Vacant Seat Attracts Six Contenders in Northfield, Berlin

By Tom Brown

Open House seats in Washington County are as rare as hen’s teeth, but voters in Northfield and Berlin will find one such cuspid on the November ballot.

Six candidates are vying to fill two seats in the Washington-1 House district, including the one vacated by incumbent Republican Rep. Patti Lewis, who is not seeking re-election after serving four terms.

Two Democrats, Denise MacMartin of Northfield and Jeremy Hansen of Berlin (who is also a Progressive), are seeking to make inroads in a district that has been solidly Republican in recent years. They will face two Republicans, incumbent Rep. Anne Donahue and businessman Kenneth Goslant, as well as independent Rebecca Trower and Gordon Bock, who was defeated in the August Democratic primary but is on the ballot representing the “Berlin-Northfield Alliance.” The last four are all from Northfield.

Anne Donahue, Republican

Donahue, who is seeking her ninth two-year term, is certainly favored to retain her seat, leaving Lewis’s spot up for grabs.

Donahue is vice-chair of the House Committee on Health Care and has been active in the areas of healthcare reform and mental health advocacy throughout her tenure.

“I never would have envisioned serving this long,” she said. “It’s always been a decision made every two years. If I’m still a benefit to the people in the community that’s good. If I’m not doing what people think needs to be done, or if the agenda is different, they will let me know.”

She said she supports the state’s movement toward accountable care organizations (ACOs) in which medical providers are paid for maintaining the health of a certain patient population rather than traditional fee-for-service billing.

“Accountable care organizations can create uniformity,” Donahue said, “because doctors are paid to keep patients well by working together.” But she worries about ACOs becoming another layer of bureaucracy.

She also said she has decided to support a taxed and regulated retail marijuana market but will push for amendments that protect children and address DUI issues.

Donahue is not convinced that moving the funding mechanism for education away from property taxes and toward income taxes is the solution to Vermont’s declining enrollment and increasing school costs.

“The biggest problem is what we are spending, not which pot we take from to pay for it,” she said, adding that the current income sensitivity program shields people with high property values and low incomes.

Ken Goslant, Republican

Goslant, owner of a granite memorial business and chair of the Northfield Selectboard, said the state needs to find ways to increase affordability and attract young families.

“I think we should focus on affordability and living within our means,” he said. “I support affordable health care, career and technical education, and ways to encourage more businesses. I support the governor’s policy to spend within our means. We cannot keep spending more than we take in.”

He said millions spent on pursuing a single-payer health care system was “wasted” and that the state needs more competition among private insurers.

Goslant said he was willing to listen on the issue of a taxed and regulated marijuana market but was concerned about enforcement.

He said he finds the divisiveness of politics unnecessary. “I can’t stand the constant fighting. Why can’t we sit around and talk things out? Let’s go into a room, have grown-up conversation, and find a solution that makes Vermont a better place.”

Jeremy Hansen, Progressive/Democrat

This is Hansen’s third bid for the House (he also ran for Senate once). Hansen, an associate professor of computer science at Norwich University and vice-chair of the Berlin Selectboard, finished third in the two-seat district in 2014 and 2016.

He said he is running because he believes his communities are not being properly represented by Republicans who align with Gov. Phil Scott.

“The fact that we passed a minimum wage bill this year, and a family leave bill this year, and a toxics bill this year, all of which were vetoed by the governor, reinforced in me why the folks in Northfield and Berlin need another representative that is going to vote for those things and not against those things.”

He said his focus will be on infrastructure (including communications and broadband as well as roads and bridges), education, and universal health care.

Specifically, he believes the state should provide universal primary care, which would provide checkups for every resident of the state.

“A lot of people don’t go for a checkup because they have crummy insurance or essentially no insurance and they are saddled with a bill of however much just from a checkup,” Hansen said.

Hansen is also leading the effort to create a fiber-optic broadband network in Central Vermont. His Central Vermont Internet group has 16 towns interested, including Montpelier.

I’m already working for folks in Northfield and Berlin and have been in a variety of ways,” he said. “I’m  just looking to do so in a slightly different capacity.”

Denise MacMartin, Democrat

MacMartin, a retired college administrator, was inspired to run because of concerns she has about the availability of good quality child care, student debt loads, and affordability issues faced by young working families in Vermont.

“Child care is an investment in something that we get a return on by keeping parents in the workforce,” MacMartin said. “Pay for child care providers needs to be adequate as well.”

MacMartin, who also supports a $15 minimum wage, said the lack of child care keeps parents from holding down jobs and contributes to childhood poverty and other social issues.

She suggested an increase in the state’s child care subsidy “to make it more in line with what it costs,” and said the state could better guide child care providers through the maze of regulations to obtain proper credentials.

MacMartin believes the state should move to a more income-based method of paying for schools and does not believe the state should mandate staff-to-student ratios.

“There’s a lot of possibility in that model of income tax,” she said. “As our population in schools decreases, schools are going to start cutting staff in an natural and organic way.”

The general election is Tuesday, November 6, and early voting is underway.

Gordon Bock, Berlin-Northfield Alliance

Bock, an advocate for inmate rights, finished fourth in the Democratic primary but said he decided to stay in the race because he believes he the most qualified to serve in Montpelier.

“Other than Anne Donahue, I am the only one who has experience testifying before legislative committees and represent be a positive change for good in the State House,” he said.

A foot injury and subsequent infection limited his ability to campaign but he points votes to his website GordonBock.org.

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