Democrat Tom Costello, a veteran legislator serving Rutland and Brattleboro, has an uphill battle in challenging incumbent Brian Dubie as the state’s lieutenant governor. But Costello’s pragmatic approach to the issues, experience in bipartisanship as a former legislator, and his ‘can-do attitude’ when it comes to reaching resolution on problems facing the state earn him this paper’s endorsement in an effort to unseat Dubie and bring new energy to the state’s second-highest post.
Costello is a likeable “Joe-Six-Pack” kind of guy who, even though he has a law degree, feels more comfortable talking in half sentences, tossing in a few choice words that come from his days as a Marine, and talking about practical measures to solve problems rather than whining about obstacles or politics. After six years of dodging the issues, his frankness is refreshing.
“Our present administration is not dealing specifically and effectively with these problems which are solvable,” Costello told the Independent last week in reference to re-licensing Vermont Yankee, financial hardships for Vermont’s seniors, and attracting new jobs to Vermont. “My experience is to work together in an aggressive way, but to work together and find a solution ... There is no reason why we can’t make these things happen. That’s been my experience.”
Costello, 63, was born and raised in Rutland, graduated from Mount St. Joseph’s High School in 1963, graduated from St. Michael’s College then enlisted as a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 1967. He served in Vietnam, where he received a Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor and a Purple Heart. After coming home from Vietnam, he earned a law degree from Boston University Law School in 1974. Two years later he was elected to the House, representing the city of Rutland from 1976 to 1980 when he moved to Brattleboro and opened his own law firm. Fourteen years later, he was again elected to the House, where he served from 1994 to 2000. He chaired the judiciary committee from 1994 to 1998 during the civil unions controversy — “a very difficult issue,” he said, that was resolved by throwing the issue open to the public, inviting lots of testimony, and “tackling the issue head-on.”
Costello says that same approach should be done with several issues the state is facing today.
With Vermont Yankee, Costello says, the state needs to take a definite stand, then act on that so future energy planning can proceed. As it is, he says, the state is hamstrung with half of all Vermonters are battling re-licensing and the other half worried about costs but unsure of the plant’s safety. Consequently, no plan has been articulated if Yankee’s license is not extended.
That’s not good enough, Costello said, vowing to lead the state toward an articulated energy plan that includes alternative sources of power. That doesn’t mean Costello would oppose the plant’s re-licensing, but he vowed to determine the safety of the plant and lead the Legislature to an informed decision.
On economic development, Costello takes a similarly hard-nosed approach that criticizes the Douglas administration for whining about taxes instead of selling the state’s many positive assets. “We should promote the Vermont brand — our workforce, our schools, our quality of life, and opportunity for entrepreneurs — instead of spending all our time whining about taxes and regulations.”
Costello’s claims that Dubie’s and Douglas’s plan to entice businesses with still lower taxes only hinders the state’s ability to provide the infrastructure businesses need and isn’t the top priority for today’s entrepreneurs. Businesses want a strong, educated workforce and a good environment in which to work, he said, pointing to companies like Hubbardton Forge in Castleton, NRG in Hinesburg and Burton Snowboards in Burlington as businesses who have tapped into Vermont’s younger work force. “It’s the little engine that could,” said Costello, “not the little engine that can’t.”
Costello would also push for an improved railway along the state’s western corridor. He said the state already has a substantial federal earmark of millions of dollars dedicated to improving the railway from Burlington to Rutland and west to Albany, and from Bennington to Rutland, including the Omya spur in Middlebury. Such improvements — in both freight and passenger travel — would spark economic development in this underserved part of the state, he said.
In response to a number of senior residents in the state who are having hard times making ends meet, he said state leaders needed to stop wringing their hands and just do something.
“Instead of whining about it and talking about it, we’ve got to have a program. I’ve got a plan.” For residents who can’t afford heat or food or medications they need, Costello’s plan would forgive the property taxes of seniors meeting select criteria in exchange for a lien on their property to be cashed in when they die or when the property is sold.
Called the Vermont Senior Lien Option, a program that 24 other states have adopted in various forms, the plan is an example of Costello’s bold thinking and determined optimism that resolutions can be found for the state’s toughest problems if leadership would just act with vision and vigor — two qualities Costello has in ambundance.
We have few complaints with Mr. Dubie. He is a nice guy and sincere in his efforts. But for all his economic initiatives, including the “green valley initiative,” little has come of it, while other states — even other rural states like Idaho — are leaving Vermont in the dust and moving aggressively to land major new employers. Economic development has to be more than a slogan. Every good businessman knows that it takes investment to lay the foundation for future growth. Under Dubie and Douglas, that investment has been inadequate and the state keeps falling further and further behind.
Costello will help change that decline with an attitude that believes obstacles can be overcome by tackling the problems head on. Vermonters should give him the opportunity to do just by supporting him for lieutenant governor on Election Day.
Angelo S. Lynn