It is a crowded field in the race for Rutland County’s three State Senate seats. Here is a breakdown of the candidates appearing on this year’s ballot:
RepublicansRutland County’s senior senator is leading the Republican ticket as he seeks a fourth term.
Brian Collamore, 69, has retired from radio broadcasting but still referees hockey games. He said the pandemic will dominate the next Legislative session, with the main subtopics being the economy and running schools safely.
“I think everything else flows from that in many ways,” he said. “There’s an intersection to people being able to get their kids back in school and then work without worrying about childcare.”
Noting that Vermont has the lowest infection rate in the country, Collamore said he wants to reopen the state as quickly as possible, and that while he thinks the governor made sound decisions, he had hoped the state would have moved more quickly earlier than it did. While the economy is better than it was in early April, Collamore said it still needs to improve.
Collamore said it was hard to discuss what he thinks the Legislature should do next session because it is hard to predict what the situation will be in January. Assuming little has changed, he said, the first order of business will be where and how the Legislature meets.
“I favor strongly that we get back and start to meet again in person,” he said. “The Zoom procedure is working but it leaves a lot to be desired.”
Collamore said revisions to Act 250 would give the state a chance to ease local business’ pain by removing some restrictions and making it easier for them to develop faster.
“I’m a big believer that a tide floats all boats,” he said. “If we can get the economy perking again the way it was, that’ll be great for everyone.”
Josh Terenzini’s political career began in 2004, when he was elected the senior class representative to the Rutland City School Board. He served on the Select Board from 2008-12 and returned to the board in 2015.
“I took some time off – we were starting our family and buying our first house,” he said.
When he returned to the board, he was also elected chairman, a position he has held since.
“I want to take my years of municipal experience to help solve our state’s biggest challenges – the financial gap and the economic upheaval we’ve experienced because of COVID-19.”
One of the ways Terenzini said he hopes to use that experience is in finding ways to reduce the state budget.
“At the town level, we debate and wrestle with spending $500 or $1,000,” he said. “At the state level, finances are much different, but it’s nothing to the state Legislature to spend $1 million here and $1 million there and after a while it adds up. ... I don’t have the pleasure of being elected yet and I’m not going to pretend I know every place we can save, but they must be out there.”
Terenzini said governmental costs to Vermonters come from more than just a budget, pointing to a provision in the climate change bill he said would effectively make it impossible to maintain oil or propane boilers.
“Not everyone can afford heat pumps,” he said. “Not everyone can afford alternative energy sources. ... We see this far too often in Vermont, that there are lasting effects that they don’t take into account that trickle down to you and I as average, middle-class Vermonters.”
Depending on how the election goes, the Legislature could be a family affair for Terenzini. His father, Rep. Tom Terenzini, R-Rutland Town, is running for re-election.
“We’re two different people,” Terenzini said of his father. “We agree on many things and there’s things we don’t agree on. That’s the beauty of a democracy. We have different styles, different approaches that serve both of us.”
Terry Williams, 68, is a farmer and a member of the Poultney Select Board. He made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 State Senate race, narrowly missing a spot on the ticket.
“I’ve got a lot of supporters who encouraged me to do it, run again,” he said. “I got on the regional planning committee, so I’ve got a bit more knowledge of things that need to be done on the local level.”
One of those things, he said, is statewide broadband. Williams said that while he sees a lot of new poles going up, he also still finds a lot of coverage gaps.
“There’s a tower in Poultney that carries Verizon,” he said. “I get to my house in Poultney and I have no cell service. ... As soon as I drive in my garage, it’s gone.”
Williams said he would like to see a comprehensive plan in cooperation with carriers to improve coverage.
Williams said he has training in organization leadership and strategic planning he would like to bring to the State House, which he sees as a mess.
“I’ve talked to Legislators about different bills that are going to be on the floor the next day and they don’t know what I’m talking about,” he said, arguing that the leadership should cut down on the number of bills. “Last year, I think it was 1,284 bills. How do you expect all of those to get through to law?”
DemocratsCheryl Hooker is hoping to return to the Vermont Senate and two of her fellow Democrats are hoping to come with her.
Larry Courcelle, 70, was the chief estimator for Vermont Roofing Company for 45 years before he retired. He served two terms on the Mendon Select Board, and was a new member when the town was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.
“That was an adventure I never want to repeat,” he said.
Courcelle also serves on a variety of volunteer boards and he said it was his experience on one of them – the Castleton University Alumni Board of Directors, where he is vice president – that drove him to run for state senate. He said he worries about the financial situation of Vermont colleges, and worries declining enrollment and Vermont’s youth retention problem are combining to create a death spiral.
“What’s it say to youth retention when we’re closing down universities,” he said. “I think we rank 47th in higher ed (funding) in the country. The money always comes from somewhere and that’s taxes and I don’t see any way around it. ... I can’t see any other funding source.”
Courcelle said youth retention has been a topic in the state for years but that he has not seen any credible solutions, and that he suspects the issue hasn’t been effectively studied. He said the state needs to talk directly to students about why they are leaving the state and where they are going.
“Then you’ve got a base to work on,” he said. “Once you’ve got those answers and that data collected, then you can start to work on it.”
Courcelle said his longtime service on the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and extensive work on numerous other boards, from the library trustees to the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, have given him a deep understanding of the local landscape. He also said that adding more Democrats to the Rutland delegation would help the region due to the Democrat – and Progressive – domination of the Legislature.
“We always hear how Chittenden county runs things up there,” he said. “Of course, they’re the ones with the Democrats and Progressives. I think if we get more Democrats for Rutland County, we’d be able to work with those Democrats and get more recognition for Rutland County.”
Greg Cox, 69, is owner of Boardman Hill Farm and the founder of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. He made an unsuccessful run for State Senate in 2018.
“There is an opportunity for change and I think Rutland County needs change,” he said. “We have a lot of opportunities right now. I am a person of vision. I recognize opportunities, but recognizing opportunity isn’t enough. You have to act on it and make it a reality. I have a history of doing that.”
Cox said the challenges of the pandemic have been exacerbated by Rutland County being essentially forgotten in Montpelier.
“I really believe that can be changed,” he said. “A perfect example is one-time funding. Rutland County never gets one-time funding because our delegation never asks for it. That needs to change.”
Many businesses are “beyond financial stress,” Cox said, and he fears a collapse in the restaurant industry similar to what happened to small dairy farms.
“We need to make sure they keep running,” he said. “There is nobody running who is a bigger advocate for small, community-based businesses. I don’t believe all businesses are created equal. Small, community-based businesses are the backbone of our culture in Vermont.”
One solution he plans to push for is a Rutland County creamery, buying from small local dairy farms and selling to higher-end food markets in New York City.
“It’s an absolutely viable solution,” he said. “It’ll take a lot of money and we’ll need help from the state.”
Hooker, 70, was elected to the Senate in 2018 following several years away from the Legislature. Her previous stint included two years in the Senate and six in the House. In her most recent term, she said she was instrumental in getting funding for a housing project on Woodstock Avenue and getting Rutland’s courthouse named for Judge Frank McCaffrey. She said she also made sure the essential worker hazard pay bill was more robust than the version that came out of the House.
“I’ve got a lot of things that have been in the works, but this has been a difficult session to get things through because we stopped working on anything that wasn’t COVID-related,” she said.
Hooker said she did secure some funding to get more broadband equipment installed, but it never panned out because of maintenance issues. She said one of her goals for next session is to work on finding ways to cover the state as a whole. She also plans to resume work on a bill capping the amount people have to pay for insulin.
Hooker said she has never had as many constituents contact her as have during the pandemic, and that it has impressed on her how a wide variety of people, from business-owners afraid of losing everything to laid-off workers trying to access programs, are struggling.
“We have the opportunity, with the federal money, to jump-start our economy again,” she said. “If we do it wisely, this can have a lasting effect.”
IndependentsBrittany Cavacas was the chairwoman of the Rutland City Democrats, so it raised some eyebrows when her name appeared on the ballot as an independent candidate for State Senate.
“I am a moderate,” she said. “I also was the youngest, so that was an issue. Everyone was really nice, really kind, but I didn’t want to be defined by an extreme party side.”
A total of four independent candidates signed up to run for Rutland County’s trio of seats in the Vermont Senate, and a dislike of political parties appeared to be a common thread among them.
“I see a world of grays,” Cavacas said. “I’m a new generation, a new face, a new voice. ... I am a young Vermonter who decided to stay in the community but I’m one of very few students in my class who decided to stay.”
Cavacas, a program director for the Vermont Department of Health, also serves on the Rutland City School Board. She said she hopes she can get elected as an independent and “heal the divisions” in the region. On a more direct scale, she hopes to help get the area’s small businesses the relief they need during the pandemic.
“If you look at downtown Rutland, or Brandon, or Fair Haven, we do have a lot of small businesses and we need to make sure they can stand through it,” she said. “The money we’ve been given, we need to make sure that goes to small businesses without all the bureaucracy.”
Cavacas said she also intended to push for a complete overhaul of the care facilities are reimbursed in an effort to bring reimbursement rates to a level that allows facilities to remain sustainable.
Richard Lenchus, 80, of Benson, works as an architect but describes a long and varied career that includes work as an auxilliary police officer and running the inspiration for the Cobra Kai karate dojo in the “Karate Kid” movies. He said he was talked out of a run for assemblyman in Brooklyn “many many many years ago” and made an unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 2016.
He said in the Senate, he hopes to take work he did as an architect on accessibility for people with disabilities to a new arena.
“I want to work with vets,” he said. “I want to work with wounded warriors. I want to work with the disabled. I want to work with the elderly. ... I want to work with people with dementia and people like that. ... I’ve been trying to look in the Google and see what the Legislature has been doing, if anything, to put Braille in the schools here.”
Lenchus said he would work to bring jobs and farming back to Vermont and use his skills to solve a variety of conflicts.
“If I’m elected, I’m going to go talk to all these gangbangers and straighten them out,” he said. “I could teach the cops how to use other things than shooting people. I could teach them martial arts.”
Michael Shank, 46, lives in Brandon and is communications director for the Carbon-Neutral Cities Alliance. He said he has never run for public office, but has experience in government as a congressional staffer, interning for Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Maryland and then working for Rep. Michael Honda, D-California.
“I find myself aligning with values and principles on both sides,” he said. “I wanted to apply my day job experience and expertise to Rutland County – specifically, how can we build a Rutland County that’s sustainable in all ways?”
Shank said his experience includes working in conflict resolution is war zones like Afghanistan and Lebanon, and that he wants to keep the intensifying conflict locally from disrupting the community.
“I’m seeing a lot of unhealthy conflict management happen,” he said. “Conflict can be healthy if handled constructively. ... I’m a strong believer in everyone being at the table. I’ve seen this in war zones — when someone’s not at the table, they will make a fuss and do it loud.”
Shank said he would like to emphasize workforce development, pushing for closer collaboration between Vermont Technical College and Community College of Vermont, advocate for innovation centers and get the state to look at creating a body modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps.
“I talk to so many contractors who don’t have the trained employees available to them to do what they need to do,” he said.
Shank said he sees the Senate race as a chance to take his work to “the next level.”
“I’m so enjoying this process because I’m meeting so many interesting people, people who are committed to Rutland County,” he said. “That’s inspiring to me.”
The fourth candidate, Casey Jennings, of Rutland, did not respond to phone calls seeking and interview.
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A General Electric spokesperson has confirmed that the GE Aviation plant in Rutland is in the process of recalling hourly employees who had been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are pleased that circumstances allow for this employee recall. We appreciate the commitment of all our employees during this difficult time and we remain focused on protecting their safety, continuing to serve our customers and preserving our capability to respond as the industry recovers,” said the spokesperson in an email.
The company didn’t say how many employees were returning, over what period of time they would return, or what their roles within the company were.
The company employs about 1,400 people in its Rutland County facilities, making it one of the area’s largest.
The company told the Herald in April that it would be temporarily laying off a number of employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A message to Rutland GE employees told them to expect 60% of the local workforce to be temporarily laid off due to a lack of work.
It’s not clear how many employees the local plants actually laid off. The company did claim it would pay its share of those employee’s health benefits and would offer aid based on how long they had worked there.
“It’s great news that they’re bringing people back, wonderful news,” said Christopher Carrigan, vice president of business development at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, on Monday.
“I would say the state of the state (of manufacturing) is in a period of adapting and pivoting, and obviously everyone across the board was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In manufacturing, the impact really varied by type of company and by industry,” he said.
Companies that make medical equipment or supply the biotech, aerospace, and defense sectors were less impacted than others, but the pandemic’s effect on air travel did have a ripple effect across the economy, said Carrigan. Less people flying means less need for new aircraft and replacement parts.
“I would say the biggest challenge that our employers are facing right now is determining an employee’s health status and whether they should return to work,” said Carrigan.
Many manufacturers, like other businesses, have had those employees that can work from home doing so, and they’ve limited company travel. Employees still coming in to work on-site are subject to temperature screenings. Carrigan said some are using handheld thermometers while others are looking at thermal imaging devices that can screen large numbers of people at once.
Prior to the pandemic, skilled manufacturing laborers were hard to find in Vermont. That hasn’t changed, said Carrigan, though he did highlight an $8 million contract the military has entered into with Vermont Technical College to make its Randolph Center campus a hub for creating new, skilled laborers.
MONTPELIER — The annual summit for the state’s conservation commissions will be done differently this year, which organizers say is fitting because the central theme will largely be about change.
“This year, the theme of the summit is conservation in a time of COVID-19, and really over the last six to eight months the works of conservation and local conservation in Vermont have really been fundamentally changed and it remains to be seen what that’s going to look like into the future,” said Jens Hilke, conservation planner with the Fish and Wildlife Department, and member of the Association of Vermont Conservation Commissions Board of Directors. “This summit is really getting at some of these changes that have been happening over these last six months.”
It was about six months ago that Republican Gov. Phil Scott called a state of emergency and enacted the “stay home, stay safe” order, which limited people’s movements and the activities of businesses considered nonessential. The state has reported low infection rates and deaths in contrast to other areas of the country, but like elsewhere, the economic and social impacts of efforts to control the virus’ spread have been severe.
This year, the Association of Vermont Conservation Commissions fall summit will be a digital affair, with speakers and panels spread out over the course of a few weeks. The lineup and how to register can be found online at bit.ly/0915Fallsummit
Conservation commissions are arms of town-level government. State statutes allow towns to give them the ability to hold funds, buy land and other functions. Hilke said their roles are often advisory and they regularly advise planning commissions.
The first AVCC session will be on Sept. 23 from noon to 1 p.m. and will be about the importance of town-owned forests.
“Natural areas and town-owned lands, have been seeing a real uptick in usage — anecdotally — during quarantine, and most importantly a lot of people have been thinking about these lands differently, and so that’s getting into that sort of piece of how much more we value these town-owned lands and understand their intrinsic value as places of refuge even in a quarantine,” said Hilke.
The second session will be Oct. 17 from noon to 1 p.m. and will focus on how conservation commissions have adapted to working during a pandemic.
“And the idea there is, how have conservation commissions changed the way they do business over the last six months? In some cases, they’re holding meetings in-person, they’re outside and socially distant, everyone brings their own lawn chair,” said Hilke.
On Oct. 21, also from noon to 1 p.m., there will be a panel looking at land conservation and racial equity.
“The Black Lives Matter movement over the last six months, with the killing of George Floyd, is helping us look at institutional racism in our own institutions and that includes conservation,” said Hilke. “We want to hear from black, indigenous, and people of color about their perspectives on how conservation is done.”
Happening alongside the pandemic has been a great deal of civil unrest over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died March 25 while being arrested by Minneapolis police.
The Oct. 21 panel is slated to feature Donald Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, Abenaki Nation. Other speakers are being confirmed.
“We’re hoping to get a goat farmer from the Pine Island Farm who can really talk about food security and the importance of culturally appropriate foods,” said Hilke. “We’re thrilled to challenge our members to think differently about how conservation can be done.”
The next event will be Nov. 4 from noon to 1 p.m. and be centered around agriculture and water quality.
Capping the virtual summit will be a talk by Paul Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.
Costello said Monday he’s been asked to discuss the concepts of resilience and recovery, given his and the work of others on a state task force created by the governor to help bring the state back from the damage caused by COVID-19.
He said a true recovery likely won’t be going back to the way things were before the pandemic.
“Lots of places were struggling with the loss of youth or with economic stagnation, and we’re really at a crucible at this moment of how we frame the future of Vermont,” said Costello.
He said the pandemic has created a situation where Vermont needs to look at the security of local food supply lines and the role of its landscape in the economy.
Costello said Vermonters have an opportunity to buy things made closer to home rather than sending their money elsewhere for imports. Boosting the local economy by adding value to what Vermonters produce will help safeguard against the next crisis, be it another pandemic, a cyberattack or some other unexpected problem.
Don Billings says dinner out is about more than just the meal.
There’s the social element, according to the chef and owner of Roots the Restaurant, but there’s also “energy.”
“I like energy and I like people to feel energy,” Billings said. “I was just trying to figure a way to create energy in a space, a restaurant, when most energy in a restaurant comes from the bar and the high top.”
A lot of that has been lost since restaurants reopened, Billings said, because social distancing requirements spread customers out in a way that dampens the business’ energy. Billings said outdoor dining during the summer has helped, but, Vermont’s changing weather will soon render that impractical. Looking for a way to restore that energy as his customers came indoors, Billings said he hit on art.
Starting next week, Roots will offer an expanded dining room that customers will share with working artists.
“All the walls are going to be big, 20-foot murals ... painted by different artists through a week and a half or so,” he said. “The walls are going to be constantly changing. ... We’re going to scratch them and start over again when they’re done. They’ll be up for a week and then we’re going to start over again.”
Billings said it should enrich the experience of not just the diners, but also the artists, who don’t typically work in front of an audience. Working with 77Art, Billings said he has booked artists through October. He said he is also looking at other novel approaches to the dining experience.
“We’re working with the Paramount on a couple different things we’ll talk about in two weeks,” he said.
Rutlanders were dismayed in recent weeks by the announced closings of Kelvans restaurant and Thomas Dairy, both attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy said Monday that while he wasn’t aware of any other restaurants on the brink of failure, the business community was on pins and needles.
“It’s not great,” he said. “Especially the restaurant and hospitality businesses are struggling with how to get into the fall and maximize that leaf-peeping revenue. I think everyone’s hoping there might be some vaccine-type thing quickly.”
Billings said he’s adapted his business as needed, and knows he has the capacity to get through winter.
“It’s an experiment,” he said. “This could be a good thing and we could keep doing it after the pandemic.”
“American presidential elections go on too long. This one arguably began on July 28, 2017, just eight months after the election of President Donald Trump, when U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination.”
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