By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY â€” Until recentÂly, Martha Rainvilleâ€™s presence in a room would command either great trepidation or intense joy among those who would hang on her every word.
As adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, it was Maj. Gen. Rainvilleâ€™s duty to send troops off to battle zones and make somber walks to a podium to release the names of Vermont soldiers killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Rainville presided over many a repatriation ceremony, at which soldiers and their families celebrated joyful reunions.
Rainville last month traded in her military fatigues for some civilian attire en route to what she hopes will be a new career serving the public â€” as Vermontâ€™s lone U.S. House member in Washington, D.C.
The St. Albans Republican is stumping throughout the state in anticipation of her GOP primary against state Sen. Mark Shepard, R-Bennington County, and Dennis Morriseau, a former Burlington Restaurateur.
Should she prevail in her primary, Rainville would go on to face state Senate pro temp Peter Welch, D-Windham County, in the general election this November. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., who is retiring.
In a wide-ranging interview last week at the Addison Independent, Rainville discussed her views on a variety of issues, including health care reform, the war in Iraq, the deficit, tax cuts, abortion and the environment.
Rainville was elected adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard on Feb. 20, 1997, becoming the first woman in the 370-year history of the countryâ€™s National Guard to serve in that capacity.
In her job, Rainville commanded the 3,800 members of the Vermont Army and Air National Guard. She oversaw a combined federal and state budget in excess of $120 million with a full-time work force of some 900 state and federal employees.
Rainville calls herself a â€œpeople person,â€? rather than an â€œanalytical-type person.â€? Sheâ€™s been seeing a lot of people during her campaign travels around the state, and many of them share common concerns.
â€œWhat I see are people out there who are concerned about Iraq and who are concerned about the cost of health care, â€? Rainville said. â€œThey are concerned about money and fiscal responsibility.â€?
Rainville said sheâ€™s concerned not only with how politicians are spending money on behalf of their constituents, but how they are using funds on their own behalf. She noted the recent Abramoff scandal as an example of how perks from lobbyists have tainted the reputations of some Washington politicians.
â€œThere needs to be some real effort on the part of both parties to restore the public faith in the institution,â€? Rainville said. â€œWhen Iâ€™m out talking with Vermonters, theyâ€™re pretty disgusted with everybody.â€?
Rainville said a more ethically-minded Congress will need to work overtime to wipe out the national deficit, which is increasing at a rate of more than $2 billion per day.
While Rainville would not dismiss the option of raising taxes as a tool to erase the national deficit, she voiced a reluctance to do so. She credited the Bush tax cuts with creating more than 4 million new jobs and revitalizing the economy.
â€œAs I am learning as much as I possibly can, there are a lot of indicators there that increasing taxes actually lessens revenue over the long term,â€? Rainville said. â€œI would be very careful before I would say, â€˜I want to raise taxes.â€™ That may slow economic growth.â€?
She acknowledged that the tax cuts will not help the deficit.
Instead, Rainville proposed cutting the costs of government programs, though she did not identify any specific programs that are currently ripe for trimming.
Rainville conceded that as the dominant power in the executive and legislative branches, the Republican Party has played a large role in producing the deficit and recent spending trends in Washington. But she vowed to work with â€œother moderate Republicansâ€? in Congress to cut costs and government pork that she said has helped drive up the budget.
Itâ€™s a change-the-culture-of-Washington mantra that many a candidate has chanted on the campaign trail, and Rainville knows it.
â€œIâ€™d rather be naÃ¯ve and work to change the culture, than to be cynical and say â€˜it can never be done,â€™â€? Rainville said.
In making her rounds throughout the state, Rainville has heard from many Vermonters concerned about the spiraling costs of health insurance. At this point, Rainville is prescribing a solution through which the federal government would work with private insurance companies to offer lower-cost health coverage.
â€œI think health insurance is something thatâ€™s a necessity,â€? Rainville said. â€œIf someoneâ€™s not insured, then everyone else is going to end up paying for their health care. As a practical way of looking at it, there should be some form of basic coverage â€” how thatâ€™s provided, I think, is the real debate.â€?
She does not favor a government-run, single-payer health care system.
â€œI have a basic suspicion of any government program actually achieving great efficiency in quality of care,â€? Rainville said. â€œWhat I donâ€™t want â€” and what I donâ€™t think anybody wants â€” is government getting involved in health acre to a degree in our health care choices that they are deciding what drugs theyâ€™ll fund and not fund â€¦ and who gets what procedures, up to what age.â€?
Rainville sees the health care solution as coming from an amalgam of small steps â€” including granting lower health insurance premiums to people who make healthy lifestyle choices; encouraging Americans to establish â€œhealth savings accountsâ€?; promoting health care associations among businesses to provide cheaper insurance opportunities for large pools of workers; and creating a more competitive landscape for insurance companies.
â€œWhen it comes to health care, I am very interested in increasing competition in health insurance, and allowing, from a federal point of view, insurance to be bought across state lines so that it can be more competitive,â€? Rainville said.
She also believes that health care costs will diminish as technology removes more of the paperwork and bureaucracy that drives up expenses.
â€œThere are a number of methods, when put together, that can help health care, and give us some time to look at it long-term,â€? Rainville said.
Rainville is also opposed to the notion of physician-assisted suicide.
â€œIâ€™m not comfortable with it at all â€” on behalf of the elderly as well as the physicians,â€? Rainville said.
Rainville served six years on the District No. 6 Environmental Commission, an experience that allowed her to gain a broad knowledge of Vermontâ€™s environmental rules. If elected, Rainville said she would not support any new policies that would undercut the purity of the stateâ€™s air, waters or land.
Rainville said. â€œWe have to push them, because if we donâ€™t, they are going to take the easier routeâ€¦â€?
At this point, Rainville does not support drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But she added the government needs to re-examine its policies for oil exploration, to better allow for searches off-shore and in other locations.
Rainville said she shares Vermontersâ€™ concern about the current spike in gasoline prices, adding the government should consider enacting a windfall profits tax on oil companies that have been seeing record quarterly profits.
â€œI think itâ€™s awfully hard for the average person to understand why, when our gas prices are shooting up so high, that the oil companies are making billions in extra profits,â€? Rainville said. â€œI donâ€™t understand it.â€?
Rainville is pro-choice, though she would support laws banning partial-birth abortions and requiring that parents be notified prior to a child 16 and under being able to have an abortion.
â€œI support a womanâ€™s right to make her own health care decisions, and I donâ€™t believe the government has the right to make that decision for a woman,â€? Rainville said.
While Rainville believes the U.S. should move swiftly to secure its borders, she does not believe all illegal aliens should be criminalized for their presence here.
â€œWe need, first and foremost, to find a way to identify themâ€¦ and know whoâ€™s here,â€? Rainville said. â€œThen we can sort them out by those who have become criminals here that we need to deport, and those we need to find a way to provide legal status for.â€?
Illegals who have come to the U.S. seeking a better way of life should be asked to apply for citizenship â€” with no special favors.
â€œThey have to earn it,â€? Rainville said. â€œWe should not expedite anything for them.â€?
Rainville has joined the chorus of Americans who believe Iraqis should be asked to take on a greater responsibility in defending their nation, so that American troops can return home.
â€œWhat I see is that we will soon reach the time â€” if we are not there already â€” of having used the military instrument of power to its maximum effectiveness,â€? Rainville said. â€œWe need to bring our combat troops home, and rely and develop and depend more on economics and diplomacy and political toolsâ€¦ in that situation. We have to rely less on the military, across the board, for all the right reasons. Theyâ€™ve done an outstanding job and need to come home with honor, not pulled out because of some perceived failure â€” they have not failed; theyâ€™ve done a tremendous, tremendous job.â€?
Rainville believes the U.S. will begin pulling out troops, in earnest, during the next six to 12 months. As that occurs, Rainville said she would advise the president to keep a small, permanent force in the region.
As adjutant general, Rainville got a close look at the strategy and politics of the war. She acknowledged a series of planning mistakes and mistakes within the Bush administration that have prolonged the war and tried the publicâ€™s patience.
â€œWhere it fell apart was the immediate post-invasion,â€? Rainville said. â€œThe period where it should have been about quick stability and humanitarian assistance and getting the systems back up and running. Mistakes were made.â€?
Some of those post-invasion mistakes, according to Rainville, included disbanding approximately 300,000 armed Iraqi soldiers; â€œunder-estimating the insurgencyâ€?; and failing to tap elements of the Baath regime for information that could have been helpful in the rebuilding process.
â€œThose are some judgment errors â€” not so much military judgment errors â€” that created an extended conflict in Iraq, and allowed the insurgency to get stronger and stronger, more quickly in that country,â€? Rainville said.
The United States government can learn several lessons from the invasion of Iraq, according to Rainville, such as listening more closely to military advisors prior to launching major operations; and studying a countryâ€™s culture more thoroughly before taking action.
Six retired U.S. generals recently leveled criticism against the Pentagonâ€™s planning of post-invasion military strategy in Iraq. Theyâ€™ve been particularly critical of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whom they have urged to resign.
Rainville believes the six generals should have spoken up before they retired, not after.
â€œIf you take your oath seriously, then do speak out,â€? Rainville said, adding that staying within the system connotes approval of the military policy one is following.
That said, Rainville believes the former generalsâ€™ comments are â€œstirring healthy debate.â€?
Some of that debate has focused on whether Rumsfeld should be fired, or asked to resign. As a prospective U.S. House member, Rainville realizes she may, someday, be asked to vote on a resolution on Rumsfeldâ€™s future.
At this point, Rainville said she would support efforts to encourage Rumsfeld to retire, rather than a resolution asking him to resign.
â€œI look at what is going to be productive; what is going to help,â€? Rainville said. â€œIs it going to help the credibility of the United States, or the effort to get us out of Iraq, to fire the defense secretary, to force him to resign? Iâ€™m not sure that would have the result we need.â€?
Rainville proposes to get results in a different way.
â€œI think that the military would benefit by a change in civilian leadership, but I think itâ€™s important that we are cautious in how we effect the change,â€? Rainville said. â€œI think (Rumsfeld) should be encouraged to retire. I think he has done a number of good things for the military, particularly prior to Iraq, and we need to recognize the whole career of the person and acknowledge what he has done that is good, and allow him to have a graceful retirement.â€?
The state GOP has already anointed Rainville as its preferred U.S. House candidate for the general election. Party faithful from inside and outside of the state are already stepping up with some hefty contributions â€” some of which have drawn criticism from the Welch camp because they have been associated with the Abramoff lobbying scandal.
â€œIt will cost several million dollars, which I think is crazy,â€? Rainville said of the expense of running for federal office.
â€œI have told Vermonters from the beginning I will accept legal contributions,â€? Rainville said. â€œIf I have any questions (about the legality of those contributions), I wonâ€™t.â€? She admitted a campaign contribution of $2,000 had raised eyebrows throughout the state, but said she would accept the money but not be beholden to any lobbyist.