Candidate Q&A: It's a three-way contest in Addison-Rutland
ADDISON COUNTY — All of Addison County’s incumbent state senators and representatives will run for re-election Nov. 3, and many challengers have stepped up to make sure there will be competition for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore, as well as in five of the county’s six House districts.
As part of our election coverage, the Independent is publishing a series of legislative candidate Q&As, grouped by contest.
We asked each candidate the same six questions and offered them space for additional comment. For a list of the questions, see the Q&A sidebar.
In the Addison-Rutland House district (Shoreham, Orwell, Whiting and Benson) three candidates are running for one seat: incumbent Terry Norris (I), Ruth Bernstein (D) and Rick Lenchus (I).
1. Economy: I don’t see our economy growing until this virus ends or we learn how to deal with it and still carry on our life and businesses. Lodging and restaurants depend on tourists and the state depends on them as well. I think we will have an influx of people and families moving into our state because of the safe environment and the change to working from home that companies have found works well. We have been trying to get young families to live here and now they realize they can and have a good life. We have an uphill battle to encourage companies to build or expand here. We need to be more business-friendly as a state.
2. School Outcomes: This will be a challenging year for education. Trying to provide the proper education with part-time in class and at home will leave many students behind no matter how hard our educators try. I would like to see more hands-on trade education for the many jobs that are available. These are jobs that are here and will need to be filled, a good apprenticeship program would be a benefit.
3. School Consolidations: I don’t think now is a good time to be thinking of school consolidations or closures. With remote learning and home schooling we are not in a position to determine class size and whether the school has the number of students to keep it open. Our school in Shoreham has increasing enrollment and the issues around Orwell school make me wonder if we know what we are doing at this time.
4. Environment: Being on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee for the last four years, I have seen how the RAP’s (Required Ag Practices) have changed the way farms operate. This has resulted in a cleaner lake. Much more needs to be done. We also are working on a carbon exchange program that would pay the state and forest owners for the carbon sequestration that forests provide. More discussion on that in the next session in January. I am, as everyone else is, concerned with the wildfires in the West and the extreme heat, we need to take care of our home. We have heard from the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation of the environmental benefits of renewable secondary forest products for heating with high efficient systems without the use of fossil fuels.
5. Health care: I think we are fortunate to have great healthcare in our area. I will be honest to say I don’t know how we can make it more affordable. It was tried with a former governor and the state couldn’t afford to do it and it was discontinued. The way the revenues of the state are today, we aren’t in a position to try that again. I have watched to see if our Healthcare Committee could come up with a plan but four years later we are still waiting.
6. Agriculture: I have been a member of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee for two terms and served on the Milk Commission. The Commission talked about a supply management program to deal with the oversupply of fluid milk. To be really effective this needs to be a nationwide program. This was difficult to get other states on board. This year the milk handlers implemented their own supply management. Milk prices are still too low, the global market changed and continues to change. We worked hard to get as much CRF for our farmers, a small help in these trying times of COVID-19. The one positive from COVID is the continuing interest in our local foods and that has been a positive for local farm stands and the grass-fed beef market. It was just announced that in January we would hear about a $7 million federal program that would pay farmers for phosphorus reduction, good news for farmers and the environment.
7. Candidates Choice: As I write this, we are in the middle of completing the 2021 budget; with use of CRF we didn’t make any cuts to programs or add taxes. Next year I don’t see that happening again: The federal money will be gone and some hard choices will have to be made.
1. Economy: We must continue our state-led, science-based recovery, opening all sectors of the state as quickly and safely as possible (especially hospitality and in-person education). One silver lining however from the ongoing pandemic is an increased appreciation for our local goods and institutions. Even tourism within the state and an appreciation for our resources here seems to have increased. We need to continue to grow and build upon this momentum. We often talk about attracting “young people” to our state, but equally important is making Vermont an attractive place for those who grew up here to stay. Measures I would propose and support would include making connections between local producers (small and larger scale) and local consumers (individuals, as well as, public and private institutions) stronger. Increased broadband accessibility underlies all economic development and will bring more people to the state, especially now, with remote work and appreciation for less populated areas increasing. Town center development and healthcare reform are also essential.
2. School outcomes: In general, our education systems (childcare, public education K-12, and state colleges) have served our state well. In recent years there has been an increased emphasis on expensive administrative-level staff and programs in education. I believe emphasizing high quality classroom teachers and other professionals providing direct-to-student services has a much greater impact on school outcomes. We should strengthen our local schools instead of the recent destabilization. When families have a choice, a strong education system is one of the major deciding factors in where they chose to live. State regulations also need to be reevaluated to encourage and support childcare; a lack of available and affordable high-quality childcare is a huge issue (Shoreham, for example, does not currently have a single registered childcare). The connections between high schools, technical trade centers, and the skilled labor field itself should be greatly strengthened. Our state college system also needs to be stabilized.
3. School consolidation: I have been fighting for our town schools for the last six years, since I was on the Shoreham School Board, when we still had one. Towns, with schools at their heart, have been the building blocks of life in Vermont for hundreds of years. It is with great peril that we abandon this system of local schools. Our ACSD School Board has currently proposed and is hurtling towards closing four of our seven schools. The board continues to shut out the public and the public’s sentiment (a non-binding, but unanimous vote to allow our town to vote on our school’s future at the Shoreham 2019 Town Meeting which was never once even acknowledged by the board). Bigger schools do not mean better education or even decreased costs. I am a proud product of our Vermont education system and have also worked in our schools and all my children have (or will) attend them. We need to build up our schools, tackle the high property tax burden through tax reform, and keep our towns strong so they are places that can prosper with the local participation that has meant so much to our success.
4. Environment: My guiding principle in all that I do will be, “keeping Vermont, Vermont.” Our climate, lakes, rivers, forests, and open lands all need protection, protections which also allow healthy and sustainable industry and development. These goals are not in opposition to each other. In the towns I seek to represent especially, agriculture has been, and continues to be, a leading industry and industry insiders must be part of creating the solutions that work for all of us. The “Green” and outdoor economies will also continue to be economic drivers and should be responsibly encouraged. Specific steps I would support include updating aging municipal infrastructure to stop sewage overflows and continued support for weatherization efforts. Climate change is happening and while doing our part to stop its worst trajectory, some resources must also go to understanding and preparing for the changes coming.
5. Health care: Many of our struggles as a state can be traced to the heavy burden of rising health care costs. From our business and non-profit sectors to our education system, these costs are literally putting us out of business. We must figure out a way to move universal primary health care, and eventually universal health care, forward. This can eventually save us money as more Vermonters are able to get the preventative, mental health, and addiction resources they need, preventing the huge costs of emergency room visits (with some Vermonters depending on emergency rooms for their health care needs) and interactions with law enforcement etc. Having huge for-profit health insurance and pharmaceutical companies dictating how health care is accessed is not in the public interest. A publicly funded system, with transparency and strong oversight, will be more effective financially and in terms of health outcomes.
6. Agriculture: Our farms are a backbone of our communities and have continued right through the COVID-19 crisis, but they are struggling. We must value and foster farms of all sizes and types and work to mend the adversarial stance that has developed. This can be done through creativity, communication, and collaboration. It is also essential that we attract and educate the next generation of farmers through encouraging programs such as internships, vocational programs etc. Connecting local milk and produce with local schools and other institutions should also be a priority. Local farmers also cite increased access to broadband as essential.
7. Candidate’s Choice: Vermont is divided and the divisions are increasing. We need to work to understand each other, to collaborate, and be less judgmental to soothe the fear and divisiveness. Underlying all my decision-making will be an effort to value, foster and develop the things that make Vermont great and unique. Strengthening our small towns will help build connections and bring us together. I am running to bring a new, commonsense perspective to Montpelier during this pivotal time.
Editor’s note: Rather than answer the same questions as the other candidates, Rick Lenchus submitted the answer to questions posed by the League of Women Voters, which we present here.
Health care is among the most important challenges facing our state. As an architect I work with the American Disabilities Act. Adding that to is the challenge of education. I know what schools require to protect students and teachers. Bringing back youth and jobs by offering new crop from farming to the arts and sciences to trades. Include culinary arts as well as science to create ideas like electric cars etc. Police rethink to bring communities together with auxiliary cops and ball games. All lives matter by understanding; until we accept all people then not all lives will matter.
I will support an equitable and vibrant economy in our state by inviting new, youthful creative businesses to draw in tourist and keep our young here. I will also support new architecture that represents Vermont and culture; new ideas in good restaurants and exotic farm foods. I will support more doctors dentists, caregivers, barbers, bowling, tennis, soccer and basketball. I will support rocket contests and invention. All to build an economy that will draw new Vermont residents.
To address social and racial inequality in our state I will invite different people and culture sharing to break down walls of fear and ignorance. Learn each other’s history, music, dance, art, such as Abenaki Indians, first Vermonters. Open farms and teach city people how to milk cows shear sheep, ride horses. Teach line dancing and fiddle contests.
To ensure healthcare access for all over the long term I support inspecting schools for lead in water, and asbestos in walls, ceilings, and floors. Braille for the blind at elevators, bathrooms and exits. Handicap bathrooms, ramps, entrances, doors, seating. Work with wounded warriors and seniors. Stand up to big Pharma. Reduce medical prices. Check nursing homes to make sure they are clean and run by licensed professional nurses and healthcare employees.
To improve and secure elections and voting in our state: Elections must have more questioner such as this for all the people to answer not just politicians. Stop the lobbyists and party fighting. We are all Americans looking to do the best for our neighbors and communities.