10 Questions for the Candidates for Barre and Northfield

compiled by Mike Dunphy

With primary season already upon us, the residents of Central Vermont are once more given the opportunity to make real difference in their communities by voting. Many candidates in Barre, Berlin, and Northfield are running unopposed but several Democrats are in races to make the ballot in November.

In Northfield, four candidates—Gordon Bock, Denise MacMartin, John Stevens, and Jeremy Hansen—are vying for two positions on the ballot, while in Barre, two spots are open to three contenders: Tommy Walz, Peter Anthony, and Paul Flint.

It an effort to give them all the opportunity to share their views with the public, The Bridge sent each a questionnaire touching on a number of issues important to Vermont. Some responses have been edited for length but not content.  Peter Anthony said he was unable to respond. John Stevens never responded.

BARRE CITY (WASHINGTON-3) CANDIDATES

What is one of your top priorities if elected? Why so?

Tommy Walz

Tommy Walz: To put more money into working Vermonters’ pockets.

Paul Flint: To implement in Barre City an instance of the “Brain Barn” project initially proposed during the James Douglas administration in 2008 by the Vermont Software Technology Alliance.  Specifically Barre City would be the prototype using the project plan. Why So? Because we need IT, and by IT I mean Information Technology advanced education, research, development and entrepreneurial-ism.  Better training and an innovation economy may eliminate the under-employment pandemic in Barre city.

What have you done in the past to help improve Vermont and/or your community? Can you point to any specific accomplishments?

Walz: I was instrumental in passing legislation that required

Paul Flint

reasonable workplace accommodation for pregnant workers and addressing veterans’ issues, especially suicides.

Flint: In my student days at Windham College (Now Landmark), I became general manager and chief engineer of WVUS 88.9 FM Putney.  Since I washed up again on the shores of Vermont 12 years ago, I have become a justice of the peace, a Vermont Department of Labor IBM VSE System Administrator, and then a labor organizer

Do you support the governor’s efforts to change the staff-student ratio at Vermont schools. If so, why? If not, what is a policy you would support or lead to improve Vermont schools?

Walz: No, I do not support the governor’s staffing proposals. First, every community’s educational needs are different, and to say there is one formula that works for all makes no sense. It also takes more local control away from school boards and local voters.

Flint: I believe that Phil sees aspects of unfunded mandates in the rules and regulations that created such surreal and expensive staff-student ratios. Unfunded mandates are bad government.  The devil is in the details. Set some aspect of state participation (for instance Information Technology support) based upon improvement in the staff-student ratio.

Are you satisfied with the state’s efforts to encourage youth to remain in state and immigrants to move to the state? How could it be improved?

Walz: We can do more to encourage young families to come to and stay in Vermont. Reducing student debt, creating more affordable housing and creating better-paying jobs would all help.

Flint: Possibly the worst bit of law I ever saw. 10K$ to move in? A withholding tax credit to companies who have remote employees in Vermont.  Use Tax policy whenever possible.  Train them at the local Brain Barn!

Do you support stronger gun regulations than already exist in Vermont? If so, what’s an example?

Walz: I think we need to evaluate the effect of the gun safety legislation we passed in the last session before talking about new legislation. The goal is to make Vermont safer.

Flint: For the answer to this question, please see Article II of the U.S. Constitution

As a politician, how do you plan to build consensus with the other parties in the government and not bring Vermont politics into something like the tribal warfare of Washington DC?

Walz: Montpelier is not Washington. I frequently ask representatives from the other parties what they think about a particular issue. A good idea is a good idea, no matter who comes up with it.

Flint: As I was born and raised in DC. Vermont has nothing like the tribal warfare not to mention the blatant corruption of DC.  Rather Vermont Politics is all about the almost subliminal “scratch and tickle” corruption of an old and slightly stinky form of political complacency.

Nearly one in five Vermonters are 65 years old or more. How better can Vermont support their needs, particularly with housing and transportation?

Walz: In the past budget we increased the social security exemption in the Vermont income tax. I would like to expand that exemption. There is a dire shortage of affordable housing; we are making a dent in that area, but I want to see programs that create more affordable housing. Transportation is a problem in a rural state. We can help by providing more bus routes, and in certain corridors, rail makes sense.

Flint: Let’s start with transportation: buses must run on weekends. David Blittersdorf’s AllEarthRail Regional Rail System needs to start at the Williston Industrial park in Barre Town and run to Burlington Station on a seven-day schedule. Vermont needs a “Complete Streets” program.  Complete Streets include: 1. Pedestrian Accommodation 2. Bicycle and Alternative (ATV) facilities. 3. Pothole-free automotive surfaces. Now, on to housing.  You cannot have housing without income, and you cannot have income without inexpensive and ubiquitous transportation as detailed above. Could the Brain Barn Project train and accommodate the Aging Vermont population above the national geriatric?

Do you support a fully taxed and regulated market for marijuana, the status quo, or a reversal or tightening of the law?

Walz: I am in favor of taxation and regulation, and I think we can learn from those states that have already gone that route. We still need to deal with the questions of edibles and impaired driving.

Flint: I believe that in passing VSA H.511, Vermont as a state allowed for the laissez-faire decriminalization.  From a commercial point of view, the current vacuum of viable law and regulation 511 creates is actually an excellent beginning of a vibrant marijuana industry here in Vermont.  So dude, let it grow and then figure out how to painlessly tax it.

Can you give an example of a policy or perspective you’ve evolved on as a result of your conversations and interactions with your constituency?

Walz: A couple of examples. I became convinced of the need for gender-free, single-user bathrooms after hearing the stories of those for whom it was a daily issue of great inconvenience and embarrassment. Another was how often public places are still not accessible to the handicapped.

Flint: One constituent who stops by regularly, always leaves his Styrofoam coffee cup on my porch.  I would like to propose that a nickel deposit be placed on Styrofoam cups as well as all water bottles.

How do you assess the state of Vermont’s environment? Is the state doing enough to fight the causes and effects of climate change or could it do more?

Walz: We are not doing enough to clean up our waters. I’ve seen Missisquoi Bay turn into a huge bowl of evil-smelling pea soup, which brings all economic activity there (swimming, fishing, boating) to a halt. We still have not found a consistent funding mechanism to provide the money we need to do the job.

Flint: Thanks to Vermont’s venerable Act 250, it’s not in bad shape.  The question becomes what should Vermont be, the lifeboat or the country club.  What we got now is a lifeboat being ruled by a country club. Please point out all of the DOE, NOAA, or EPA research sites and federally funded research going on in Vermont.  We do what we can.  Vermont’s size should allow us to be a petri dish for all manner of innovation.  But that is not the case.  This I intend to get to the bottom of.

NORTHFIELD (WASHINGTON-1) CANDIDATES

Jeremy Hansen

What is one of your top priorities if elected? Why so?

Jeremy Hansen: We need to improve our public infrastructure in three main areas: high-speed Internet, transportation, and water/wastewater. Our existing infrastructure will just become more and more expensive the longer we wait to fix it, and in order to move into the 21st century, we should be investing heavily in Internet infrastructure and considering additional funding of public transportation.

Denise MacMartin: Student loan debt is one of my top priorities.

Denise MacMartin

Vermont has one of the highest debt-to-earnings ratios for student borrowers. This debt prevents individuals from being able to buy homes, start businesses, and otherwise engage in the economy in ways that would benefit us all.

Gordon Bock: As state representative, I will advocate for economic development and sustainability to support the region’s unique combination of nature and commerce. In doing so, I will do my best to help broaden the economic base of our two towns and thus lessen the burden of property taxes for each of us.

What have you done in the past to help improve Vermont and/or your community? Can you point to any specific accomplishments?

Hansen : In my capacity as a Selectboard member, I am proud to have connected more people to local government. I have also had the privilege of

Gordon Bock

testifying as a private citizen to the Legislature and affecting the outcomes of bills on election law, blockchain, and privacy. In my capacity as a computer scientist, I have given many free seminars to various groups like the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the Green Mountain Water Environment Association. Finally, I am the founder and chair of Central Vermont Internet, which is a community-owned high-speed Internet Service Provider.

MacMartin: For many years my family participated in Project Harmony (a Vermont based organization fostering cultural and education exchanges) by hosting international visitors for anywhere from one to five weeks. We recruited other host families and introduced visitors to many community members. As a former exchange student I believe that cross-cultural experiences are an important way to better understand oneself as well as expanding one’s world-view.

Bock: I’m not keen on people who run for office bragging about everything they have ever supposedly done, no matter how relatively insignificant or whether they were just part of a larger team that got it done.

Do you support the governor’s efforts to change the staff-student ratio at Vermont schools. If so, why? If not, what is a policy you would support or lead to improve Vermont schools?

Hansen: No. It’s a misguided move to centralize control of school budgets. These are decisions that need to be made in the local communities who send their kids there. If a town votes in favor of a school budget increase, their property taxes should go up. That’s a decision that all of us are capable of making by ourselves with our eyes wide open at the local level.

MacMartin: I do not support a mandated effort as it creates morale issues and dissipates local control. Reductions will occur as schools manage lower enrollments (which we’ve already begun to see). The State should be working with districts and schools to make sure that the quality of education is not compromised as reductions take place. At a time when we are concerned about identifying “red flags” and assisting children with mental health and bullying issues, it is not logical to reduce school staff arbitrarily.

Bock: The governor’s effort to raise the student-to-staff ratio in Vermont’s schools comes across as arbitrary and capricious. Furthermore, an analysis conducted by the National Education Association found that the governor’s proposal would lead to massive cuts that will shortchange students and lead to the loss of more than 4,000 middle-class jobs in Vermont. Local autonomy over school budgets has been customary in Vermont. School boards have a better idea of what their schools’ needs are than the governor or the Legislature do.

Are you satisfied with the state’s efforts to encourage youth to remain in state and immigrants to move to the state? How could it be improved?

Hansen: I’m not satisfied with either. We are near the bottom of the list for state funding of higher education, and that means that even with in-state tuition, many young Vermonters can’t afford to pay for college here. We can improve this by dramatically increasing funding of higher education and reducing the number of middle- and upper-level management positions. The $10,000 promotion to lure remote workers to Vermont is misguided. When most of the state lags behind the modern world for Internet access, encouraging more people to move here for positions that require high-speed Internet seems backwards. Let’s take that incentive money and build the 21st century Internet infrastructure first, then see how many young people and remote workers want to work here.

MacMartin: I am not satisfied with our efforts, and we need more creative solutions.  Addressing student loan debt and finding solutions to help borrowers lessen that burden is one way to encourage youth to remain. Lack of accessible and affordable childcare is also a barrier to families with young children finding Vermont a desirable place to live or stay.

Bock: We need to create policies effectuating the goal that going to college shouldn’t cost as much as buying a house. Let’s tilt the scales from Vermont spending more on the Corrections Department than it does on its colleges and universities. As a second-generation American whose grandparents journeyed from Eastern Europe to Ellis Island, I fully support efforts to make Vermont more desirable and amenable to those who choose to migrate here.

Do you support stronger gun regulations than already exist in Vermont? If so, what’s an example?

Hansen: No, I think existing Vermont laws are sufficient.

MacMartin: I would like to see more research done in this area, so that we have a basis from which to have productive conversations on this issue. I would support stronger child access prevention laws similar to those in place in many other states.

Bock: I’d like to assess the impact of the laws that the Legislature passed, and that the governor signed into law, earlier this year. Then I want the new biennium of the General Assembly to dig deep into taking substantive testimony from Vermonters in all walks of life on what we need to do next. This much is clear: We came very close to a calamity of mayhem in Fair Haven, and we can’t let the scourge of school shootings claim young Vermont victims, too.

As a politician, how do you plan to build consensus with the other parties in the government and not bring Vermont politics into something like the tribal warfare of Washington DC?

Hansen: I am a scientist and I base my decisions on evidence. Evidence can come from many sources, including from people with whom I might normally disagree. At the end of the day, we’re all still neighbors that have to work together.

MacMartin: I have a strong record of building consensus in my previous professional positions in higher education administration, and I will bring those same qualities to the legislature: respect for different opinions/positions, an ability to listen and ask questions, and a desire to solve problems. Our state’s small size should make it possible to preserve the good will that comes from having relationships in our communities that extend beyond political differences.

Bock: First of all, who said that I’m a politician? I seek to end the divisiveness, conflict, and strife that have led the Legislature into gridlock and special sessions. I will work to find common ground, build consensus, and achieve accord. I will fight for Berlin and Northfield. It all begins with listening more and talking less—and definitely not resorting to talking over the other person, or engaging in the kind of personal attacks that have become all too prevalent in the nation’s capital.

Nearly one in five Vermonters are 65 years old or more. How better can Vermont support their needs, particularly with housing and transportation?

Hansen: I think there are a number of reasonable steps the Legislature could take. First, we should shift school funding partially or entirely from property taxes to an income-based tax based upon ability to pay. I’ve heard from people on fixed incomes who own their houses and really suffer every time their property taxes increase. Second, providing additional options for public transportation could make owning and maintaining a car less necessary. Third, we should invest in more affordable housing, especially housing with common areas or in mixed-use developments. And last, but most importantly, Vermont should enact universal healthcare, to include mental health and dental care. People shouldn’t need to declare bankruptcy or lose their house when they have unexpected medical bills.

MacMartin: I would like to see expansion of home-sharing programs, and more attention given to retrofitting older homes to be senior citizen friendly. As for transportation, the biggest need seems to be for those in very rural locations. I’d like to look more closely at what current resources the state has allocated and how those may be expanded or adapted.

Bock: We need a properly funded transportation system that elderly Vermonters can use for shopping, medical appointments and their other needs. The same holds true for affordable housing. Also, the time is way overdue for Vermont to stop taxing Social Security benefits.

Do you support a fully taxed and regulated market for marijuana, the status quo, or a reversal or tightening of the law?

Hansen: I support a fully taxed and regulated market for marijuana, but would prefer if there was preferential treatment given to small local businesses, rather than large out-of-state industrial operations.

MacMartin: I support a regulated market. I do not support a reversal or tightening of the law.

Bock: We must revisit this year’s legalization of marijuana to ensure that adult-use cannabis is taxed and regulated like alcohol. This will generate revenues for the state’s coffers on a $200-million-per-year industry that has existed in our state for decades. Much of the proceeds ought to go toward subsidizing both prevention and treatment for opioid abuse and drug-education programs in our schools.

Can you give an example of a policy or perspective you’ve evolved on as a result of your conversations and interactions with your constituency?

Hansen: Again, I am a scientist, and base decisions on evidence. I welcome the opportunity to have my mind changed with information from anywhere. Property taxes are one of the most important issues for people, particularly those on fixed incomes. After knocking on hundreds of doors, I heard the message loud and clear, though that issue was not initially as high of a priority for me. It most certainly is now.

MacMartin: I’m engaging with many in my community, and their views help me to further clarify and hone my own positions.

Bock: As the father of young daughters, I endeavor to evolve constantly, avoiding the kind of “concrete thinking” that leads to stale ideas or utter inertia. There’s a saying that “minds are like parachutes; they function best when open.” I try not to keep my mind closed.

How do you assess Vermont’s environment? Is the State doing enough to fight the causes and effects of climate change or could it do more?

Hansen: I think that Vermont could be doing more to reach its renewable energy goals and to deal with the phosphorus pollution of Lake Champlain. I would support a carbon pricing scheme that does not adversely impact low-income Vermonters.

MacMartin: There is always more that can be done, but overall Vermont has a strong record of paying attention and attempting to thoughtfully address environmental issues. Climate change should be a prominent issue for many legislative sessions to come. it will not be solved with one or two policies in a short time frame.

Bock: We can each do more—way more—on an individual level. Our family works to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” at every opportunity. We think actively each day how to reduce our personal carbon footprint in a part of the world that has limited mass transit, alas, and requires at least a certain amount of driving for food shopping, animal feed, and other necessities for a family (including a dog and those hens).

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