This is the first in a series of articles profiling this year’s candidates for Rutland County state Senate seats.
If Brian Collamore returns to the Legislature, it will be as the senior senator from Rutland County.
If Greg Cox is among the top three vote-getters next month, it will be his first elected office.
Collamore and Cox, respectively, are listed at the top of the Republican and Democratic sides of the ballot for state senator, in which Rutland County voters will choose from a total of six candidates to fill three seats. Collamore, of Rutland Town, the lone incumbent, is joined by former state representative James McNeil and former city alderman Ed Larson. Joining Cox on the Democratic ticket are former state senator Cheryl Hooker and newcomer Scott Garren.
Collamore, 67, a longtime radio broadcaster, said if he gets back to Montpelier, the biggest challenge before him is likely to remain affordability.
“If we can hold the taxes down and the fees as well as we have for the last two years, that goes a long way toward helping people keep the money they earn,” he said.
Collamore said he is also waiting for the report about community feedback on Act 250, and is hopeful that the review of Vermont’s environmental law will lead to a streamlined permitting process.
Meanwhile, Collamore said he expects the $15 minimum wage, which he voted against, will likely come up again next session.
“I’ve been watching Seattle’s experience with the $15 minimum wage,” he said. “My thought is, I’d like to see everybody in the state earn more than $15 an hour if possible. There’s a figure thrown around now that $23 an hour is a livable wage.”
However, Collamore said he wants to achieve that “organically” because he believes a higher mandated minimum wage will drive up prices and eliminate jobs. He said he would also vote against new gun laws because he believes the ones approved by the governor this year go far enough. He said he would vote against a carbon tax because it will harm seniors by driving up heating costs.
The two-term senator said he loves his work in Montpelier and hopes he gets to use his experience to benefit Rutland County.
Cox, the 67-year-old farmer from West Rutland who founded the Vermont Farmers Food Center, said he thinks small businesses founded locally will prove more sustainable than large ones coming in from outside, so he is pushing toward a combination of government support for small business incubators along with streamlined regulation and lower fees, all aimed at making it easier to start a new business.
“The regulations are sometimes completely insane,” he said. “If there’s somebody in this community who wants to start a business, we need to bend over backwards for them.”
On the other hand, Cox said he would like to see chains like Starbucks coming into the area compelled to pay an impact fee, which would fund programs developing new locally owned businesses.
Cox had some specific ideas about one particular industry dear to the state — dairy farming.
“What farmers need is marketing help,” he said. “I don’t want to brand Vermont milk. I want to brand Rutland County milk. I want to fund a grant to build a creamery in some place like Pawlet, buy the milk, put it in glass bottles and ship it to New York City. ... We’ve done the market research. New York City wants our food.”
Cox said he would like to see education in Vermont restructured with the “hub-and-spoke” model used by regional technical centers applied to other fields, like art.
“There could be a STEM school, an agriculture school, a theater and arts school,” he said. “We need to be catering to the students’ passions and interests.”
Cox said that the system could be made more efficient by consolidating supervisory districts on the county level and empowering principals.
Overall, Cox said his message was one of “unity.”
“What is making me crazy is, parties are the problem in politics,” he said. “Good people are dressed in team shirts.”
He said this creates a mentality in which people refuse to support a perfectly good idea just because it originates with “the other team.”
“We need to work together because nobody is going to save us,” he said.