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Monkton’s Mullin underscores ‘affordability’ in third House run

MONKTON — Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin is hoping the third time will be the charm when it comes to her latest effort to win one of two seats representing the Addison-4 district in the Vermont House.
Mullin, 59, amassed respectable vote totals in both the 2014 and 2016 elections, but not enough to out-poll incumbent Reps. Fred Baser, R-Bristol and Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol.
But with Sharpe taking a pass on re-election after a 16-year run, Mullin believes this could be her year. She will again join Baser on the Republican side of the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Residents in the Addison-4 towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro will go to the polls on Aug. 14 to determine which two of four competing Democrats will face Baser and Mullin in November. Those Democrats include Mary Cordes and Paul Forlenza of Lincoln, Caleb Elder of Starksboro and Rob Demic of Bristol (see related story).
“I think it’s because I’m an eternal optimist,” she said of her return to the political scene.
Mullin is a native Vermonter and a Mount Abraham Union High School graduate. She’s a mom and independent businessperson, having taught skincare techniques and mentoring women nationally on the subject of entrepreneurship and financial independence.
She previously co-owned and operated “Needleworks and Crafts,” a craft supply store in Charlotte that eventually expanded to locations in downtown Burlington and Ticonderoga, N.Y.
Her husband Rob Mullin is assistant fire chief for Charlotte and is involved with Monkton First Response. He helps train firefighters from throughout the state, according to Mullin.
Valerie Mullin is spending a lot of time these days volunteering with Champlain Valley Rescue, a nonprofit group that saves dogs from shelters in other states that have kill policies when the animals aren’t promptly adopted.
As in past years, Mullin will be emphasizing “affordability” and “quality schools” during her campaign. She doesn’t believe the state has made any progress on those issues since she first became a candidate four years ago. Act 46, which has consolidated school governance in most of the state’s school districts, has failed to produce significant savings, she says.
“I’m an optimist in hoping Vermonters can look at what issues are important to them and if financial stability for our economy is important, then I’d like to think I’m the one to address that issue better than what has been done in the past with our majority in Montpelier.”
Gov. Phil Scott, in a memo to state lawmakers this past May, indicated the state’s education fund could experience as much as a $58 million deficit during fiscal year 2019, partly as a result of using one-time funds to pay down residential property tax rates. Meanwhile, Scott and lawmakers jousted last month during a special session over what to do with a $55 million surplus in state revenues. Gov. Scott wanted to use the one-time money to buy down education property taxes, while a majority of lawmakers suggested some be used to buy-down tax rates with a good amount to also be used to backfill a deficit in the teachers’ pension fund.
Scott ultimately agreed to let the Senate-proposed budget pass without his signature.
Mullin warned the state can’t keep boosting residential and non-residential property tax rates, or risk losing more of its residents to other states with friendlier tax policies and more jobs. She noted those who pay non-residential property taxes are not just those with second homes, but also include businesses and landlords who need to remain competitive.
“Vermonters are tapped out,” she said of citizens’ capacity to pay more taxes, though two-thirds of the non-residential property tax is paid by those living out-of-state.
Mullin said she’s attended job fairs in Vermont at which entrepreneurs have routinely been asked how the state could assist businesses and promote new jobs. Their answer, according to Mullin, has consistently been a call for fewer regulations, lower utility rates and more affordable conditions for workers.
Business leaders, Mullin believes, aren’t necessarily looking for new programs to help them lay down roots in Vermont, they’re looking for fewer bureaucratic obstacles. In the meantime, she’s advocating for the state to designate a person or agency to let businesspeople know what permits they need to advance their plans.
“All these programs are being created that are costing the state money, when that’s not what businesses are telling us they need or want,” Mullin said. “They don’t want another program, they want it to be more affordable to build and stay in our state.”
She’s also concerned about the rising cost of health insurance. Like many other GOP candidates, she’s suggesting prices would come down if more competition were allowed into the insurance market. She’d also believes Vermonters could strike better deals by purchasing their health insurance across state lines.
Gun control became a major issue during the 2018 legislative session, after state police in February took into custody an 18-year-old Poultney youth who had allegedly mapped out plans for a shooting spree at Fair Haven Union High School. In response, Scott signed 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, 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 (with exemptions).
Mullin called herself  “pro-Second Amendment,” and said lawmakers should have responded to the FHUHS situation by developing a comprehensive plan to make schools safe, rather than focusing on gun regulations.
“To lead with gun control, to me, is disappointing,” she said. “The bigger picture should have been ‘How can we make our schools safer?’ I think an opportunity was missed when the focus was so narrow.”
For example, placing police in satellite offices in schools could deter would-be shooters, according to Mullin. She added retired police officers could also be recruited for volunteer shifts walking down school hallways.
“People want to help,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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