By JOHN FLOWERS
LEICESTER — Leicester Republican John “Ike” Hughes believes the state Legislature has strayed off course.
That said, Hughes said he is running for the Addison-2 House seat to help bring lawmakers’ focus back home and away from issues over which Hughes believes the state has little or no control: The War in Iraq, global warming and impeachment of President George W. Bush.
“I just don’t think the state is spending proper time on state issues,” Hughes said, citing energy policy, school spending and smaller government as among priority topics.
Hughes, 63, is a retired United States Navy master chief petty officer who most recently ran his own instrumentation business. A Pittsford native who has lived in Leicester for the past 25 years, Hughes is challenging incumbent Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, in the district that includes Salisbury, Cornwall, Ripton, Leicester, Hancock and Goshen.
Hughes has been an active volunteer in statewide GOP politics since 1983. He became involved in Addison County Republican causes around 10 years ago. When the July 21 candidates’ filing deadline was fast approaching and no Republicans had declared an interest in Addison-2, Hughes stepped forward.
“I think the voters should have a choice,” Hughes said. “I think if you feel strongly about the issues, you should get out there.”
Hughes has developed strong opinions about health care, government spending and energy during a life that has included a 21-year stint in the United States Navy. He served three tours in Vietnam and visited more than 100 countries during a military career that saw him in charge of repairs to 26 nuclear submarines. That experience has given him a respect and appreciation for nuclear power at a time when the state is approaching a crossroads in determining whether to re-license Vermont Yankee.
Hughes believes the state should not only extend Vermont Yankee’s life (providing that can be done safely), but also consider building two more nuclear power plants — one each in the central and northern parts of the state.
Vermont Yankee, Hughes said, supplies the state with 34 percent of its power. He said some European and Asian companies already rely more heavily on nuclear power than the United States.
“If we had two more (nuclear power plants), we could supply 100 percent of our power,” Hughes said. “I think they are environmentally friendly.”
While he said the state could be better served with more nuclear power plants, he believes Vermont would be better off with fewer administrators — particularly in the area of public education. Hughes said the state’s public education system could run more efficiently and cost-effectively with fewer school districts.
“I think we should have a smaller school system,” Hughes said. “We have too many layers of government and have so many superintendent running our school systems.”
Hughes supports the current momentum in the Vermont Statehouse to strengthen Vermont’s laws against sex offenders. He said he has long supported adoption of a “Jessica’s Law” for the state. But Hughes believes the state should act more proactively in adopting such laws, not just when there is a tragic case that triggers such actions.
“I think we should take a forward look at thinking instead of a rearview mirror (approach),” he said.
On the issue of health care, Hughes said he would like to open Vermont up to more private insurance carriers. He does not support the notion of a single-payer health care system and is not a fan of Vermont’s Catamount Health plan for the state’s working poor. Hughes said he believes social welfare benefits should be temporary.
“I understand how it is to be poor,” Hughes said, noting that as a child, his family had to receive food assistance for a while.
“There are times when people are going to need help, but it should not be a long time, over years,” Hughes said.
Hughes plans to do a lot of door-to-door campaigning in the weeks ahead. He pledged to not ask for campaign contributions, and said he would donate to charity any legislative salary he receives during a session that goes beyond April 15.
“You should run because you want to give back,” he said.