Popular office: 13 compete for six senate seats

By THE CITIZEN STAFF

One of the most crowded sections on Tuesday’s ballot is the spot listing candidates for Chittenden County’s state Senate seats.

All six incumbents are seeking re-election and seven challengers are vying to unseat them.

The senate district is comprised of most of Chittenden County with the exception of Colchester, Huntington, and Buels Gore, which are included in adjacent Grand Isle and Addison Senate districts.

A collegial group, the current office-holders announced their bids to run again with a joint news release back in May, complete with a group photo. They described it as running “as a slate”, although in Vermont voters must mark their ballot for each choice.

The incumbents are Burlington Democrat/Progressives Tim Ashe, the Senate President Pro Tempore, and Philip Baruth. They are seeking their sixth and fifth terms, respectively. Burlington Progressive/Democrat Chris Pearson is seeking his second term in the Senate after serving four terms in the House. Representing Williston, Democrat Debbie Ingram is finishing her first term, and Senate veteran Virginia “Ginny” Lyons is running for her tenth term. Michael Sirotkin of South Burlington is seeking his third Senate term.

Challengers include three Republicans: Paul Dame from Essex, Alex Farrell of South Burlington, and Dana Maxfield of Milton; two Libertarians: Seth Cournoyer of South Burlington and Loyal Ploof of Burlington; and two independents: Josh Knox on the Fair Representation label and Dr. Louis Meyers of South Burlington. Only Dame has served in the Legislature previously as a House member.

The Citizen and the Shelburne News contacted the candidates with a short survey. Here are their responses.

Ashe

Tim Ashe
Age: 41
Hometown: Burlington
Party affiliation:Democrat/Progressive
Profession (other than legislator): Project management consultant to nonprofit organizations
Senate experience: First elected in 2008
Other offices held:local city council
Reasons for running: I want to live in a state that reduces income inequality, makes equal rights and pay for women realities and not mere slogans, strives for dignified living for senior citizens, combats climate
change, builds the foundation for a vibrant economy, and pushes back against the Trump Administration’s worst proposals. My passion to do this work, and to work with the community to get the job done, is greater than it has ever been.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: 1. We need to raise the minimum wage. Not only will it increase take-home pay for tens of thousands of adult Vermonters who work, but it will also reduce government spending on the public benefits that many workers qualify for because their pay is so low. 2. We need to control health care costs. Rising health care costs are crushing state and local budgets, as well as businesses. 3. Vermont must write the next chapter of our commitment to clean energy and combating global warming. We’ve shown that this can be done while generating employment and stimulating the local economy.
Comments: Lobbyists should not run the State House. I’ll state it plainly – they have too much influence. The best way for constituents to keep the Legislature grounded in the community is to communicate with us. As always, I hope community members will contact me directly with any questions, ideas for legislation, or just to weigh in. Each year I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve passed bills or amendments that originated with a simple email or call from a constituent. If I’m lucky enough to return the Senate, I want to keep that record going! I also believe that while we need to continue to do a better job managing educational expenses, that doesn’t mean we should trash public education or disparage our teachers. The Governor’s proposal to cut many hundreds of teachers and staff using blind, arbitrary percentage cuts is hardly a way to attract young workers and families to Vermont. We should be improving our financial management while celebrating our schools.
Voters can learn more: Website is timashe.com. Twitter: @TimAsheVT and Facebook: facebook.com/tim.ashe.77

Baruth

Phil Baruth
Age: 56
Hometown: Burlington
Party affiliation: Democratic/Progressive
Profession (other than legislator): Teacher
Senate experience: Four two-year terms
Other offices held: Just Vermont Senate
Reasons for running: I think I’ve been increasingly effective over the last eight years, with my greatest influence over the legislative process developing in the last four. As chair of Senate Education (Committee), I hope to continue the transformation of our special education system, and work toward a financing system that doesn’t rely (or rely nearly so much) on the property tax.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: 1) Lake clean up; 2) completing our work on special education and completing the work with Act 46, which helped districts bring budgets in under inflation this past year; and 3) finding ways to grow the economy and benefit all sectors of Vermont’s population, including those in need of $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.
Voters can learn more: Facebook: facebook.com/baruthsenate
Comments: Shelburne is the poster child for Vermont’s (and the county’s) relationship with Lake Champlain. We must do better, and that means overcoming the governor’s resistance to directing funds to clean-up. To me, that’s job number one this session.

Cournoyer

Seth Cournoyer
Age: 17
Hometown: South Burlington
Party affiliation: Libertarian
Senate experience: First-time candidate
Other offices held: none
Reasons for running: Because currently, our Senate is extremely one-sided. I offer a different voice with different options on how to fix issues. Our senate is meant to be debating the best way to go about options, I don’t like the idea of one party dominating. My hope is to spread a different way of looking at issues in the Senate and spark new debates.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: Cost of Living – Living in Vermont has become increasingly less affordable. If elected, I plan to reevaluate our permit system which increases the cost of development making it virtually impossible to build affordable housing. Economy – Vermont’s economy is set to be one of the worst in the nation. This is in part due to how hard our Government is on Business. I support cutting restrictive regulations that do nothing but burden business. Education – No student should be forced to go to an education that is not best fit for them. I support a school choice system that allows kids to choose what school to go to and have the money follow their head to the education.
Voters can learn more: Twitter: @TheRealSethC. Facebook: @cournoyerVT. Website: sethcournoyer.com
Comments: I am one of the youngest candidates for state senator. Many of the issues facing Vermont has to do with my generation not being able to afford to live here, and leaving. Although I do not claim to represent my generations political views, I can often relate much more with them. I also wish to address concerns regarding my age; I don’t believe that the Senate needs more young people in it. I believe the senate needs good people in it, both with character and policy, I hope people see that in me regardless of age.

Dame

Paul Dame
Age: 35
Hometown: Essex
Party affiliation: Republican
Profession (other than legislator): Financial Adviser
Senate experience: First-time candidate for Senate
Other offices held: Vermont House 2015-16
Reasons for running: Every time Montpelier comes up with a solution to an issue here in Vermont, the answer seems to be taking away more of Vermonter’s choices or more of their money in the form of taxes. I think there are better solutions that offer more economic opportunity and will let Vermonters stay and live in Vermont. The Senate has members from all across the political spectrum, but there’s nothing like a Dame!
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: It is clear that Vermont has challenges to its economy coming over the next two years. Despite a record boom across the United States in employment, Vermont has had less than 1 percent job growth. According to Forbes Magazine, Vermont ranks 48th out of all U.S. States for business outlook, and 49th for growth prospects. This isn’t good and we need to make it easier for Vermont business to grow. What if every small business in Vermont added just one more employee? We could add 100,000 jobs here in the state. When I was in the Legislature, I served on the Committee for Human Services. We made combating opiate addiction a major priority. I’m going to continue fighting opioids in the Senate. Helping out neighbors recover from addiction will have more positive impacts than almost every other area of state spending. Fewer people suffering from addiction means fewer people in prison, fewer families in social distress and greater public safety. This can literally save the lives of people we know. I think that expanding the marketplace will bring greater opportunities for expanding affordable health options to all Vermonters. It used to be that Vermont had 18 insurance companies, now we have two and, effectively, only one. This doesn’t make sense to me, as there is no other arena of life where we believe that a one-size-fits-all plan works best for everyone. In Vermont, we are the only state that actually makes it illegal to shop for health insurance outside the state exchange. Can you imagine if the state stopped you from buying food or medicine where you thought best?? We can do better with health care and I plan to do just that in the Vermont Senate.
Comments: I grew up on a dairy farm right in Brandon. I know you need to get up early to get the job done! I moved to Burlington as I attended UVM. When my wife and I married, we moved to Essex, where we have been raising our three children. We know Chittenden County, both from the city and the country and I am running to be a senator for all the folks out there, whether you hail from Milton, Burlington or Buels Gore. We’ve been there and we know the County is a big place, has a big heart and small communities. Montpelier would do well to remember that and I will.
Voters can learn more: Website is pauldame.com.Facebook: facebook.com/Dave4VT. Twitter: @Dame4VT

Farrell

Alex R. Farrell
Age: 26
Hometown: Burlington
Party affiliation: Republican
Profession (other than legislator): Data analyst
Senate experience: First-time candidate
Other offices held: The commissions that I have served on in Burlington are all appointed by the mayor and city council, but include: Burlington’s Board for Registration of Voters, Burlington’s Parks Commission, and the Community Development Block Grant Board.
Reasons for running: I am running to make Vermont a more affordable place for people of all ages and backgrounds. I want to help keep more of our talented young people here in Vermont. I want to make it easier for seniors living on a fixed income to remain in the state, and I want to empower businesses and workers to stimulate economic growth.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: 1. Reforming and simplifying the education property tax system. 2. Reworking our permitting process to allow for thoughtful and balanced development. 3. Expanding access to Pre-K education.
Voters can learn more: Website is AlexFarrell.org. Facebook: Facebook.com/AlexFarrellVT. Twitter: @AlexRFarrell
Comments: We desperately need balance in the state senate from Chittenden County. We are currently represented by six folks that vote nearly in lockstep. I have been endorsed by Governors Scott and Douglas and by local Democrats and Republicans as a moderate and thoughtful candidate. I grew up in Shelburne, attended CVU, then graduated with a business degree from UVM; my Vermont roots run deep and I am committed to working hard for the state that I love.

Ingram

Debbie Ingram
Age: 56
Hometown: Williston
Party affiliation: Democrat
Profession (other than legislator): Executive director of a nonprofit
Senate experience: One term
Other offices held: Local selectboard
Reasons for running: To improve the lives of my constituents and all Vermonters. I have served in municipal government on the Williston Planning Commission for five years and the Williston Selectboard for six, and in my role with the nonprofit I direct, I work with everyday Vermonters to effect systemic change around issues of social justice. This has given me experience in affordable housing and eradicating homelessness, in criminal justice reform, education, transportation, and economic dignity. In the Senate, I serve on the Health and Welfare and Education committees. My well-rounded experience and heart for justice help me to contribute to my community as a legislator.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: My three top issues are improving conditions for Vermont workers by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and initiating paid family leave insurance; advancing universal health care through various measures, including by moving forward the universal primary care bill we passed earlier this year; and welcoming and treating equitably our immigrants and refugees, and all people of color.
Voters can learn more: Website is ingramforsenate.com; Facebook: Ingram for Senate; Twitter: @DebbieIngramdeb
Comments: Please vote for me on Nov. 6, or now at your town hall.

Knox

Joshua Knox
Age: 39
Hometown: Essex
Party affiliation: Fair Representation Vermont (Independent)
Profession (other than legislator): High School Latin Teacher (Mt. Mansfield Union)
Senate experience: First-time candidate
Other offices held: Essex Planning Commission since 2013
Reasons for running: I am running for the Vermont Senate specifically because I believe the Senate is unrepresentative of the views of a broad spectrum of Vermonters based on the way Senate elections are conducted. Our multi-member “at large” district in such a large county makes it very difficult for minority viewpoints to get a fair hearing.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: 1. It is vital that we change the way we elect Senators, in such a way that will allow for a more diverse and representative body that can work to solve the issues facing Vermonters with all perspectives at the table. My personal proposal is a system of proportional representation which I call the “No Wasted Votes” plan. 2. As a teacher, I believe we best preserve Vermont’s educational system by remembering that students, parents, and teachers are all human beings. Too often legislators in Montpelier (even with the best of intentions) pass laws that fail to take into account the facts on the ground or the way children actually are. Voices of experience and hard-earned wisdom are left by the roadside in the rush to institute something “measurable,” as though children can be counted like beans. As a parent myself, my priority will be to build on the best of what already works while never forgetting that our children are human beings. 3. In addition to a political system that’s more representative and education legislation that values people, I also see Vermont’s economy as a focal point in the upcoming session. The challenges of affordable housing and economic growth dovetail very closely with the challenge of keeping our young people in the state. Here I believe my experience on the Essex Planning Commission can come to bear.
Voters can learn more: Website: facebook.com/KnoxVT2018. Email: knoxforvt@gmail.com
Comments: I’m from Essex and I teach students from Underhill, Jericho, Bolton, Richmond, and Huntington, so I know that there is more to this Senate district than Burlington and South Burlington! If you elect me to the Vermont State Senate, it will be my honor to work on behalf of everyone in Chittenden County.

Lyons

Virginia “Ginny” Lyons
Hometown: Williston
Party affiliation: Democrat
Profession (other than legislator): College professor (part-time)
Senate experience: Nine terms
Other offices held: Local selectboard
Reasons for running: I look forward to continuing work on many issues important to all Chittenden County residents during the next session. Ensuring that services are accessible for those with mental illness, disabilities, child care, long term care, housing, transportation and other needs continues to be critical. Ensuring that non-profit, private enterprise, and government work together to maintain these services and a healthy economy can reduce economic and emotional costs. My years of experience as a Selectboard Chair, School Board member, Trinity College Professor, as a Senator, and as a parent serve Chittenden County effectively. Collaboration with diverse people and perspectives is key. Much of my Senate work relates to improving systems of care and public health prevention initiatives, building cost effective renewable energy, improving water quality of our lakes and streams, and working to balance state revenue needs with what people can afford to pay. There is much more to do in each of these areas.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: 1. Health care issues to: Ensure that Chittenden County residents have access to a continuum of cost effective quality primary care. A focus on prevention through primary care can reduce costs associated with chronic diseases including addiction; Improve access to mental health, addiction prevention and treatment services. Addressing equitable payment and administrative burden issues for providers is needed. Prescription drug costs are at a crisis for many people. I look forward to building on our prescription drug importation and price transparency laws work to lower Rx costs. 2. Environmental issues: My work on the VT Champlain Advisory Committee as part of the Lake Champlain Basin Program clearly shows that it is time to adequately and sustainably fund water quality improvement for Lake Champlain and other surface waters. My work with the Council of State Government indicates it is time to work with other states to lower transportation and other contributions to increased carbon emissions. We need to pass legislation that protects children, firefighters, consumers and water from toxic chemicals. 3. Finance: Improving educational quality while maintaining low costs continues to be a challenge. The balance between costs of education and what people can pay becomes a complex issue. I look forward to finding the balance between income and property taxes for people of all income levels. The remote worker incentive I sponsored should be expanded to include in-state workers to help keep younger Vermonters in state. Investments in workforce development through expanded loan repayment, reducing college costs, and related strategies is possible.
Voters can learn more: Website: senatorginnylyons.com.
Comments: My perspective on many issues continue to evolve as I learn from my constituents. Balancing 21st century jobs with rising costs of health care, education, and environmental continues to be a challenge. I work with diverse members of towns from Milton and Westford to Burlington, Shelburne and Charlotte. Residents expect cost effective energy, education, and health care – to develop a strong economic base, while preserving our working landscape. Residents also expect to live comfortably in their homes throughout their lives. But poverty hurts many in our county and the opioid epidemic continues to consume personal, health care, and public resources.

Maxfield

Dana Maxfield
Age: 33
Hometown: Milton
Party affiliation: Republican
Profession (other than legislator): Sales
Senate experience: None
Other offices held: None
Reasons for running: I feel there is an imbalance in representation in the Chittenden County Senate.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: Affordability/taxes, education, opioid epidemic
Voters can learn more: DanaMaxfield.org. Twitter: @DanaMaxfieldVT. Facebook @MaxfieldForVTSenate

Meyers

Louis Meyers
Age: N/A
Hometown: South Burlington
Party affiliation: Independent
Profession (other than legislator): Physician
Senate experience: Ran before
Other offices held: none
Reasons for running: I am running in order to bring my 25 years of health care experience to the Senate and will focus on controlling health care costs and improving the actual care people receive.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: 1) Health Care 2) Affordability 3) Building communities
Voters can learn more: Website: louismeyers.com. Email: louismeyers1@gmail.com
Comments: I have visited nearly every neighborhood in Chittenden County – many of them twice – and wish to thank everyone who has taken the time to share with me their thoughts and concerns.

Pearson

Chris Pearson
Age: 45
Hometown: Burlington
Party affiliation: Progressive/Democrat
Senate experience: One term
Profession (other than legislator): Consultant to nonprofits
Senate experience: One term
Other offices held: Vermont House 2006-2016
Voters can learn more: senatorpearson.com
Did not respond to survey.

Sirotkin

Michael Sirotkin
Age: 69
Hometown: South Burlington
Party affiliation: Democratic
Profession (other than legislator): Retired attorney
Senate experience: Two full terms; one half term
Other offices held: Justice of the Peace
Reasons for running: I bring a strong legislative background, and many years of relevant experience, to continue to be an effective, hard-working, and common sense legislator for our county.
Top three issues you see as priorities for the Senate to address in the upcoming biennium: Economic development, with focus on small business and affordable housing. Paid family and medical leave and minimum wage. Clean up of Lake Champlain and Vermont Waterways.
Voters can learn more: They can call me at 999-4360 or email me at sirotkin.senate@gmail.com. Website: sirotknforsenate.com. Facebook: facebook.com/senatorsirotkin/. Twitter: @senatorsirotkin
Comments: I have always worked hard to be in contact with and responsive to my constituents.

Loyal Ploof
Hometown: Burlington
Party affiliation: Libertarian
Did not respond to survey.
Voters can learn more: loyalploof.org

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