VERGENNES — Vergennes resident Thelma “Kitty” Oxholm is no stranger to winning elections. She earned four terms on the Vergennes city council in the 1990s, and then two terms as city mayor between 2000 and 2004.
In 2006, Oxholm, a longtime special educator at Vergennes Union High School who then spent a decade coordinating special education services for Addison Northwest Supervisory Union before retiring last year, won one of two Addison-3 district seats in the Vermont House of Representatives, running as a Republican.
But in 2008 Oxholm lost her re-election bid to represent Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham.
In a four-way race, fellow GOP incumbent Greg Clark finished first with 2,220 votes, while then-Vergennes Alderman Diane Lanpher, a Democrat, polled 1,928 votes to finish second. Oxholm took third with 1,858 votes, and Democrat Jean Richardson of Ferrisburgh finished fourth with 1,558.
As the June deadline approached for deciding whether to run again, Oxholm said she decided her experience could be put to good use if voters returned her to the House this November. She will be on the ballot with Clark and Lanpher, plus Ferrisburgh Democrat Liz Markowski, who has twice run, but not won a seat.
Oxholm, 72, can point to lengthy community service as well as her background in education and politics: She is president of the Bixby Library board, a Lions Club vice president, a member of the Lake Champlain Bridge public advisory committee, on the boards of the Vergennes-Panton Water District and the Counseling Service of Addison County, and has served in similar capacities elsewhere in the past.
“I bring a good combination of experience that can be valuable, and was valuable when I was over there (in Montpelier) the two years,” Oxholm said. “All those areas help me understand the complexities of what is needed at the state level.”
Oxholm said her municipal experience helps her understand the complexities of how state actions can affect towns.
“There’s not much we can do at the local level without state support,” she said. “I think I have a good basic understanding of what is involved and how one thing depends upon another and how when you pass one law how it can affect communities or individuals in other unintended ways, and that is important experience.”
Also motivating Oxholm to run was her concern that the state is “headed off in some directions that need to be adjusted.”
One such direction is the state’s approach to supporting businesses and creating jobs. Oxholm believes a shift in lawmakers’ point of view could help improve Vermont’s business climate, particularly through streamlining the permit process and improving transportation and communication infrastructures.
“(We need) anything that can loosen up the permitting. I know there has been some work done. There was some work done when I was there, and there can be more ... And certainly the infrastructure (needs work). I don’t know where the money is coming from more than anybody else does, but I think that roads and bridges need to be looked at really carefully with the businesses in mind,” she said. “That’s something I would like to see happen more often in every committee over there when a bill comes up ... It’s more an attitude I would like to see.”
Alternative ways of funding schools is another direction Oxholm cited. She served on the education committee during her House term, and said that group spent much of its time focusing on school funding.
“There was some work done those years, and I know there has been some done since, and we still have the same problem. I think people in our state value education, and for forever they have provided a really good schooling situation for our kids, and I think they continue to want to,” Oxholm said, adding, “We don’t want to lose the quality education we have in the state, but we also know there are folks who are property taxpayers who really need some relief. I don’t have the answers, but I think the Legislature needs to continue to work very hard to continue to find ways to give relief.”
Oxholm strongly supports reasonable school consolidation efforts as one way to control school costs. She said she was working when in Montpelier on a version of the recently passed bill that helps districts like ANwSU consolidate.
“A few very large superintendencies doesn’t make sense to me geographically or socially ... But I think there are natural groupings, and (ANwSU) is one,” she said. “We have shown we can work together really as well almost as if we were one board, and that’s just an example of what can happen in other unions.”
Oxholm said she used a bipartisan approach when in Montpelier previously, and would do so again.
“I would really like it if we could come to consensus on everything up there ... I like to listen to points of view from others and see if we can get to something that works for everybody, without obviously losing sight of what your basic values are,” Oxholm said. “And I think I was seen as somebody that could do that when I was there. I’m not one to go strictly with party lines.”
Oxholm declined to discuss social issues, including same-sex marriage, but pledged to consider any issue carefully.
“I look at everything individually. I don’t make decisions before I go there. If things come up, I listen to all sides of an issue, and frankly sometimes agonize over things,” she said. “I try to make sure I know everything and think about everything and come to the right decision.”
Oxholm will in early July undergo a knee replacement operation that will mean adjusting her active campaign style.
“This is going to be a very different kind of campaign for me, because I really have been out there before, and I’m going to be relying on mailings and telephones and word of mouth,” she said.
The message she will try to get out will be the same, she said.
“I think I have shown by experience and community involvement that I do care about the residents of these five towns, and I do listen to them and will be there for them. I think I can use a lot of common sense. I think I have shown that in many ways over the years,” Oxholm said. “I think people have learned that they can certainly trust me to be straightforward with them and vote with their best interests and the best interests of the community and state.”
Andy Kirkaldy is at firstname.lastname@example.org.