Vermont House candidates Q&A: Addison-4


ADDISON COUNTY — All of Addison County’s incumbent state senators and representatives will run for re-election Nov. 3, and many 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.
As part of our election coverage, the Independent is publishing a series of legislative candidate Q&As, grouped by contest.
We asked each candidate the same six questions and offered them space for additional comment. For a list of the questions, see the Q&A sidebar.
In Addison-4 (Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro) four candidates are running for two seats: incumbent Mari Cordes (D), Lynn Dike (R), incumbent Caleb Elder (D) and Valerie Mullin (R).

1. Economy: Population projections can and do miss the mark because of unforeseen factors. In fact, Vermont is currently facing a home selling boom likely in part because our success in managing COVID-19 is inspiring migration into the state. That being said, Vermont needs progressive tax reform to reduce property tax rates and return to an economy where the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share. A recently published Rand study shocked many economists with the increase in income inequality since 1975.  American workers have lost $50 trillion or $2.5 trillion/year in 2018 dollars, a massive income shift to the top 1%. Billionaires made 500 billion dollars more during the pandemic while thousands of Vermonters were suddenly without income. In addition to tax reform, I’ll continue to support stimulus dollars for green energy jobs and agriculture; affordable housing, increased broadband access, and address disparities in education, housing, transportation, and healthcare. 
2. School outcomes: First, kids do best when educators have the resources they need, and when educators and students are leading discussions about how education happens. I will continue to support improved public funding for all education including community college to enable statewide tuition-free access, and believe our legislative “bridge funding” to the Vermont State College system was a wise use of Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars. I am a strong supporter of programs like dual enrollment, trade schools, and public/business collaborative workforce development, particularly in green energy, technology, construction, and health care. My House Healthcare Committee developed comprehensive healthcare workforce development supports, which we will continue in 2021. Finally, with more education happening online, broadband access is a must. 
3. School consolidation: Every community in Vermont is unique in its demographics, geography, and access to resources, and each has a different story to tell about the impact of school consolidation upon them. Some describe increased travel times for students, loss of participatory democracy with uncertain academic outcomes and economic benefit. Others have experienced increased access to resources with decreased administrative costs. Much has changed since Act 46, but we should maintain the local participation and autonomy of schools as much as possible, and strive to adequately and equitably fund smaller rural schools. Our district is doing great community-led work to envision how we can make our schools value-added social centers. We must reform how we pay for education at the state level, including seriously considering the recommendations of the Pupil Weighting Factor Report and or moving to income-based school taxes.
4. Environment: I will continue to prioritize bold action addressing the climate emergency. Our environmental commons, watersheds, and ecosystems are all connected and directly impacted by the impacts of climate change. And they are what we all love so much about Vermont. Forest, agricultural land, air, and water health all contribute to the reduction and sequestration of greenhouse gases, as well as help us strengthen our resilience to storms, heat, and drought. Our tools include a combination of resource and conservation mapping, protection of biodiversity and wildlife corridors, zoning changes, empowering municipalities to create local solutions, income-sensitive weatherization and transportation supports, investing in regenerative agriculture, and more. We must strategically analyze where we are currently spending money, and pivot as quickly as possible to creating new jobs, a renewable energy infrastructure, and a green economy. In doing so, we will protect those most vulnerable to the devastating impacts of the climate crisis.
5. Health care: We have a high number of under-insured individuals and families in Vermont. The Legislature has been able to increase access/reduce costs to some degree, but we are subject to constraints of the federal government and even more so to the whims of high-profit corporations. Our affordability task-force worked with state fiscal experts to develop policies to ease or remove the benefits cliff. Time and COVID interrupted, but I’ll continue this work to reduce costs for Vermonters, including medication costs.
I’m not convinced that the Accountable Care Organization will reduce costs and improve health outcomes.  Consolidation, loss of local businesses to chains such as Marble Works have had a negative impact; I will work to interrupt this pattern. We desperately need a national, publicly funded health care system; we are spending so much money on administration and corporate profits that should instead be used to give everyone in Vermont access.   
6. Agriculture: The pandemic has shown us the incredible value of Vermont resilience through rapid deployment of mutual aid groups, community support for anyone experiencing food insecurity, and the critical need for a strong local food infrastructure. I rallied to ensure that farmworkers excluded from federal stimulus dollars receive stimulus equity from Vermont. We want to keep Vermont dollars in state and ensure you can buy a tomato from across the road instead of across the country. I support the provision of financial incentives and compensation for regenerative practices and grants and low-interest loans to farmers and food producers.   
7. Candidates Choice: Saving the Dream of Democracy. We are at a frightening precipice. Women, LGBTQIA, Black, Indigenous and People of Color, refugees and asylum seekers have been under increased attack by our own government, emboldening a dramatic increase in violent hate. Ordinary Americans are under attack, including peaceful protestors and the media trying to protect our threatened democratic institutions. The current president has turned us against each other and would have us believe that those striving to stop the rise of fascism in our country are our enemies, when they are our heroes. I will fight for and with you for the Vermont and the America we dream of.

1. Economy: The first thing I would propose is to stop placing unfunded mandates on employers. The employer/business should be able to set the wages and benefits they are able to provide and the potential employee has a choice whether to accept them or not. Merit raises are an excellent motivator.
Some employees receive on-the-job training when they start a new job, others must have been trained when they apply for a job. If costly training is required, adults should be able to access financial aid if necessary. 
2. School outcomes: The first thing, or course, is to provide more vocational, technical and business classes in the high school curriculum.
I believe it would serve our students well to have more focus on the practical skills needed for adult life, such as money management and work ethics, along with some problem-solving and character-building activities. Many people do not have these basic skills when they join the work force.
3. School consolidation: I wish that state lawmakers had not opened this Pandora’s box in the first place. There seems to be such a rush to ‘fix’ things that the unintended consequences of the issues do not even get considered. This is what happens when there is no balance in the Legislature — questions don’t even get brought up, never mind answered. I don’t see the promised savings or the reduction in our property taxes but I do see a great cost to communities that did not want to consolidate but have been forced to. 
4. Environment: The first priority with our environment should be our water.
5. Health care: I would prioritize preventative care and maintenance. For the senior citizens this would mean that every one of them would be able to get glasses, dental care, dentures and hearing aides if needed. I would also want to see insurance coverage for naturopathic medicine, chiropractors, etc. We should stop being forced to pay for procedures which some of us vehemently do not support. Right now, the medical system is not equal and balanced.
6. Agriculture: It seems like every time we turn around, farmers have a new regulation or unfunded mandate placed on them. It seems like they get fined a lot also. When is enough, enough? Our farmers should have our support and cooperation, not penalties. The regulations should be clear and easily achievable.
7. Candidate’s Choice: My topic of choice is liberty and justice for all. Every single person has that right. One definition of liberty is the power of choice. There are some who would take that away from anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Please remember, as much as you might like, want or disagree with something, someone else feels just the opposite and they have a right to. 

1. Economy: I believe the following measures would be helpful for the Vermont economy: 1. Increase the availability of childcare. This means continuing to invest in pre-K programs while also supporting more options for age 0-3. 2. Enable renewable energy development again. Wind isn’t happening at all and even solar projects have been forced into semi-dormancy over the past several years through excessive regulation. 3. Lean into the electrification of transportation: From buses, to cars, to utvs, scooters and bikes, electric vehicles have arrived. If we build a good infrastructure — not just charging stations, but also safer routes for slower traffic — we will bolster the tourist economy while helping Vermonters transition to carbon-free transportation safely and affordably. 4. We need to continue ramping up our work on broadband expansion so that remote work opportunities exist across all 14 counties.
2. School outcomes: We need continued investment in our tech centers to ensure they have the programs that the local economy demands. I would like to see tech centers provide opportunities for students to work in their field of interest during high school if possible, through accredited internships with local companies. I believe this model could be especially powerful for healthcare job training, particularly with nursing and pre-med students. We could create more programming around healthcare in general, as well as expanding licensing opportunities at tech centers. At the same time, we should strengthen the relationship between tech center nursing programs with the excellent VTC nursing program. Of course our public school students should also have the opportunity to pursue a more traditional college-prep curriculum. But for those students too, there should be opportunities to try out different trades or professions before figuring out their next educational or professional destination. 
3. School consolidation: Right now, this isn’t a decision for state lawmakers but for school board members and local voters. Each district will be advised by their superintendent about the costs and benefits of closing schools. As a member of the MAUSD board, I have joined in discussing multiple scenarios. The most extreme of these would close four of our five elementary schools, bringing students from all five towns to Bristol for preK-12 education on two campuses. The presumed benefits of this would be significantly reducing operational costs and adding some programming, while stabilizing existing programs. As for the costs of this approach, towns would lose their schools, which currently meet families and students closer to home while serving as community hubs. Additionally, MAUSD would give up four buildings for no compensation, though they are in good working order and carry little debt. By contrast, operating preK-12 on two campuses in Bristol would likely require renovation and a construction bond.
4. Environment: My priorities for environmental legislation center on addressing climate change through emission reduction efforts as well as through resiliency-building. Second to climate is clean water and of course those causes are strongly linked. During the past biennium I was happy to vote for new, significant funding for lake cleanup. And just this past week I was proud to cast a vote to override Governor Scott’s veto of the Global Warming Solutions Act. We need the GWSA to hold us accountable to our stated climate goals. Additionally, we need to participate in the regional transportation climate initiative. The revenues from that agreement could be used to invest in the necessary infrastructure to transform our transportation sector in Vermont. I was interested to hear the Governor announce a new tax credit for research and development of electric transportation technology. I applaud that effort, and would like to see more ideas like that rolled out. 
5. Health care: I think it is time to reevaluate the performance of the accountable care organization, OneCare. I was hopeful that an ACO model could help contain healthcare costs for Vermonters. If OneCare’s goal of holding cost increases to around 3% a year were achieved that would be a huge improvement. However, we haven’t seen the needle move much so far and participation in the OneCare program appears to be unsustainably low. I think time will tell, but maybe not much more time. At this point, I believe we need to focus on achieving universal access to primary care. Eliminating barriers to primary care will make us all healthier and less expensive to insure in the long run. I was a co-sponsor on a universal primary care bill in the last session, but the effort really didn’t get off the ground. I will take this cause back up in 2021 if re-elected and help to push for a better outcome.
6. Agriculture: In this biennium we passed a ban on poisons known as neonicotinoids in common household products, due to their disastrous effects on our bee populations. Relatively little farming would be possible without bees and other pollinators, and it’s critical for us to understand how our food security is intertwined with these species’ population health. Similarly I think that efforts to protect our waterways and lakes are closely linked to the agricultural potential in our state. In the coming biennium I would like to see a ban on glyphosate moving forward since it is a presumed carcinogen for humans. 
7. Candidate’s Choice: On Institutional Racism in Vermont: Racism exists in all types of institutions across our country and our state as well. Acknowledging this reality is a step towards fixing the problem. When we look at policy around criminal justice, policing, public education, housing and personal finance we have to keep this reality in mind. Each bill should be viewed through such a lens, so that the question is asked: Is there an opportunity in this legislation to promote equity, either through policy or investment? I see this approach to legislating as an ongoing ethical imperative. Pursuing a just society and a just economy will strengthen us all, and could deliver a kind of prosperity we have not experienced before in the Green Mountains. 

1. Economy: The Vermont legislature has not acted during good times to address significant fiscal issues including pension underfunding and transportation needs. This inaction by the incumbents will magnify the challenges we will face due to a drop in tax revenue from the impacts of COVID-19. A serious fiscal examination of every program in terms of cost benefit per tax dollar should be required to support the annual state budget. Currently, the state funds many non-profits or quasi-government entities that are not held to measurable outcomes. This should end. 
Despite the downturn, employers are still struggling to find help. Perhaps this is a function of UI assistance in the short term. However, the state should examine policies for unemployment and social safety net going forward as we recover from the pandemic so Vermonters will be supported to seek employment rather than getting stuck in an unemployment “rut.” 
2. School outcomes: There needs to be serious examination of our educational system. While the state has encouraged consolidation to save costs, property tax continues to rise and outcomes are declining. Other states allow much more flexibility with school choice and charter schools, which the legislative majority continues to set aside in favor of the union support. 
Since the pandemic interest in homeschooling has dramatically increased. Parents found that the work involved in distance learning was substantial and determined schooling their own children would not be much more effort. As in other states, parents control over learning environments may lead to better outcomes. Those who can afford it can hire tutors, further dividing those with means and those without. Children, especially at-risk will be far behind if the state and local schools do not address a method of ensuring these students have achieved the needed learning. I am in favor of children returning to school full time as soon as possible. 
3. School consolidation: There has not been a fiscal benefit so far of consolidation and in some districts has had the opposite effect. Public school choice and charter schools, if implemented on a district-by-district level, will lead to natural consolidation-based quality and parental decisions in a much better way than forced consolidation by legislative fiat. 
4. Environment: The state of Vermont has the capacity to bond to assist communities in expanding holding capacity of municipal wastewater systems to avoid storm overflows into waterways and lakes. The ratepayers in these communities themselves cannot shoulder this burden alone. It would be the best way to ensure water quality for Vermont’s future as the agricultural sector has done a great deal to reduce its phosphorous load. Open land is best protected by supporting our agricultural industries — see more in my response on the agriculture question. 
5. Health care: The cost of health care insurance and health care services in Vermont are unaffordable. We need to have insurance options with high deductibles, encourage industry groups to again sponsor plans, reduce red tape and promote price transparency. Those are things we can do in Vermont. To some degree real reform in health care is likely to come from federal action, rather than state.
The Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) is not controlling costs, but seems to be controlled by the hospitals and insurance companies. The Accountable Care organization(s), or ACOs, like the GMCB, is a costly bureaucracy that has increased, not reduced costs. 
6. Agriculture: Most of our farms have embraced the spirit of Required Agricultural Practices, yet extreme environmental groups are still bent on attacking the agricultural community and have great influence in our legislature, without knowing the facts. Farmers protect the environment, grow our food, keep the land open and provide a carbon “sink” offsetting the carbon produced by all of us. If more people like me were elected to the legislature we could start to turn around this anti-farm attitude so prevalent in our current legislature. 
7. Candidate’s Choice: A carbon tax, the result of the GWSA passed by the legislature, will increase the tax burden on working Vermonters already struggling while creating yet another unaccountable state bureaucracy. 
As a representative I support commonsense environmental solutions but would not support a carbon tax of any kind or any law which creates more unaccountable bureaucracies in state government which can regulate or tax without direct authority of the legislature. We have come to a point where legislatures, have continually passed off their responsibilities to other government branches or boards. I believe this is costly and wrong. 
I encourage voters of all parties to visit to see how your representatives have voted this past session. 

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