Chamber of Vermont House of Representatives

Who Will Represent Vershire in the House?

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Local Candidates Speak Up

Folks around the coffee pot and craft circle in the Made In Vershire Shop have been wondering what our local candidates for public office have to say for themselves, so I took it upon myself to ask them.  In the interest of fairness, I posed the same three questions (plus the invitation for additional comment) to each of them via email rather than interviewing each of them separately.  Some I know better than others and I didn't want my personal bias to color the results.  In small communities it's kind of hard not to know our local representatives to Montpelier - and that's a good thing!  They need to know us, and to know what's important to us, in order to do their job of representing us.  

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This week's blog post covers the candidates for Representatives of Vermont's Orange-1 State House District, which includes Vershire as well as Chelsea, Corinth, Orange, Washington, West Fairlee and Williamstown.  They are Democrats: incumbent Susan Hatch Davis and challenger Adam Deslauriers, and Republicans: incumbent Rodney Graham and challenger Bob Frenier.

Click on the names beneath the photos for contact information/campaign websites.  Below the photos are my questions and each candidate's full response, listed in the order in which I received them.  So this week's article is a little longer than usual, but I feel it's important for the voices of our community to be heard and for citizens to have the chance to be educated about our decisions.  Please take the time to read what the candidates have to say, then cast your vote for democracy by showing up at the polls, no matter who you vote for.  

1.  What distinguishes you from the other candidates running for the same seat?

Bob Frenier:   Incumbent Susan Davis regularly votes to raise taxes, increase state spending and support state employee unions. I won’t do any of those things. My focus will be on working with Gov. Phil Scott to loosen the Agency of Education’s tight grip on our school system to make it more flexible, creative and less expensive. Vouchers for ALL students will help that process. I’ll also work to reform the appeals process in Act 250 so responsible building can take place without so much useless red tape. See my unique Burma Shave-style roadside messaging system for more details about my positions.

Rodney Graham:   In my first term I listened and learned about procedures both in committee and in the house chambers, and I would use common sense in my decisions. I believe that this approach earned me respect from many of my colleagues and would be able to do more if I am re-elected.

Susan Hatch Davis:  My vision is to continue to be an honest, moral, empathetic, collaborative and open leader. I strive to be a truly great leader - I am and will continue to be focused on working people – fighting for racial, social, economic and environmental justice.  

I am the only woman in the race in Orange-1; as a mother and grandmother I know the economic and social challenges our families and communities face. As a legislator, mother and grandmother, I know we must find ways to attract and keep our young adults right here in our Vermont communities.  I don't have any "personal" agendas, for me I am in Montpelier to put forward legislation and policy changes that promote healthy communities and healthy Vermonters. Personal agendas only get in the way.  I have the "political will" to be an effective legislator.  I have lived on the East Orange road my whole life and I understand what life is like in our small towns. I volunteer at our local schools, at our local sports events, church events, community suppers, events and functions, I attend senior meals and local farmer’s markets. I coordinated a “Wednesday school” for our local young children over the summer - I am a part of our communities. I care deeply about every person living and working in our communities and I fight for all of us regardless of party affiliation. I have always had a goal of making my community as well as our greater community - a healthier place to live.

Adam Deslauriers:  As for distinguishing myself from the other candidates, I obviously have a lot more in common politically with Sue Davis since we're both running as Progressive/Democrats versus Rodney and Bob who are Republicans.  Looking at Rodney's record during his first term this past session, I find myself mostly disagreeing with his beliefs on healthcare.  He sponsored legislation that was written verbatim by the conservative national group of lobbyists and legislators, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) that was clear about its intent to dismantle all efforts to reform health care.  Bob Frenier has also been pushing for dismantling the ACA and healthcare reform in general as well - aligning himself with a deregulated insurance industry.

One of my main goals in running for office is to do everything I can to get out of our current healthcare system and into a universal care model like every single other country in the civilized world.  I commend President Obama for working toward that end with the ACA, but as I see it, there is no variation of real healthcare reform without universal coverage for all.  Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and every other major power can pull it off.  There is no excuse why we can't as well.  The healthcare exchange website debacle would have been a non-issue with single-payer and all the rest of the complicated and expensive hurdles to reform currently - the "all-payer" model being a perfect example.  (Thank you Shumlin for completely stifling what was a good path we were already on with Green Mountain Care.) I see healthcare costs as a major driver for issues that I may actually align more with Rodney and Bob on, although they'll differ as to the causes and solutions I'm sure. Education funding for example.  One of the biggest drivers for increasing costs is paying for health insurance for educators and school staff.  If we get rid of the need for insurance, we cut a serious chunk off of every school's budgetary needs. Also with healthcare, I actually agree with Bob that we need to maintain school choice for towns that currently have it.  I'm wary of act 64 in general because I don't believe it does anything actually helpful.  I think the Vershire model with Rivendell is very interesting and worth looking into as a model for how local control can achieve great results without state mandates. There is so much more, but I know space is limited.  I think Sue Davis is spot on in so many aspects.  Despite what Bob claims, I'm pretty sure Sue doesn't support a carbon tax because it unfairly affects lower and middle-income Vermonters and puts the burden on those that can't afford it.  So I agree with Sue entirely in that case as well.  I also think excise taxes in general and "sin" taxes on sugary beverages and cigarettes and whatnot are also questionable for the same reason.

2.  How could you benefit the little town of Vershire if you are elected?

Bob Frenier:   I’ll work to maximize local Vershire officials’ ability to run the town’s business with the least possible state interference, which is now outrageous, overbearing and features (mostly) unfunded mandates. But my biggest impact on Vershire residents will be in healthcare. I’ll push to shut down the dysfunctional Health Connect website, eliminate Vermont’s extra insurance coverage mandates, invite out-of-state insurers to compete for our business, and pass tort reform so docs don’t have to practice so defensively.

Rodney Graham:   I would think that Vershire has the same issues that most towns do, high taxes, low job options, higher education opportunities and affordable health care. I believe that we need to become more business friendly, streamlining/reducing regulations that prohibit start-ups, growth and the ability to compete, and not tax them to death. It's like a old barn with a sagging roof line - you can patch the roof all you want but until you fix the foundation you are fighting a losing battle.

Susan Hatch Davis:  As is always the case, no bill becomes a law because of one legislator – it’s always the work of many – a bill needs 76 votes in the House and 16 in the Senate. Here are a few of my thoughts:

I think we must stop imposing one-size-fits all formulas on local, elected school boards and legislative attempts to reduce the voice of small towns in educational decisions for their children. I fought against consolidation and against the hurtful “spending caps”. I have heard from folks in our towns that they want to preserve the current school choice system. I feel towns with school choice should be able to keep it unless town voters decide otherwise.

While knocking on doors, I heard over and over from folks that their property taxes are too high. The current property tax structure is regressive and gives the wealthy a tax break. We need to ease property tax burdens so Vermonters can use more of their hard-earned money to meet basic needs. This session, I co-sponsored bill H.656, a bill that proposes lowering property tax rates for households earning less than $200,000. We passed legislation that includes modeling this reform in time for the 2017 session. This should bring us one step closer to a fairer tax system that works for all Vermonters, not just those on top. With any luck, when the legislature returns in January 2017 we can finally deliver the relief Vermonters have demanded.  I look forward to helping to shape this debate to benefit hard-working folks in Vershire and our surrounding communities.

I know that we cannot settle our budgets on the economically challenged working families, the elderly or the disabled. As in other elections this election is no different, we’ve heard a lot of talk about the need to reduce Vermonters’ tax burden. As your representative, I have not been willing to balance budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable. When we hear talk about budget cuts, the cuts are primarily focused on the Agency of Human Services, which provides needed services to families in our greater community who are barely making it. In my 10 years in the legislature, my votes have reflected my support for working families. I have knocked on doors of our neighbors, I have listened and heard their needs - I cannot put critical programs that meet the needs of hard-working Vermonters, our neighbors, on the chopping block. If we were to cut critical services, it is low- and middle-income families who must pick up that burden. Members of the Vershire community and our community at large benefit from my policy position.

As a legislator and co-chair of the Working Vermonters Caucus, I bring the voices of regular Vermonters to the table. I’ve spent a decade fighting for working people – to have a livable wage, paid sick days, equal pay and to be able to organize in the workplace. I have been involved in numerous minimum wage increases and have stood with workers on picket lines and in fights for fair contracts. We must invest in early childhood education, after school programs, college education for our young adults and healthy food for our children. Small family businesses are the backbone of our rural communities. We need to grow our diverse farming sectors, improve the forest products industry, and expand rural telecom infrastructure. I will continue to work to end the wage gap. I will continue to be a strong ally, engage citizen activists, and ensure Vermont is a state where our communities find strength in their diversity and a state where young adults want to live.

We see and feel the impacts of climate change each season. We must continue to invest in renewables and reduce our fossil energy use, do even more to clean up our rivers and lakes.

I introduced a marijuana bill to end prohibition and have sponsored legislation for full legalization, regulation and taxation for responsible adult use. It is time to recognize that the war on drugs has failed and take a smarter approach to regulating controlled substances – prohibition isn’t working. Taking cannabis off the streets and moving it to a regulated setting where laws and age limits are enforced will make our communities safer. I think our drug policies should focus more on human health and studying the causes of addiction. If we focus our resources on health, education, job opportunities, and improving quality of life, we will reduce crime and fewer people will turn to drugs.

For me, I am not interested in toeing party lines, I am interested in doing what is right and just. I am interested in the future of our state and her citizens. I will continue to be an open leader working collaboratively with colleagues and other organizations towards a shared vision that will sustain us into our future and our children’s futures.

I think this is all beneficial to the “little town of Vershire”.

Adam Deslauriers:  How could I benefit Vershire if I'm elected?  I think my long-winded answer above gives a pretty accurate depiction of some of the macro issues I think will benefit Vershire and us all.  As for education funding, I think that's apparent also, allowing Vershire to continue with its current model.  I'd also like to look into removing school budgets from property taxes in general.  Also if Vershire is anything like Washington and Orange, you know how much the broadband service is lacking.  I think we need to look into how we're going to realistically achieve true broadband access across the state.  What we have isn't actually considered broadband, even if you pay for the highest level of service.  This would also generally drive small business growth in Vermont as well I believe.

Generally speaking, I will advocate for worker’s rights and family-oriented policy issues.  I believe job growth and attracting businesses to the state is absolutely important, but not at the expense of Vermonters' rights to a dignified pay rate and quality of living.  But I do support policies that streamline permitting processes for local small businesses and don't discourage small business growth - as long as we take into account environmental impact and the like.

3. What qualifies you for this position?

Bob Frenier:   I’ve been a Chelsea Health Center trustee for 20 years and led that group in building the new medical office building, building the mobile dental hygiene trailer that serves hundreds of kids at eight area schools, and starting the House Calls program (preventive home visits by EMTs). I also personally recruited Kinney Drugs to be Chelsea’s first commercial drug store in 90 years. I made things happen without holding any office; being a state representative just enhances my ability to make more things happen—or keep them from happening!

Rodney Graham:  I have lived in Williamstown, Vermont all of my life, a fourth generation dairy/maple producer, I know the struggles of operating a small business.  I was on the School board and Select board and I have been able to listen to all sides and make a decision I believe would benefit all.

Susan Hatch Davis:  I am an ordinary Vermonter, one of you, I am level-headed, listen patiently and care deeply about every person living and working in Vermont. I will continue to fight the good fight for our rural areas and the people of Vermont. I think I am unique in my ability to connect with all Vermonters regardless of their income, background or history with our communities.

My skills and interests vary; I am committed to serve all citizens of Orange-1 with a strong community spirit, strong values and ideals.   My overall 30+ years in the Information Technology field in state government, particularly as a Senior Network Engineer then as a working manager of the states Wide Area Network (WAN) Services helped develop me to be a highly motivated, creative and a versatile worker. As Manager of the states Wide Area Network Services I worked with all agencies and departments across state government, K-12 school and libraries. I know how state government functions, implements policy,  and I understand the budgeting process.  On the campaign trail, I meet many residents and local business owners, listening to their worries and fears and hearing first-hand what it is they want their elected officials to do and how they want them to act. As in past years, I bring with me to the State House first-hand knowledge of the needs of our communities and working families.  I will be guided by the strengths and progressive values that define my district and working families - and define me.  These skills can be put to good use in developing good policy legislation whether it is in committee or on the House floor.  

Adam Deslauriers:  What I lack in political experience, I believe I make up for in my capacity to be highly critical of it throughout my life and higher education!  While in school for my M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication I studied at length the relationship between the government and the news media.  Specifically, I focused on the interplay between the Bush/Rove/Cheney White House and the media during and after 9/11.  I still believe this moment in history marked a pivotal change in how politics work in the United States.  This critical lens that I developed during that time has given me a very unique and insightful perspective on how our political machine operates, what the real stakes are and what forces are at play in local, state, and national politics.

I've operated my own small business here in Vermont for over a decade as well, so I understand the many issues involved in that - especially pertaining to economic factors.  I've done this while raising three kids as well, which also comes with its own unique set of challenges in our beautiful state, childcare and education being two critically important issues to me. I'm also a native Vermonter and a product of our local school system and UVM.  I have a large family in the area with close relatives that fall on all sides of the political and professional spectrums.  I understand the challenges we all face and also recognize the validity of the many different viewpoints and concerns around their potential causes and solutions.  The way I see it, our state government is basically a big dysfunctional family.  These traits I've mentioned and being a middle child give me a unique set of tools to work through that dysfunction and actually help get some useful things accomplished - and put the "fun" back in dysfunction.

Please feel free to add any other comments you find appropriate:

Bob Frenier:   If you are happy with the way the state is being run, do not vote for me; I am a change agent. My roadside messaging system is an indication that I will be a representative with creative ideas.

Next week, I'll share the responses to those same questions from our candidates for Vermont State Senator, Mark MacDonald and Stephen Webster.  Meanwhile, feel free to leave your comments below, contact the candidates directly, and do engage in civil discourse with your neighbors!

If you haven't been to the State House in Montpelier lately (or ever) I highly recommend a visit.  It's a lovely, welcoming place with appetizing lunches and fascinating art, friendly legislators and knowledgeable guides to the building and its happenings.  This site is a good place to start planning your trip to our state capitol.  Click here to find out about legislation, and here to find out about committees, including the ones our current legislators serve on.

Our town is full of exciting events and wonderful people with interesting stories. What's yours? Who or what topics would you like to see featured in the Vershire Buzz? This is your voice, so I'd love to hear from you. Email me at or call 802-685-7752.

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