addison-3 — which includes the town’s of Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham — has historically been a GOP-friendly district, whereas county voters have for the past 16 years consistently picked Democrats to represent them in the state Senate.
Briggs acknowledged the Addison-3 option but noted he had announced early in the election cycle he was going to try again for the Senate. When the dust cleared after the May 29 filing deadline for major party candidates, the Addison-3 field included but two Democrats running unopposed or the two House seats. Now Briggs is involved in a Senate race that includes Bray and Middlebury Democrat Ruth Hardy.
Still, he has no regrets at how things turned out.
“When I say I’m going to do something, I don’t really feel right about switching mid-stream,” he said. “It wasn’t tough for me to say, ‘No,’ I’d really feel like I have to keep running for state Senate.”
He believes he could make a bigger impact in the state’s highest chamber on his main campaign priorities: Lowering taxes and growing the economy.
“Nothing has changed in Montpelier (during the past two years), for the most part,” Briggs said. “The state is still heading in the wrong direction, for those of us who are in the lower-income, working class bracket.
“We’ve got to reduce taxes or grow the economy if you want the state to become more competitive,” he added.
Briggs is not a fan of state efforts to increase the minimum wage or institute a so-called “livable wage.” Gov. Phil Scott in May vetoed a House- and Senate-passed bill that would have gradually increased the state’s minimum wage from the current $10.50 per hour to $15 by 2024.
“It’s just going to price a lot of us out of work, because the businesses we work for can’t justify paying $15 per hour, so they’re flat-out not going to hire us,” Briggs said. “How is that helpful to us?”
Briggs was among those who watched the state budget showdown between the governor and lawmakers during the recently concluded special legislative session. House and Senate Democrats — who hold substantial majorities in both chambers — argued that a one-time, $55 million budget surplus should be used to help draw down a deficit in Vermont’s teachers’ pension fund. Scott countered the money should be used to stabilize education property taxes this year. Scott last week allowed the latest budget proposal to pass without his signature as the prospect of a government shutdown loomed.
Ultimately, Briggs sided with Scott, but doesn’t believe the recent political skirmish did anything to address the state’s long-term financial problems and high taxes.
“I agree the teachers’ pension fund is going to have to be funded, because if you don’t do it, (the fund) will go bankrupt,” Briggs said. “But you also can’t just keep taking from us who produce, or we’re going to quit producing or go elsewhere.”
He believes the state will soon face a day of reckoning on its budget and taxation policies.
“Holding taxes would be beneficial,” Briggs said. “In the long run, this is a meaningless squabble over what year we’re going to go over the cliff in… The real discussion that needs to be had is whether we’re going to make a U-turn; are we going to turn away from this direction we’re heading?”
Another motivating factor for Briggs’ entry into the race was passage of S.55, a gun control measure that among other things requires universal background checks prior to buying a firearm, raises the minimum age for buying a firearm to 21 (with exceptions), bans “bump stocks” that allow a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon’s nearly continuous fire, and limit the capacity of gun magazines to 10 rounds.
Briggs was candid in his opposition to the new law and he blasted Gov. Scott for signing the measure. Scott endorsed the bill soon after the arrest of Jack Sawyer, 18, of Poultney, who in February had allegedly mapped out plans for a school shooting at Fair Haven Union High School.
“I can maybe forgive (Scott) for signing the bill, but I can never trust him again,” Briggs said. “I don’t support him anymore and I don’t trust him. If he’ll sell out his largest constituency (on gun rights), he’ll sell us out on anything.”
Briggs doesn’t believe Vermont needed the new rules and contends they wouldn’t have made a difference had they been in effect prior to the FHUHS case.
“Those of us who know guns and this issue know the law that was passed is really quite meaningless,” Briggs said. “Every one of those restrictions in S.55 is going to do nothing to stop (the FHUHS suspect).”
Violent video games, Briggs believes, are an increasing catalyst for the gun violence plaguing society. He continues to read up on theories of how the brain processes images of violence and how some people act upon that information. Briggs pointed to research indicating the average gamer has spent 10,000 hours playing video games by the time he or she turns 21.
“It is violence that is programming them toward these kinds of violent actions,” Briggs said.
“What we’re watching, we’re becoming.”
Briggs isn’t in favor of restricting guns or video games, though he believes parents should be mindful of what their kids are watching on TV.
“But if you want about to talk about restricting something, forget the firearms,” he said, contending that people intent on committing violent acts will use whatever weapon they might have at their disposal, whether it’s a knife or a semi-automatic rifle.
“It’s not the tool, it’s the person,” Briggs said
Briggs and his family are part of an agricultural industry now struggling through low milk prices and a facing a growing obligation to prevent manure runoff into the state’s waterways. Vermont is under a federal mandate to clean up its waterways, including Lake Champlain. Lawmakers are still looking at ways to fund the state’s share of the multi-million-dollar cleanup.
He pointed to statistics showing the state has 30 percent fewer cows and 30 percent more people than it did in 1975. As such, he believes the state should be targeting human waste through more stringent sewer plant regulations, rather than farms. Briggs said he wants more proof that farms are creating more pollution problems than municipal sewer plants.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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