GEORGIA and FAIRFAX — Two of Franklin County’s fastest growing towns have a ballot of fresh faces to choose from come Election Day, Nov. 8.
Before legislative reapportionment, Georgia and Fairfax were in different districts and represented by Rep. Carl Rosenquist (R-Georgia) and Rep. Barbara Murphy (I-Fairfax). Both decided not to run for re-election.
The new, two-seat district, Franklin-1, includes all of Fairfax and the part of Georgia that is not included in Chittenden-Franklin. Franklin-1 provides the opportunity for three new faces to try their hand at campaigning and for former Sen. Carolyn Branagan to return to Montpelier.
A former school teacher and principal, Branagan said she is hoping to get back to the statehouse to solve Vermont’s financial crisis. She is running a joint Republican campaign with Ashley Bartley, an active Fairfax community member and human resources and operations director.
“I understand how to balance the needs of employees and employers while closely monitoring financial statements,” she stated in an email to the Messenger.
The women face opposition from two Democrats, Fairfax selectboard vice chair Alan Maynard and Rev. Devon Thomas. Maynard is also a professor of public health at the University of Vermont, and Thomas is a small town minister serving three churches in Cambridge, Hyde Park and Bakersfield.
“I got into this race because, in the work I have been doing for my congregations, I have seen a lot of struggle due to the increasing cost of living in Vermont,” Thomas stated in an email.
Maynard said he is running because he was asked by Murphy to do so. That endorsement gave him the confidence to launch a campaign, he stated.
All four candidates were asked the same four questions by the Messenger. Their responses have been edited for length and for clarity.
What is your position on Proposition 5?
Thomas and Maynard say they will be voting “yes” to Proposition 5, an amendment to the Vermont constitution that would enshrine reproductive liberty in state law.
Branagan opposes the amendment, citing other Vermont laws that protect abortion rights, while Bartley did not give a direct answer and instead chose to draw attention to the high maternal mortality rates in the U.S.
Thomas: Because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, reproductive liberty will now be protected at the state level. We are going to need people in the Statehouse who will commit themselves to protecting Americans’ human right to reproductive choice.
Branagan: Vermont already has a law that allows abortion “without restriction,” that’s Act 47 passed in 2019. And the Vermont Supreme Court’s decision back in 1972 allowed abortion way before Roe v Wade and gave Vermont legal standing on this issue. In addition, the proposed amendment is not well written. It is vague and uncomfortably open-ended.
Maynard: I will vote with the overwhelming majority of Vermonters that understand that this freedom is essential and can be an integral part of health and health care for women. The fact remains that third term abortions have strict guardrails, must be reviewed by a state ethics board and physically do not happen in Vermont.
Bartley: We’re so focused on ensuring the rights to abortion that we are not focusing on what we can do to better support women and women’s health. America has one of the highest maternal mortality rates compared to other high earning countries – astonishing considering how advanced our society is.
How can housing be made more affordable in Vermont?
All of the candidates agree the state legislature should make revisions to Act 250, Vermont’s land use laws. They all advocate for fewer restrictions to development, a change that they say needs to come from state lawmakers and municipal zoning boards working together.
Branagan: Frustrating is the fact that partisan disagreements are preventing changes to these outdated rules [Act 250] and are harming our neediest citizens.
The legislature can do much for the homeless, as seen during the pandemic. But the problems do not lay on the shoulders of only the state government. Local people have lots of say on decisions made on zoning regulations, permits, appeals and other restrictions.
Maynard: New graduates of UVM tell me that they want to stay in Vermont but cannot find suitable housing. This cannot continue. As a selectboard member, I know that municipalities can leverage responsible local control to incentivize and encourage building affordable housing, but need some leniency with Act 250.
Bartley: Montpelier should take a bottom-up approach that encourages local planning commissions to analyze their own town plans, maps and zoning rules to encourage development that matches both the needs of our community with the integrity of our neighborhoods. What Montpelier can do is relax the stringent regulations, processes and fees found in Act 250 which gives our local communities more authority on housing development.
Thomas: The long term solution to this problem is to build more homes. In the short term, I feel the State should be working more closely with local communities to change zoning laws, repurpose old or unused buildings, and expand transitional housing so we can get people off the streets now.
Is there a child care crisis? If so, how can it be alleviated?
All of the candidates agreed there is not enough child care in Vermont. In Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, there are approximately 2,420 children in need of care. To meet that demand, 1,503 more spaces would need to be added in centers and programs across the region.
Bartley and Branagan are both endorsed by the Let’s Grow Kids Action Network, and both said the state should impose fewer restrictions on child care providers. Maynard advocates for “sweeping changes,” while Thomas said the state should help with finding and retaining child care workers.
Maynard: When our children were of preschool age, my wife stepped away from teaching and ran an at-home daycare. Our experience was that starting a new small business can be challenging, but incredibly rewarding. The issue is one of overall affordability in this state and needs to be addressed on a systemic level. No small band aids such as modifying regulations will fix an issue this large and complex.
Bartley: I am a child care voter and I am a mother. Like affordable housing, the state and federal governments have exasperated the crisis with more regulation. While on a tour of a child care facility recently, I learned a toilet is required for every 12 children in a center — but infants are included in that equation. Is that necessary? These are examples of easy changes that can be made to ease the cost for providers while we work to provide meaningful change.
Thomas: There is a childcare crisis. To address this, I feel our state will need to back up Act 45 and make sure child care providers receive help in retaining and finding workers, while also maintaining their businesses.
Branagan: A childcare crisis? To answer that question, all the folks in Franklin-1 need to do is take a look at the reaction to the sudden closing of the Next Generation day care facility a week ago. How was the problem fixed? The parents found another facility close by that was for sale. The legislature should take a lesson in the positive impact of reduction of government involvement, and let parents have more say in who cares for their children.
Do we need to revise how health care is funded in Vermont? If so, how?
Maynard approached the question the most progressively, advocating for the state to undertake a “large scale” and “humane” overhaul of the health care system. Thomas said wants the state to assist Vermonters more with their medical bills.
Bartley and Branagan said the biggest problem with health care in Vermont is lack of access. Bartley wants the telemedicine options that became more popular during the pandemic to continue, and Branagan wants to see more care options for the elderly.
Bartley: Pre-COVID-19, Montpelier was making it possible for Vermont to have for-profit health centers which allowed for the consumer to shop around for the healthcare they need. This should be encouraged. The Green Mountain Care Board, an appointed not-elected group, is in charge of approving insurance premiums and hospital budgets. Is more government oversight the answer? No. We need to make it easier for Vermonters to access care.
Thomas: I feel right now the state should be looking at ways in which we can increase financial support to Vermonters who find themselves struggling with expenses their insurance does not cover. In particular, we need to look at the resources Vermont has to care for the elderly, and people struggling with conditions like Alzheimer’s and cancer. We need to support our seniors so that their golden years can be golden.
Branagan: Try getting an elderly parent into rehab, or even to a doctor’s visit. Very difficult. To ensure the most money gets to the patients’ care where most needed, we need better standardized, streamlined insurance plans. These could simplify enrollment in health insurance by making it easier for the patient to get the best plan available.
What else could happen?
Create lower cost sharing by making sure everyone is insured
Require copayments instead of coinsurance to reduce unnecessary visits
Designate some services for pre-deductible payment
Increase ability to access care for patients especially for the elderly and the most ill
Maynard: The fact that as a country we have not overpowered the special interests of insurance companies and created a sustainable, humane approach to health is unfathomable and has created inequitable, disastrous outcomes. I have heard from underinsured Vermonters as well as small business owners that found their premiums skyrocket. As a professor of public health at the University of Vermont, I bring a unique understanding and skill set that can help this legislature create a future for Vermonters that centers their health.