Acinapura will not seek re-election to Brandon House seat
BRANDON — It was with mixed feelings that Rep. Joe Acinapura, R-Brandon, officially announced this week he will not seek a fourth term in the Vermont House.
Local murmurs about the decision had been rumbling for months, and in an interview on the steps of Acinapura’s Park Street home Monday morning, the 73-year-old confirmed that he had made his choice some time ago.
“Last summer, I knew,” he said, explaining that he and his wife, Lois, a Florida native, have not gotten to spend nearly as much time in the Sunshine State during the winter months as they would like. Acinapura added that he will be 74 this Sunday, and there are some leisure activities he would like to enjoy.
“So, it’s the idea that I’m not taking a different path,” he said. “I’m just proceeding with my life, whether it’s getting another hole-in-one (he has four, one each on Neshobe Golf Club’s par 3 holes), or catching the biggest trout or bass of my life, you know, do the things I like to do so I don’t have to do other things.”
But it is a bittersweet decision. Acinapura is known for being fiscally responsible (having served on the House Appropriations Committee throughout his tenure at the Statehouse), but also for being very responsive to his constituents. Acinapura guesses he has helped roughly 200 families per year with a variety of problems, from neighbor disputes to tax issues, sign problems to street cleaning, road improvements to accessing state agencies.
“I loved serving the people,” he said wistfully. “My greatest satisfaction I get is from helping people. To the person that calls me up, it’s the most important thing and they’re not getting satisfaction from their government. Sometimes, it only takes one phone call.”
TOO MUCH TO DO
If he could, Acinapura said he would continue trying to do it all, serve Brandon in the House, maintain his community connections, and spend time with his family. He has two married daughters and five grandchildren. Acinapura has served in many capacities during the 23 years he has lived in Brandon. He has taught at the College of St. Joseph in Rutland and the Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes. He also coached seventh-grade basketball at Otter Valley Union High School and served on the Rutland County Reparative Board. Acinapura is also past chair of the Vermont Republican Party, past president of Brandon Rotary and past commander of the Brandon VFW.
He chaired the Brandon selectboard in the early 1990s, and served as chair of the Vermont Parole Board until December 2005. Prior to that, Acinapura served for two years as the chair of the Governor’s Veterans Advisory Council. He currently serves as president of the Safer Society and chair of the St. Mary’s Cemetery Fund. He also serves on the board of the Vermont Veteran’s Home in Bennington and the Youth Safety Council of Vermont.
So, has he done all he set out to do?
“Of course not,” Acinapura said quickly. “If there was a way to serve the people here and make the family commitments and see friends … if I could do all of that and represent the people, I’d continue to do that.”
Acinapura ran unsuccessfully in 1996 and 1998 for the state Senate seat representing Brandon and Addison County.
In 2005 he was appointed to the state parole board by Gov. James Douglas. Then, in December of that year, Douglas appointed Acinapura to the post of Brandon representative after the death of longtime Republican Rep. Bob Wood.
Acinapura then won election to the seat in 2006 over Brandon Selectman Mitch Pearl. He ran unopposed in both 2008 and 2010, the last election being endorsed by both the Republican and Democratic parties.
“It’s a wonderful way to leave my service to Brandon, being endorsed by the entire community,” he said.
And Acinapura himself has endorsed a presumptive successor, Brandon innkeeper Seth Hopkins, who said this week he planned to run.
FATE LEADS TO BRANDON
Acinapura’s first career was in the U.S. Army, serving 28 years until he retired as a full colonel in 1989. After years of Army life traveling from one post to the next, mostly in Europe, the Rutland-area native and his wife were looking to put down roots somewhere, narrowing their choices to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Lois Acinapura wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in each state, not realizing that the Vermont Chamber shared letters of inquiry with local realtors. Brandon realtor Ginny Baird was one of those realtors, and in November 1988, the Acinapuras traveled from Italy to New Jersey for a wedding, making plans to spend six days in Vermont looking for a house, a barn and 10 acres. After driving around looking at a number of homes, the house on Park Street caught their eye and Lois Acinapura made up her mind.
“I’d like to be within walking distance of shops and the town,” she said, as the Brandon rep tells it.
After a windswept tour of a place way up in the Northeast Kingdom, the Acinapuras called Baird and made an offer on the Park Street property. It was the morning of the day they were leaving. They went into the Brandon bank and then-bank President Terry Kline handed Acinapura a signed, blank loan form.
“He said I was approved for a loan,” Acinapura said. “And I said, ‘I’m gonna like this town.’”
Then they needed to find an attorney, and Acinapura went to the now-departed Frank Bunting.
“I said, ‘I have to go back to Italy and I won’t be here for the closing. I want you to be my power of attorney, and if you screw it up, I’ll sue you,” Acinapura said with a laugh.
Then the couple went into LaDuke’s Bar on Center Street and hired a painter before leaving town.
When they returned in April, the house wasn’t quite ready, and they spent a few nights with their realtor Ginny Baird and her husband.
“Yes, I had achieved some things in my life, but I had never been settled,” Acinapura said. “And here we were staying with these people and they didn’t even know us. I said this was truly an outstanding community. I was loved, and they didn’t even know me.”
A RECORD IN THE HOUSE
It is often met with a chuckle, but Acinapura is proud of his proactive stance on mosquito control in the area, annually securing the much-needed funds necessary for the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Mosquito Abatement Committee to buy larvicide and maintain spraying trucks and aerial treatments to keep the pests under control.
He is also proud of his record on the state budget and other fiscal matters through Appropriations.
“Any legislation dealing with money came to our committee, so I go to influence every key piece of legislation over six years,” he said in awe. “That’s where I was lucky, because that’s one of the most powerful positions up there.”
A NEW ERA
Acinapura was disappointed with the redistricting changes that came out of Montpelier this year, adjusting House and Senate districts according to population shifts. Brandon will become a two-member district next term, combined with Pittsford and Sudbury. But Republican Pittsford-Sudbury Rep. Butch Shaw was sorry to hear of Acinapura’s stepping aside.
“I’m very disappointed to hear of Joe’s resignation,” Shaw said Monday. “However, he has given 100 percent to the town of Brandon and the state of Vermont over the past seven years.”
Shaw, who was elected as a freshman rep in 2010, said Acinapura mentored him when he first arrived at the Legislature.
“I’m very grateful for that,” he said. “And as a candidate for re-election, I look forward, if elected, to working for the town of Brandon as hard as Joe did, and for Pittsford and Sudbury as well.”
As for Acinapura, he’ll still be around to give advice or lend an ear.
“I’m not leaving,” he said. “I’m still around. I’ve loved serving the community and I love the way they’ve treated me.”