NEWPORT CITY – Democratic challengers and Republican incumbents shared common cause Monday in their opposition to big government imposing what they called bad policy on the Northeast Kingdom.
Whether on carbon tax, all-payer health care, Act 46 on school district consolidation, or renewable energy, the four candidates in this two-seat district agreed more often than not at a cordial and thoughtful forum at the East Side Restaurant that drew more than three dozen people.
Dr. Ron Holland and Judith Jackson, both Democrats of Irasburg, are challenging incumbent Republicans Gary Viens from Newport City, and six-term Rep. Michael Marcotte of Coventry.
The four even agreed on their choice of governor, picking Republican Phil Scott over his Democratic opponent Sue Minter.
Holland, a North Country Hospital doctor who has fought against industrial wind turbines in Lowell and now in Irasburg, launched the forum with show and tell and railed against the corporate industrial complex that he said is hurting Vermont. He demonstrated an EpiPen that now sells for $600 each or $1,200 for a standard package of two. Doctors, he said, could load an auto-injecting syringe with epinephrine to fight a deadly allergy from a bee sting, for example, and provide it for $28.
Jackson, who has returned to Vermont to retire after a career in public relations for a major scientific research facility, said that Vermonters she spoke to say they cannot afford to live here if taxes and health care costs keep climbing.
Viens, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he has personal experience with the high cost of child care. His first wife died and he worked as a U.S. Border Patrol agent and paid $200 a week and room and board for child care for his children. He and the others lamented the regulations that are pushing child care providers out of business.
Marcotte, co-owner of Jimmy Kwik in Newport City, said he’s now the vice chairman of the House Commerce Committee and is able to work across the aisle to pass legislation that, while not “sexy,” benefits Vermonters. He laments the “benefits cliff” that cuts off child care support when people seek better-paying jobs.
The four complimented each other on a civil campaign – which has also been fun, Viens added.
Jackson called the presidential election “very distressing,” a term echoed by the others. She said she will hold her nose and vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Viens said he will vote for Trump’s running mate Mike Pence.
Marcotte said he does not support either candidate and will probably write in another name.
Holland said he would vote for Clinton, the person least likely to start a “disastrous war.”
The depth of support for Scott as governor was clear, regardless of party affiliation.
Jackson said she will vote for Scott “because I think his policies will better serve Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom.”
Viens and Marcotte said they have supported Scott since day one.
“Vermont’s at a crossroads and we need a change badly,” Viens said.
Marcotte said he respects Minter but he does not agree on her views on free community college tuition, asking how the state will afford funding the other colleges and universities.
Holland, referring to the Lowell wind project, said outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration revealed “profound dishonesty … at the highest levels of state government.”
Holland said he hopes to get elected to work with Scott across the aisle.
When asked what they would do about “big wind” and state regulations on renewable energy, Viens said that the Vermont Public Service Board is in the back pocket of industrial wind developers. They all want Scott to replace the PSB members.
Marcotte asked why the state is not looking at hydro electric power from Quebec instead of destroying ridgelines or using agricultural lands for solar projects.
Holland said the state’s renewable energy plan, of 90 percent renewables by 2050, has nothing to do with climate change. It is designed to generate income for developers, he said.
Jackson called the current regulatory process “shameful.”
“Any process that has half of the state so mad at the other half that they can’t talk without a lawyer isn’t working,” she said.
On the subject of drugs, Jackson, Marcotte and Viens agreed that a needle exchange in the area would help opiates addicts avoid other illnesses. Holland said it addresses a symptom but not the fundamental problems.
Viens and Marcotte said that the state of Vermont should wait for other states to break ground on legalizing marijuana and health care cost reform and resolve problems first. Viens said the state should wait until a test is ready in two years to determine if someone is under the influence of marijuana while driving.
Marijuana legalization is just “to distract you, that’s all it’s about. It’s all about the money,” Viens said.
Holland and Jackson resisted the move to all-payer, a reform plan pushed by Shumlin where health care providers would be reimbursed based on patient well-being rather than health service provided.
“The days of ‘Trust us, we know best’ have come and gone,” Jackson said.
Viens said the state should scrap Vermont Health Connect and go to the federal exchange. He is still doing research on all-payer but agreed about questioning why there’s a hurry.
They would like to repeal or rewrite Act 46 so local school boards can make their own decisions, with Marcotte and Viens calling it a rural versus urban law rather than a partisan law.
School choice is being taken away, Marcotte said. “It’s not right.”
Jackson called it “another example of the heavy hand of Montpelier” on local leadership.
They opposed the carbon tax, with Viens calling it just a funding stream for progressives to spend on other policies. Rural Vermonters, they said, will be the ones who suffer without alternative transportation if the price of gas goes up 88 cents.
This is the last of four forums hosted by The Record, The Chronicle, Vermont’s Northland Journal, Building Bright Futures and NEK-TV. The forums are on the NEK-TV Facebook page.