FERRISBURGH – For 27 years, Monique Thurston beat a steady path from Mexico, Maine, to the state’s capital of Augusta in order to advocate for a variety of issues – most notably, lowering sound standards for wind turbines.
Now she’d like to blaze a similar path from her home in Ferrisburgh to the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, as a representative of the Addison-3 House district.
The 66-year-old Republican enters a race for two seats that includes incumbent Reps. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, and Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes; and Ferrisburgh Democrat Fritz Langrock.
Addison-3 includes the communities of Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.
Thurston was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium, where she also earned a degree in general medicine. She would quickly put her medical expertise into practice during brief stays in Algeria and Norway during her early 20s. It was while working at a hospital in Norway near the Arctic Circle that she gravitated toward radiology – a department to which she had been assigned in light of the temporary language barrier that she faced.
“I learned to say ‘breathe stop breathing,’ in Norwegian and Russian,” she recalled of the directions she would give to radiology patients. She developed a passion for the field and decided to pursue it as her medical concentration. She found radiology work upon her return to Brussels.
At age 24, Thurston fell in love and in 1977 moved to the U.S. – the native land of her soon-to-be husband. They at first set down roots in Ohio, then made their way to Maine in 1981. Thurston found in New England a similar landscape to that which she had left behind in Belgium.
“I thought New England was as close as possible to Europe,” she said of the scenery.
Thurston’s first choice at the time was Vermont, but she and her husband could not find suitable employment there. So they settled in Mexico, Maine, and she found radiology work at the nearby Rumford Community Hospital.
At the same time, she took a great interest in agriculture, animals and activism.
“I was what you would call a ‘back-to-the-lander,’” Thurston said. “I was obsessed with having a low carbon footprint before it was part of the lingo … I wanted to be as self-sufficient as I could. We bought a farm with 150 acres, facing some beautiful ridges, and grew vegetables. I raised my own meat.”
Working as a solo radiologist – on call 365 days per year – took its toll, Thurston recalled. So she increasingly immersed herself in farm activities and service to her community. She got involved on the local school board and joined the Mexico selectboard. As a selectwoman, she helped her town lobby for property tax reform. Mexico, she explained, had one of the highest property tax rates in the state.
“I created three different property taxpayer associations,” she said. “I was trying to avoid what was happening there and is happening in Vermont – a type of pauperization of the area.”
She also led a successful campaign against a federal proposal to locate a nuclear waste dump in the region.
She became a United States citizen in 1993 and retired from her career as a radiologist around 25 years ago in order to focus more on her home-based farming activities and environmental activism.
Thurston took up yet more causes, ranging from a successful petition drive to get the Mexico town budget voted by Australian ballot, to campaigns against chaining dogs, elephants in circuses and bear baiting.
Her most recent cause célèbre has been about the sound and visual impacts of wind turbines.
“In 2008, I became aware that the governor of Maine had pushed an expedited wind law to facilitate the implementation of wind power,” Thurston said. “The law wanted to establish 24 megawatts of wind (power) by 2020. That meant, according to our calculations, 1,800 new turbines over 360 miles of ridgelines.”
So she helped establish the Maine Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power and Friends of Maine Mountains. Their goal was to change the law and fight some of the wind projects. She cited the groups’ “meager” accomplishment as successfully lobbying for a lowering of the state’s maximum allowable nighttime noise levels for wind turbines from 45 decibels to 42.
“It was far from what we wanted, but it was not an easy battle,” she said.
It was during this battle that she met her current husband, Steve Thurston, a retired homebuilder with longtime ties to Vermont. The couple moved to Ferrisburgh in 2008. Monique Thurston had planned to leave her clipboard and protester’s megaphone in Maine, but she came out of retirement upon seeing this year’s solar siting bill – S.230, later changed to S.260 – which included language on sound levels for wind turbines. Thurston was asked to testify on the bill, given her medical background and experience with the topic in Maine.
“Some noise victims came and I listened to them, and I started to see something that shocked me,” she said. “I saw how little attention was paid for those folks from Lowell, from Georgia Mountain, from Sheffield.
“The citizens were ignored for the benefit of the wind industry,” she added.
RUNNING FOR OFFICE
So Thurston decided to run for the Vermont House in hopes of making a bigger impact on renewable energy and other statewide issues.
If elected, Thurston pledged to support legislative efforts to:
• Rein in state budgets and property taxes.
• “Protect Vermonters from undue regulations and fees.”
• Bring “accountability and choice” to health care.
• Oppose any carbon tax or other increased taxes.
• Give communities control over the siting of large solar developments.
“We need to have an honest conversation with Vermonters on renewables, to weigh the pros and cons,” Thurston said, adding, “I believe the ‘low hanging fruit’ is in energy efficiency and conservation.’”
• “Strengthen Vermont’s tradition of small town democracy and stewardship of our unique landscape.”
Thurston said she’s concerned about the speed with which laws are getting debated and passed in Montpelier. She cited the ill-fated recreational marijuana bill as an example of a proposal she believes was rushed last year.
“There was no emergency,” she said, advocating that Vermont spend the next few years studying the successes and failures of the few states that have already legalized pot.
“There seems to be a desire to rush forward too fast, with serious consequences for Vermonters,” she said of the current process.
Thurston pointed to Democrats’ overwhelming majority in both the House and Senate as part of the cause of the quick action on bills. She also believes lobbyists have undue power in the Statehouse.
“The founders wanted a system of checks and balances,” she said. “In Montpelier, the system of checks and balances isn’t there anymore.”
Asked how she would make health care services better and more affordable, Thurston said the state should take the following steps:
• Enact tort reform, to allow physicians to practice medicine more cost-effectively and without the continual threat of lawsuits.
• Call for an audit of the Medicaid program to flag those who no longer qualify.
• Emphasize preventative care.
“Health care is a right, but it is a right that carries some responsibility,” she said.
• Introduce more competition among insurance companies, which she believes would lower premiums.
“We have to see how we can save every dollar,” she said.
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