Slate of legislative candidates firms up
MIDDLEBURY — All of Addison County’s incumbent state senators and representatives will run for re-election this November. And a combined total of seven challengers have stepped up to make sure there will be competition for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore, as well as in five of the county’s six House districts.
Information on file with the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office shows Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, is the only county lawmaker to not have competition at this point. But that could change, as independent candidates have until Aug. 6 to file their election paperwork with the state.
The Independent, per its custom, will offer sit-down interviews to all declared challengers. This story focuses on the incumbents and what is motivating them to seek another two years under the Golden Dome — whenever it reopens for the people’s business.
Incumbent state Sens. Chris Bray, D-Bristol, and Ruth Hardy, D-Middlebury, will again face a challenge from Addison Republican Peter Briggs.
Bray chairs the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee and sits on the Senate Government Operations Committee.
“The biggest thing I would want to get back to continue working on — especially because COVID-19 has reined in what we’ve hoped to get done this year — is work on energy and environment issues.”
Bray said he’s proud of having successfully shepherded through the Senate a bill aimed at “moving Vermont toward the creation of an all fuels energy-efficiency utility.” He’d like to see this new utility — to be operated much like Efficiency Vermont to electricity — focus on thermal energy and transportation.
The new utility, according to Bray, could spearhead energy- efficiency initiatives in a manner that would keep spending local and create new jobs within the thermal and transportation industries.
“At the same time, there’s the environmental dividend of reducing emissions at a time when we have to reduce them,” he said. “The pandemic we’re facing right now is dramatic and real, and we’re paying a lot of attention to it. But I think the magnitude of the costs and problems climate change bring us makes COVID-19 pale by comparison.”
Hardy, completing her first term in office, said she’d like another two years to help work on the financial problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. She serves on the Senate Education and Agriculture committees.
“We’re in the midst of a really difficult and strange budgeting process right now,” she said. “We’re seeing a huge loss in state revenues, which puts a lot of pressure on the state budget across the board. At the same time, we have a substantial amount of federal funding coming in, but that funding has a lot of strings attached. We’re trying to allocate relief funds and balance the budget at the same time. It’s very challenging.
“If am I re-elected, I would love to continue to work on education issues — that’s an area I know really, really well,” she added “It’s something that’s going to need a lot of attention as we move forward in this financial crisis. How are we going to fund schools and how are state colleges and universities going to survive in this crisis? And how are child care services going to be able to survive?”
Rep. Robin Scheu, D-Middlebury, serves on the House Ways & Means Committee, which helps draft tax policy for the state. She said the state will have to deal with massive losses of revenue due to COVID-19.
Scheu noted consumption taxes have taken a particular hit during the pandemic, as people haven’t been spending money. And she emphasized that consumption taxes typically pay for one-third of the costs of public education.
“When you lose one-third, that’s huge,” she said.
At the moment, Scheu said she’s concerned with getting Vermonters through the pandemic. Looking ahead, she wants to support legislation that “works for all Vermonters.” She continues to support efforts to pass a paid family leave bill, among others.
“This crisis has really shown people how broken all of our systems are,” Scheu said. “It’s cracked everything open, whether it’s child care or health care, the way we think about our economy, how we think about education, and climate issues.
“We’re seeing what’s important and what needs fixing,” she added. “And a lot of things need fixing.”
Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, chairs the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee.
“I’m proud to represent Middlebury and want to keep working on the issues that matter to my constituents and all Vermonters,” she said. “The COVID crisis has intensified our awareness of the important issues that I am passionate about and campaigned on previously: health care, education and the environment and how all of these can be part of creating an economic system that is good for people and the planet. Our progress is often incremental but sometimes moves faster. The COVID crisis will likely provide us with the chance to make progress in important areas, and I want to be part of that.”
Looking ahead, Sheldon said, “I am still hopeful that we can pass the Act 250 bill that House Natural Resources worked on this session, but if not this year then that will be a priority for me next session. These changes address climate, protect important forest resources, wildlife habitat and promote downtown development. Protecting our environment will be critical as we see an influx of people who want to live in Vermont due to concerns about the virus.”
Conlon serves on the House Education Committee, and wants to have another two years on that panel.
“I hope to be able to continue my work on the Education Committee,” he said. “The challenges that Vermont has faced with declining enrollment and inequities across our system have only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Vermont has many challenges ahead, I would like to be part of helping our state continue our progress through these challenging times,” he added. “I don’t have an agenda or single issue I am looking to push. I want to be part of common-sense solutions that will keep us set for the next 20 years.”
Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, is finishing his freshman term. He serves on the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs.
If re-elected, Birong wants to continue to be what he described as a “workforce, employee-focused, business-owning voice in the Legislature.”
“Given the current situation we’re in with COVID, I think that’s been amplified as a cause and purpose,” he said.
Birong continues to network with his colleagues and members of the state’s Congressional delegation to get more help for working families during a time of crisis.
“I’m more dedicated to this job than ever,” said Birong, who owns 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes.
Fellow Vergennes Democrat Rep. Diane Lanpher serves on the House Appropriations Committee. As such, she has been directly involved with managing the state’s COVID-related fiscal woes.
Appropriations has spent the past few months recalculating and recalibrating state budget numbers to reflect dipping revenues due to COVID. She said Vermont now has $1.25 billion in federal stimulus dollars to revitalize its economy. And it will be up to state officials to apportion them in a manner that will help Vermonters and help the state transition to a post-COVID economy.
“COVID has dramatically changed almost every aspect of our life — our health care, our education, businesses have been impacted, along with other things,” she said. “What I’ll be working on is a continuation of making sure we can keep Vermont’s government operational in a manner that taxpayers can afford and agree with.”
Rep. Mari Cordes is rounding out her first term on the House Health Care Committee.
“I am running for re-election, and am very motivated,” the Lincoln Democrat said. “After a lot of hard work this past session on improving access to health care — including mental health, decreasing prescription drug costs, and comprehensive COVID-19 measures for the entire Vermont health care system, I’m more committed than ever to organize to build an equitable system that is universal, not attached to employment or profit; eliminates the benefits cliff; and protects the most vulnerable. I will also work with my district to ensure we support and strengthen communities, schools and local businesses and farms and food systems to build resilience, using what we’ve learned from the pandemic and what we know about the climate emergency.”
Rep. Caleb Elder, D-Starksboro, is also concluding his freshman term. He serves on the House Education Committee.
If re-elected, he wants to focus on helping the state navigate through COVID-19, while supporting measures that combat climate change and improve economic conditions for Vermonters — particularly women, who continue to fight for equality in the workforce.
“In 2020, I’ll be trying to help people come together to help stabilize the most vital parts of our economy — which include our public schools — and also do that in a spirit of being proactive and forward looking and not skidding on the brakes of our old system as we try to get that back on line,” Elder said.
He would, however, like to return to the old system of meeting with colleagues and constituents at the Statehouse.
“I really want to get back into the building,” he said. “I don’t want my legislative term to end on Zoom.”
Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, serves on the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee. He and Lanpher and Bray are the county’s most veteran lawmakers.
He cited water quality — including phosphorous reduction — and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as among the top issues he’d like to work on if granted two more years.
“We are definitely going to be challenged with jobs, businesses and how we’re going to restart the economy and make up for the incredible loss,” Smith said. “I don’t think we’re totally going to make up the loss. But how do we deal with that loss?”
Smith believes that, unfortunately, some existing Addison County businesses won’t be reopening.
“I don’t think everybody is going to survive being shut down three or four months without any income and still have all their overhead expenses there,” he said. “There may be some new people to step in, at the same time. We’ve created a real niche in craft beer and wineries of all types. There have been challenges for all folks, and a lot of them were kind of close to the ropes before (COVID-19). Now, I’m wondering what the shake-out is going to look like.”
Smith is also concerned about returning public education to a sense of normalcy.
“Are we going back to the old way of providing services in the buildings?’ he asked. “What’s it going to look like?”
Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, serves on the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. He is rounding out his second two-year term.
“What I see for the next session is basically rebuilding our state,” he said. “The deficit caused by the COVID-19 shutdown will be with us for years to come. I think we all realize our cellular and Wi-Fi infrastructure is lagging and needs help. The few things that we should take away from the shutdown is that our local food system is very important, buy local, support local. I think the real estate market will be hot when people realize what we have here in Vermont, and that if they can work from home, they will be living a good life and a place to raise their family. Hence, more taxpayers and students in our schools.”
This is a list of the major party candidates who have filed paperwork with Vermont Secretary of State’s Office in order to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. State law allows independent candidates until Aug. 6 to file their paperwork.
Incumbents are marked +
State Senate, Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore. Two seats
+ Christopher Bray, New Haven Democrat
Peter Briggs, Addison Republican
+ Ruth Hardy, Middlebury Democrat
Addison-1. Two seats
Thomas Hughes, Middlebury Republican
+ Robin Scheu, Middlebury Democrat
+ Amy Sheldon, Middlebury Democrat
Addison-2. One seat
+ Peter Conlon, Cornwall Democrat
Addison-3. Two seats
+ Matt Birong, Vergennes Democrat
+ Tim Buskey, Addison Republican
+ Diane Lanpher, Vergennes Democrat
Addison-4. Two seats
+ Mari Cordes, Lincoln Democrat
Lynn Dike, Bristol Republican
+ Caleb Elder, Starksboro Democrat
Valerie Mullin, Monkton Republican
Addison-5. One seat
Jubilee McGill, Bridport Democrat
+ Harvey Smith, New Haven Republican
Addison-Rutland-1. One seat
+ Terry Norris, Shoreham Independent
Barbara Wilson, Shoreham Democrat
High Bailiff. One seat
Ron Holmes, Middlebury Democrat
Dave Silberman, Middlebury Democrat
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