By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — Having spent years selling apples, fudge and hot dogs, it’s only appropriate that Steve Jackson would use a food metaphor in describing Vermont’s economy.
The Shoreham Republican, one of two candidates in the running for the Addison-Rutland-1 seat in the Vermont House, likens the state’s economy to a pie that needs to be super-sized.
“Whenever I hear that money is needed to fund particular programs in the state of Vermont, it’s always, ‘What department are we going to take it out of?’” Jackson said. “It’s like the pie can be only one size. How about making the pie bigger?”
Jackson proposes to make Vermont’s economic pie larger by making it an even bigger draw for tourists, while encouraging the state’s smaller communities to follow Middlebury’s lead in creating their own industrial/business parks.
“I’d like to see a big increase in promoting tourism in Vermont,” Jackson said, reasoning that more tourism-related tax revenues will take pressure off Vermont property taxpayers.
“You don’t have to increase the sales tax; just get more sales,” he added.
Jackson said Vermont’s scenic beauty and recreation opportunities make for an easy sell to prospective visitors.
“We need to build upon what we’re already good at; giving people a good time,” Jackson said.
Jackson, 58, has had to learn the ropes of marketing in his own small enterprises, which currently consist of Phenomenal Fudge Inc., and Nathan’s Hot Dog vending. Both are solo ventures that are based out of the Shoreham home he shares with his wife, Robin. Together, they have three children.
The Jacksons’ previous ventures have included Jackson Orchards Inc. in Shoreham and the former Harvest Hill Country Store in Middlebury.
If elected, Jackson said he would support measures that would encourage the growth of business and light industries in Vermont communities. He pointed to Middlebury as a prime example of a town that has been proactive in accommodating such growth.
“I’ve always admired Middlebury for Exchange Street,” he said, referring to the industrial park that now hosts industries making items ranging from beer to bow ties.
Jackson acknowledged that Middlebury has more infrastructure — including wastewater treatment — that other towns simply don’t have. But he believes small towns can take tinier steps, such as promoting business parks with small wastewater treatment facilities.
“It would behoove every small town to ask what they can do to increase their tax base,” Jackson said.
Cracking down on drunk drivers is another priority on Jackson’s legislative agenda. He is founder and past president of the Addison County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. His daughter, Sarah, suffered serious injuries in a 1998 car crash. The driver of that car had fallen asleep and veered into a tree while driving home after a party.
Jackson said he would support:
• Immediate impounding of vehicles belonging to repeat drunk drivers.
• Mandatory blood drawings from people suspected of being under the influence, whether those people are at the hospital “or a less convenient place.”
• Mandatory “dry-out” periods for repeat drunk drivers and drug offenders before they can again get behind the wheel.
“I would bring forth a lot of support to tightening up the (drunk driving) laws already in place,” Jackson added.
On the issue of health care, Jackson said he would support efforts to increase competition among providers — a move he contends would drive down health care costs. He wants to see the state solicit bids from health insurance companies wanting to do business in Vermont. At the end of the bidding process, Jackson said Vermont could go with the top 10 or 20 companies, based on price and other factors. The state, according to Jackson, could reject those companies that simply want to “cherry-pick” from among Vermont’s healthiest patients.
Jackson said he would support initiatives to help Vermont farmers, though he added agricultural businesses should be expected to stand on their own.
“I’m for emergency support for agriculture, but not unending support,” said Jackson.
He added he would not support legislation that would make the manufacturers of genetically modified seeds liable for damage suffered by neighboring organic farms, in the event of pollen drift.
Jackson joins Shoreham independent Will Stevens in the Addison-Rutland-1 district. The district includes the towns of Shoreham, Orwell, Whiting and Benson. Incumbent Rep. Mark Young, R-Orwell, will not seek re-election this year.
This will be Jackson’s first foray into politics.
“I will vote my conscience and my principles,” Jackson said.