NEWPORT CITY – The November General Election is about eight weeks away and Democrats are moving full speed ahead in an effort to outdo their Republican counterparts. Friday evening, local Democrats held a launch party at the Gateway Center where area residents had the chance to meet party candidates, enjoy refreshments and take in breathtaking views of Lake Memphremagog.
The message Orleans County Chair Judy Bevans took away from the Democratic National Convention earlier this month is that the party has a message: “Press it Forward.”
Bevans disagrees with the concept that taxes are always a burden. “What do taxes pay for?” asked Bevans. The answer, she said, are schools. “Is it a burden to pay for the future society? I don’t find that a burden. It might be hard to get the money together, but it’s not a burden. I call that an investment.”
Katherine Sims, who is running for representative in the Orleans-Lamoille District, spoke about how, at eight-years-old, she met the first female governor of Vermont, Madeline Kunin. That meeting had a profound effect on Sims and inspired her to devote her life to public service. For the past 10 years, she has worked on the Farm to School Program and is ready to bring her passion for making a difference to Montpellier.
She called the Northeast Kingdom a special place, where farmers work the land and everyone grows extra food in their gardens to donate to food shelves. Some people in Montpelier, she said, don’t share the vision of Northeast Kingdom residents. People here value their local schools, but others try to consolidate them. Economic development does not always notice the rural areas of the Northeast Kingdom.
“I promise to be a strong voice for our community down in Montpelier,” said Sims.
Rep. Sam Young of Orleans-Caledonia-1, who is running for his second term, decided to run for office because of his deep commitment to the area and the people. He is glad that he and Rep. Mike Marcotte, a Republican, are on the Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
“We really actually need to work on the economic development in this area,” said Young. Vermont has the lowest unemployment rate on the east coast, he said. “Newport and our area is a different story and we need to do something to get the level of employment up.”
There are a lot of good things happening in the area, Young said. “We just need to keep working on it. We’re going to get there.”
Senatorial hopeful John Rogers, who is a previous member of the House, told his fellow Democrats there is a huge difference in the candidates. Rogers, who is running with Sen. Bobby Starr, said there are two candidates who have a long history of getting things done in Montpelier and bringing money and important projects home. The opponents, he said, have never brought one dollar home and never accomplished anything of which he's aware. As a member of the House, Rogers helped bring a dialyses center to North Country Hospital and the addition to the North Country Career Center. Rogers also helped build up wireless and high speed Internet in the region.
During his turn at addressing the crowd, Sen. Starr, who has held political office since 1978, said representing the Northeast Kingdom first as a member of the House and then the Senate has been a pleasure. He said there are vast differences in the state from one location to the other. Starr thinks people in the Northeast Kingdom think differently than people in places like southern Vermont and perhaps Chittenden County.
The educational system here, said Starr, is excellent. “It would be hard to find a better high school than North Country Union.”
If re-elected, Starr will most likely be chair of the agriculture committee.
Doug Hoffer, who is running for state auditor, has a lengthy resume that includes working under contract for former state auditor Ed Flanagan. He said data collected has to speak for itself and his reputation never goes beyond that data. He said he has a talent for asking tough questions and that evidence-based findings are part of his DNA. Hoffer also thinks people should be able to audit the auditor’s office by just a few clicks of the mouse.
State Treasurer Beth Pearce said the bottom line for her is the state’s Triple A Bond rating. That rating incapsulates the state’s economic condition, its financial condition and shows how the state handles and manages its debt, how it manages pensions and how it manages its overall government. High ratings also mean the state can borrow money at low interest rates for such things as affordable education, financing for affordable housing and creating jobs via low interest rates for businesses. Pearce, who has held treasurer type positions for decades, said she is all about the numbers.
For the past 10 years, Cassandra Gekas, who is running for lieutenant governor, has been an advocate for tough issues like domestic violence, women’s health and low income mothers, better access to transportation and most recently moving the state forward toward a universal, publicly financed healthcare system. Gekas decided to run for office because she no longer wanted to be a persuader on the sideline.
The universal healthcare system that the governor proposed and the legislature is working on is a top priority for Vermonters and the state needs to remain on that track, Gekas said.
During the six months the legislature is not in session, Gekas wants to use the office of lieutenant governor as incubator space, to provide leadership idea on policy ideas and to tackle some of the big-ticket things.