MIDDLEBURY — Former Ripton resident and Middlebury College graduate Randy Brock has worked to influence state policy as the Vermont Auditor of Accounts and as a state senator.
Now he wants to become Vermont’s chief executive. To that end, the Swanton Republican is taking on incumbent Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Putney, on Nov. 6.
Brock, 69, has represented Franklin County in the state Senate for the past four years. Prior to that, he served as state auditor for one term, defeating then-incumbent Vermont Auditor Elizabeth Ready, a Lincoln Democrat, in 2004. Brock was defeated in his 2006 re-election bid by current state Auditor Thomas M. Salmon, who ran during that election as a Democrat. Salmon subsequently changed his party affiliation to Republican and will not be running for re-election on Tuesday.
A decorated Vietnam veteran, Brock is a retired executive vice president for Fidelity Investments, one of the world’s largest financial services companies.
He explained he has developed an affinity for the state he has called home for the past 42 years, and said he wants to play a role in making it stronger.
“It’s corny, but I love Vermont,” Brock said. “That’s why, for so many years, when I had a (business) office in Boston, I commuted back and forth to Vermont every single day. It’s a place where I raised my family. It is a great place, has a tremendous environment, has outstanding potential, and a future for which I am very optimistic.”
But Brock’s optimism is somewhat tempered by what he believes is a perilous economic course that has been charted by the Shumlin administration and the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
“It is a direction in which we have in many cases in government discouraged economic activity, discouraged the creation of jobs and opportunities, so that so many of our kids and grandchildren have to leave Vermont in order to find a job,” Brock said. “It is a place in which increasingly, people who were once very self-reliant and independent are now faced with a government that ‘knows better than they do’ how to manage the aspects of their lives.”
If elected, Brock hopes to push state government away from what he says is a “one-size-fits-all approach” to a more varied set of solutions steeped in financial moderation.
“We are seeing now the excesses that single-party rule can create,” Brock said. “We need to bring the pendulum back to a sensible center.”
Brock said that during his time in the Senate he has worked with both parties in tempering legislation that he feared was too sweeping. He cited, as an example, medical marijuana legislation that — as first drafted — would have “prevented local law enforcement from even knowing where these facilities were.”
Brock added he was also able to help forestall legislation that he said would have allowed for the issuance of “standard driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.” Brock proposed (and his colleagues agreed) to establish a study committee to further explore the issue. And lawmakers also considered a measure to expand the bottle bill to cover additional containers, but Brock and some of his colleagues urged that the matter be deferred pending further examination of how the new law would affect the state’s waste stream and landfill tipping fees.
“I think I’ve added a lot in keeping bad legislation from getting worse,” Brock said.
And more bad legislation looms on the horizon, according to Brock. He cited, as an example, plans by the Legislature and the Shumlin administration to devise and implement a single-payer health care system, a measure that supporters believe will decrease costs and result in better delivery of services.
While Brock supports some provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act — such as the creation of a “Health Care Exchange” to create a marketplace and information clearinghouse for competing insurance plans — he does not support the notion of a single-payer system.
“What we are going to do is take a fifth of our economy — $5 billion a year — and we are going to put it in the hands of five people, unelected and unaccountable?” Brock said of Green Mountain Care Board. “We can’t even fire them. None of them has ever run a health care system, none of them has ever run a hospital, and none of them has ever run an insurance company.”
Brock said he supports decoupling health insurance from employment, allowing for the money to follow the individual instead of being predicated by employment.
“The idea is to put patients more in charge of their own care,” Brock said.
At the same time, Brock said the state should get a handle on the “cost drivers” of health care costs and “adopt realistic plans for dealing with each of those drivers.”
Instead, the state is pushing ahead in developing a single-payer system without a clear idea of the costs or implications, according to Brock.
“What we are doing now is driving 100 mph through the fog, not really sure where we’re going,” Brock said, quoting one of his legislative colleagues. “And we are blowing up every bridge behind us.”
Brock believes the state will also need to better confront the growing expense of a public school system that is accommodating fewer students.
He recalled participating in a number of Senate Education Committee public hearings on school issues and hearing Vermonters stress that they want to keep local control over their schools.
And those schools are getting smaller and smaller, Brock acknowledged. He pointed to statistics covering 2000 to 2010, showing the per capita cost of education in Vermont went up by 149.9 percent while student enrollment dropped by 18.3 percent.
“It’s clear that is those kinds of trends continue, that’s the epitome of an unsustainable system,” Brock said.
He noted the Legislature passed a law a few years ago that allows for public school consolidation through creation of “regional education districts.” But he believes consolidation should be kept voluntary.
“Local control is important and people shouldn’t be herded into these involuntarily,” Brock said, adding, “The whole issue of forced school consolidation is the third rail of Vermont politics.”
Brock is a supporter of “virtual consolidation,” through which schools can share resources — such as teachers and bulk purchasing contracts — across supervisory union lines.
On the issue of agriculture and its impact on the environment, Brock said more federal resources are needed to help farmers stem the flow of phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain.
“In the scope of priorities, cleaning up Lake Champlain should be well within our list of priorities, because it is an economic resource for the state,” Brock said. “Tourism is our biggest industry, and the last thing we need to do is damage that further by having a dirty lake.”
Meanwhile, Brock said farmers should continue to try to ramp down milk production to help stabilize dairy prices. He believes dairy is an industry that is deserving of federal subsidies and stabilization programs.
Better marketing, Brock added, would also give Vermont farmers a boost. If given the choice, consumers in other markets will pay a premium for Vermont dairy products, he noted. But he said current law requires that in order to bear a “Vermont made” label, such exports must be packaged in the Green Mountain State. He noted only a handful of Vermont dairies bottle their own milk (including Booth Bros. and Weybridge’s Monument Farms). Bottling milk is, of course, an expensive proposition for a lot of Vermont dairies.
That rule could be changed, according to Brock.
“Wait a minute, we write the law,” Brock said. “The law is whatever we want it to be.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]