House Candidates Discuss the Issues at Recent Rotary Club Forum

by Nat Frothingham

At a candidates forum sponsored by the Montpelier Rotary Club on October 20 four Montpelier candidates running for two seats in the Vermont House squared off against each other.

The four candidates are:  Warren Kitzmiller and Mary Hooper – both Democrats and incumbents, and Glennie Sewell and Ivan Shadis, both Progressives and challengers.

The forum opened with introductions.

Ivan Shadis began, saying: “I grew up in Montpelier.  I love Montpelier.”  But he said that young people can’t afford the rents.  And middle class people can’t afford the property taxes.

Shadis said that some people are uncertain they can stay in Montpelier and they’ve stopped investing time to get to know their neighbors. This, in turn, Shadis feels, is attacking the city’s sense of community.  It’s also threatening the city’s legacy of environmental and social justice.

Warren Kitzmiller introduced himself as the founder and past owner of Onion River Sports.  He noted his history of local service. He mentioned his service on the Montpelier City Council and the Montpelier Board of Civil Authority. He currently serves on the board of Lost Nation Theater. Lately, he said, he has become involved in the protection of the city’s drinking water supply.  In closing, he spoke about fellow Democrat Mary Hooper, saying, “Mary and I make a good team.”

Progressive candidate Glennie Sewell lived in South Burlington before he moved to Montpelier.  As a resident in South Burlington, Sewell had a first-hand experience of high rent and inferior housing with lead paint and light fixtures in disrepair.  “Education and housing are my biggest issues,” he said.

Mary Hooper is seeking her fourth term in the Vermont House.  She sits on the House Institutions and Corrections Committee.  As a member of that committee, she said, she played an important role in getting the state’s participation and support for Montpelier’s new district heat system.  She said she has pushed the committee to get the state to conserve energy in state buildings.

Among the four candidates, there was general agreement on the need to press forward with a single-payer health care initiative despite Vermont’s difficulties with the Vermont Health Connect website roll-out.

Sewell said that the single-most pressing issue facing Montpelier was a need to “trim-line” school budgets by cutting waste.  He insisted on the need to know where every penny of the school budget was being spent.

Kitzmiller was asked to evaluate Gov. Shumlin’s performance.  Kitzmiller said he admired the governor as a leader who sets the agenda and gets things done.

He said that the Shumlin administration had stumbled with the roll-out of Vermont Health Connect. He took note of the governor’s personal problems with a land acquisition deal in East Montpelier.  “I will continue to support him,” he said of the governor.

When asked to identify a funding source to remediate Lake Champlain’s environmental problems, Shadis suggested a carbon tax.  Then he went on to suggest a more progressive income tax on the state’s high-earners.

All four candidates weighed in on the issue of school consolidation.

Shadis noted that schools are often the anchor point of small town life in rural Vermont. He said he was opposed to consolidation if it ran afoul of a small school, like Cabot School, in rural Vermont.

Kitzmiller said that the entire school-age population of the state of Vermont might amount to one, good-sized school district in another state. He said that Vermonters worship at the altar of local school boards and districts. He said he felt that some consolidations could be achieved. And that these consolidations could promote efficiencies.

Sewell said he was in favor of partial consolidation, not the whole thing.

Mary Hooper said that “top-down” planning was the wrong approach. She supports the idea of getting schools and school districts to work together for greater efficiencies. She noted certain educational funding dilemmas. She noted that people often move to Montpelier because of great schools. And great schools lead to higher property values.  But she said that Montpelier taxpayers can’t afford the rate of increases they have been experiencing in recent years.

All four candidates wrestled with a question put to them from the floor about the availability of health care in a publically-funded system.  What about by-pass operations, knee-and-hip replacements?  Where to draw the line?

Most candidates acknowledge the complexities of providing or denying care to people who need it or people who want it.  Most candidates agreed that the issue of who gets care and who doesn’t is a difficult individual and collective and moral issue that is deserving of open, public discussion.

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