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In House bid, Bristol’s Demic says stellar education system is key

BRISTOL — Robert Demic beat the odds in 2008 when he miraculously survived a more than 40-foot fall from the roof of a downtown Middlebury building.
Now the Bristol Democrat is hoping his good fortune and tenacity will earn him a spot in the Vermont House in his first-ever campaign. He is seeking one of the two seats representing the Addison-4 district, which includes the towns of Bristol, Monkton, Starksboro and Lincoln.
Demic, a local building contractor and theater enthusiast, finds himself embroiled in the most hotly contested House race in Addison County.
He will first have to survive an Aug. 14 Democratic primary that also features Mary Cordes and Paul Forlenza, both of Lincoln, and Caleb Elder of Starksboro. The top two vote-getters in that primary will face incumbent Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, and Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin (see related story).
Fanning interest in the Addison-4 race has been the announced retirement of longtime incumbent Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol. Democrats are hoping to hold on to that seat as they try to rebuild a veto-proof majority in the House.
Demic, 62, said he has often thought about running for the House, but was satisfied with the representation of Sharpe and former Addison-4 Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln. Like most folks, he had been more of an armchair politician, content to react to laws passed in Montpelier and Washington, D.C.
But a series of tragic school shootings in other states — coupled with an alleged planned attempt earlier this year by a youth at Fair Haven Union High School — prompted Demic to become more publicly vocal about his views on various issues, including gun control.
“I think we should draw the line on semi-automatic weapons,” Demic said.
He posted a couple of gun control opinion pieces on social media this past spring and got a favorable response from friends and neighbors. Some of them urged him to run for office to lend his voice and another vote to efforts targeting gun violence.
Those recruiting efforts alone didn’t sway Demic to enter the political fray. The deciding moment, he said, came through his late mother’s voice during a dream he experienced on May 25 — just four days before the filing deadline for major party candidates.
Her message, according to Demic: “Put up or shut up.”
So he gathered the signatures he needed to get on the ballot, and has begun campaigning as much as obligations at his small construction business — Robert Demic Inc. — will allow.
Demic moved to Bristol 26 years ago, though he’s lived in the Green Mountain State since 1975.
He had been living in Kentucky after having earned a bachelors of science in psychology-biology from Centre College in Danville, Ky.
“I didn’t feel like a good fit in Kentucky,” he said, noting many of his political views were more liberal than those of many in the Bluegrass State.
A girlfriend suggested he move north to Vermont. He did, and never looked back.
“When I got here, I knew I was going to stay,” Demic said.
And like many transplants, he had to work varied and multiple jobs to make ends meet. His résumé includes stints cleaning a convent in Bennington and as a worker at the Ethan Allen Furniture Factory. He’s helped care for clients/residents at the Brattleboro Retreat, the former Brandon Training School and the Counseling Service of Addison County, thus giving him insights into the state’s mental health industry.
Demic has also worked for the Mary Johnson Children’s Center afterschool program, giving him a glimpse into early childhood development and family dynamics.
“My work history has given me a broad view of what’s going on in Vermont,” Demic said.
He’s been in the construction business for 35 years, experience he believes would be helpful in representing blue-collar families in the Statehouse.
Demic has also always been interested in the performing arts. He’s had a 25-year love affair with tap dancing and has lent his talents to multiple musicals at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury and at Burlington’s Lyric Theater.
“I’ve been told (tap dancing) might help in politics,” he said with a chuckle.
And he’s also dedicated himself to teaching dance, singing and acting techniques to younger Vermonters; he’s directed musicals at Vergennes Union High School for the past 24 years.
Under his tutelage, two generations of Addison Northwest students have hit the stage in such shows as “42nd Street,” “Grease” and “The Addams Family.”
Indeed, Demic owes a lot to dance. That’s how he met his wife, Barb, a tap teacher and choreographer for the VUHS musicals.
Demic has learned to appreciate dancing — and life — even more since June 9, 2008, when he nearly lost his life in downtown Middlebury after falling from the roof of 48 Main Street. He was on the roof taking photographs of his construction work, when he said he was knocked off his feet by what he maintains was some sort of electrical shock.
He dropped onto a ledge near the Otter Creek Falls. The fall shattered Demic’s right heel, thrust the bones of his lower leg up past the kneecap into the upper leg, and caused a compound fracture of the femur. At the same time, he cleanly severed an artery in the leg, suffered a broken collarbone and fractured bones throughout his body. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury, according to his physicians.
But with a lot of determination and support, Demic recovered to a point where he was able to resume work and directing musicals at VUHS.
While he walks with a pronounced limp, that hasn’t kept him away from the stage he loves so dearly. His new lease on life is inspiring him to increasingly go outside of his comfort zone. He’s willing to go all the way to Montpelier.
If elected, Demic said he’ll support policies to help Vermont develop and retain “high quality teachers.” He believes an excellent public school system will help Vermont attract young families and keep young Vermonters in their native state.
Demic believes it’s time for Vermont to stop using the property tax as its main education funding source. He’s not yet sure what other revenue source should replace the property tax, but he’s “ready to dig into it.”
He also wants to do more analysis of what some politicians call “tax breaks.” In some cases, those breaks can create holes in other areas of state and local budgets, according to Demic.
“A tax break that increases public debt is not a tax break,” he said.
Demic wants the state to encourage dairy farmers to diversify their operations so they are less dependent on a milk industry plagued by over-production and low prices. Specialty cheeses and hemp are examples of crops that could boost farmers’ revenues, he said.
Having announced his candidacy fairly late in the election cycle, Demic knows he’ll have to meet a lot of voters between now and Aug. 14. And when he does, he wants the discussions to be about facts and not hearsay.
“I want to run a facts-based campaign,” Demic said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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