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NEWPORT CITY â€“ With less than a month until the general election, local politicians are going head to head to represent Vermonters at the State House. Monday evening, Jay Dudley (R), John Rodgers (D), Bob Lewis (R) and incumbent Bob Starr (D) faced off in a senatorial debate at the Eastside Restaurant.
The four candidates are vying for two open seats in the Essex/Orleans District. Despite opposing views, the candidates treated each other with respect.
The Newport Daily Express, The Chronicle, The Orleans County Record, WMOO-FM, NEK-TV and the Northland Journal sponsored the debate.
Some people have said the upcoming national election is one of the most important ones in a generation and Jay Dudley feels that statement is true for the local election. Dudley, a seventh generation Vermonter, has been a chief financial analyst for the Public Service Board.
John Rodgers is proud to be the fifth generation to grow up on his familyâ€™s farm in Glover and has deep roots in the area. He has experience in sugaring, dairy and forestry; he ran a small construction business and sets a high priority on doing business locally.
Rodgers, who previously served in the Vermont House for eight years, hopes voters will base their decision on who got results. He is proud about the number of projects and amount of money he brought into the area. Rodgers said he approaches everything with an open mind, listens to every one and makes an informed decision to the best of his ability.
Bobby Starr said he has served the voters from the middle of the road. Starr, a senior senator, knows most of the commissioners, department heads and secretaries.
Bob Lewis, currently a member of the Vermont House, said he has worked hard to gain the trust of the people, and to establish his integrity and creditability. He served with the Vermont state police and as a game warden.
On industrial wind projects:
Rodgers doesnâ€™t support industrial wind projects on ridgelines and said the state doesnâ€™t need the power. He believes wind could play a part in the stateâ€™s portfolio and suggested building wind towers near Lake Champlain. He favors biomass and roof top solar. Rodgers believes power should be produced locally and as close to the end user as possible to negate the need for more transmission lines.
The only ones who make money off wind turbines are the developers and the people who own the land where the wind turbines go, Starr said. Consumers can buy power as low as 6.5 cents per kilowatt, but wind could cost as much as 15 cents. Starr said every community that can see the wind turbines should have a say about the project and any payment should be dived among all the communities involved.
Lewis is offended that wind turbine developers destroyed some of the most beautiful mountains in the country. â€śThey raped the landscape,â€ť he said. â€śThey destroyed, forever, a natural resource that will never be the same.â€ť
Lewis disagrees with statements that there is not enough wind for turbines on Lake Champlain.
Vermont possesses about one-half of 1/1,000 of the wind capacity for the entire United States, Dudley said. â€śWeâ€™re going into wild, natural, unspoiled areas and blasting them to smithereens,â€ť said Dudley. He said the project will have minimal jobs. â€śThese are highly technical positions. Chances are they are not going to hire people from within the area.â€ť
On new development:
The region needs to train its workforce in preparation for anticipated technical jobs coming to the area and local residents should have first choice, Starr said. He said a great number of jobs are coming to the area, but there needs to be in-depth discussion on housing for city residents, particularly the ones who live in the Spates Block. Starrâ€™s vision is to turn Main Street into a walkway and have a new street from the Kilmartin Block on Pleasant Street to Coventry Street.
Many people have concerns about the development proposed by Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak Resort, Lewis said. â€śI think we need to slow down, slow down, slow down,â€ť said Lewis. â€śPlan and make sure weâ€™re doing everything right. This could be one of the greatest things that has ever happened to our area or it could turn into a nightmare. We have to make sure we do it properly.â€ť
Lewis is concerned about what will happen to the Vista Food Store once developers demolish the shopping center in preparation for a new hotel and conference center. He is also worried about potential traffic problems.
Dudley agrees there might be problems that need to be considered and called Stengerâ€™s development plans impressive. The economic base in the Northeast Kingdom has been narrow and Dudley believes Stengerâ€™s ideas will be a boon for the area. Job training is a big deal and some existing employers have problems getting qualified skilled labor, Dudley said.
Rodgers called Stengerâ€™s plans a super project that will bring huge opportunities to the area and job training is one of the big things. Many people in the area will benefit from the project.
On drug abuse:
Abuse of prescription drugs is the number one problem for Vermont, Lewis said. Legislators have given law enforcement officers the tools to handle a problem that has tremendously increased the violent crime rate. There are laws that give police officers the right to monitor pharmacies for prescription fraud, but the officers must go to the store for investigation purposes. Lawmakers were unsuccessful in making it possible for a special taskforce that could do the work over its computers.
Dudley agrees that drug abuse is a serious problem in Vermont and blames part of the problem on economic circumstances.
Rodgers said it does have something to do with economic issues, but more with education issues. He said it goes back to youth who become disenfranchised, drop out of school and become involved with drugs. Enforcement is not the end-all answer. The state needs to educate the youth, have drug courts and have more in- and out-patient care for people with drug addiction problems.
The Northeast Kingdom is fortunate not to have the problems that the inner-city has, Starr said. There needs to be a mixture of educational issues for students and parents to detect when children use drugs. He said there are people making money by selling their prescription drugs and go to different doctors to get them.
One of Dudleyâ€™s greatest accomplishments is being a member of the Barton Zoning Board and Planning Commission for 18 years and serving as chairman for both boards for 10 of those years. During that time, he worked on the town plan and bylaws. The boards structured zoning bylaws in ways that were fair, treated everyone equitably and had the interest of the property owners first and foremost in mind.
Rodgers is proud to have had a large role in making the addition of the North Country Career Center a reality.
Starr is proud that during his time as a member of the legislature, many towns on the western side of the district saw the construction of new schools. Prior to that, students were going to school in substandard buildings. Starr is also proud of the work he did on the Northeast Dairy Compact.
Lewis, who sat on the Fish and Wildlife Committee, is pleased that the bills he sponsored for sports' enthusiasts became law. He also fought the Current Use Bill. Lewis also worked on a bill that mandates polygraph examinations during the hiring process of all state law enforcement officers.
Rodgers supports giving Vermonters access to affordable healthcare. He said todayâ€™s healthcare system is increasing in cost at an unsustainable rate. Doing nothing, said Rodgers, is wrong. However, he is not ready to say if he supports a single payer system.
Starr said that during the last session he couldnâ€™t vote for single payer healthcare because lawmakers had many unanswered questions.
Lewis said he canâ€™t vote for the single payer plan because there are too many unknowns, but something does need to be done about the rising costs.
Dudley opposes single payer and said that some countries with single payer care have delays in service and in some cases rationed care. Dudley supports an open market plan such as the one in Maine.
What's ahead for Vermont:
The biggest problem facing Vermont in the upcoming year is finances and thereâ€™s a predicted $50 million to $55 million gap between the 2013 and 2014 budget, Starr said.
Lewis, who agrees with Starr, said Vermont depends on a lot of federal money but the state might not receive as much federal money as legislators were lead to believe it would.
The budget is important for Dudley, but he thinks the biggest problem is economic development, because economic development means jobs. He said Vermontâ€™s unemployment figures are inaccurate and the Department of Labor canâ€™t say where the job growth is.
â€śThatâ€™s because there isnâ€™t really any job growth in Vermont,â€ť said Dudley. â€śThe reason why we have a low unemployment rate is because we have less workers in the state.â€ť
Rodgers believes economics is the big issue and the state needs new jobs. He also opposes comments that all the best and brightest are leaving Vermont. â€śThatâ€™s a pretty poor way to advertise your state,â€ť said Rogers. â€śI love this area and I figured out how to make a living here. The problem in this state and country is we have lost the desire to innovate and manufacture. Weâ€™re still innovating in this country, but then we have it manufactured in a third world country.â€ť