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Lively interchange at candidates’ forum

From front-page stories and prime-time debates to leaked videos and Tumblr memes, with all the media coverage surrounding the national elections, it can be easy for local politics to fly under the radar.

On Tuesday, October 23, The Valley Reporter hosted a forum at the Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield for Valley residents to familiarize themselves with the candidates running to represent them—Washington District 7—in the Vermont State Legislature.

The three candidates currently campaigning for the district’s two open seats are Maxine Grad (D-Moretown), Adam Greshin (I-Warren) and Sal Spinosa (I-Waitsfield). Both Grad and Greshin have currently served in the Legislature under different districts, before the towns were regrouped and Warren, Fayston, Waitsfield, Moretown and Duxbury became known as Washington 7. This will be Spinosa’s first time running for district representative.

Valley Reporter editor Lisa Loomis moderated the forum in which each candidate had 60 seconds to respond to questions from both Loomis and audience members on issues ranging from rebuilding the Waterbury office complex to restructuring the state’s health care system.

Read on, for an abridged account of what the candidates had to say about their personal approach to politics, as well as their stance on specific issues facing The Valley and the state of Vermont.

Question: Why have you chosen your party affiliation (or lack thereof)?

“I support a government that helps people—that helps our most vulnerable,” Grad said, explaining that she’s running as a Democrat because she believes liberal governments give people the tools they need in order to thrive.

“I chose not to be defined by a political party,” Greshin said, explaining that he’s running as an Independent because he wants his policies and actions to speak for him.

Spinosa, who’s also running as an Independent, described himself as a “centrist,” saying that he hopes his balanced approach can help end bipartisan gridlock.

Question: Where do you see The Valley in 10 to 20 years, in terms of growth (commerce, tourism, etc.)?

Grad believes in sustainable development that respects a town’s historic integrity and doesn’t create sprawl. She also hopes to see the ski areas develop more year-round activities, so The Valley is more than just a winter destination.

Greshin wants to focus The Valley’s downtown areas, and he hopes to create “walking, non-car based” town centers.

Spinosa thinks it’s important to consider not only downtown growth but agricultural growth as well, and he will look to support local farms.

Question: Should the state be working to get displaced workers back into the Waterbury office complex and former Vermont State Hospital that was destroyed due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene?

“Yes,” Greshin said. “There are people who have built their lives around [those buildings].” But he noted that it’s something the state has to consider financially.

“There are pros and cons,” Spinosa said. “Many parts are still habitable, but it’s an old building…. I’m worried about health hazards.”

“I do support rebuilding,” Grad said. “We are on track to return approximately 900 workers to the complex.”

Question: But, could the Waterbury town offices also be considered for some other use (recreation or cultural center, etc.)?

“My only limitation is health concerns,” Spinosa said.

“I think we need to take care of our workers [first],” Grad said. “I do support the arts,” she explained, but she thinks we need to prioritize improving the state’s hospital situation.

Greshin would love to see the space used “as a business incubator…. I think it’s a great idea,” he said. He outlined the enormous potential of Waterbury’s location and resources, going so far as to mention the (far-fetched?) possibility of the town as a site for the Winter Olympic Games.

Question: The state’s long-term plan is for a single-payer health care system similar to Medicaid/Medicare. Do you see this as an economic boon or inhibitor? Do you think health care should be decoupled from employment, and if so, how?

The state “has a direction now,” Spinosa said, referring to Shumlin’s single-payer plan. “I want to give [Shumlin] a chance to put this in play.”

The single-payer plan “will be an economic boon,” Grad said, explaining how businesses will have the opportunity to grow if they don’t have to worry about paying health care premiums. Grad believes that health care should be decoupled from employment, because “there are so many people who are tied to jobs that aren’t necessarily good for them because of health care,” she said. “And in some cases it’s not even good health care.”

Greshin supports “health care reform,” he said, and he thinks the state can harness savings from eliminating administrative costs.

Question: What strategies would you support to help reduce the causes and effects of climate change in the Mad River Valley and in Vermont?

According to Grad, one of the things the state really needs to look into is increasing public transportation. In terms of policy, “we really do need a statewide plan [to address climate change],” she said.

Greshin thinks the state needs to boost its renewable energy sector, as well encourage better weatherization techniques and public transportation options.

To find and develop alternative energy sources, “we need to have all hands on deck,” Spinosa said. He also thinks we need to impose building restrictions in flood plains and stream bank management systems.

Question: Do you support the construction of commercial wind installations on ridgelines, and should The Valley’s ridgelines be viewed holistically when considering this energy source, or on a town-by-town basis (as is the state’s current practice)?

Greshin opposes commercial wind installations on ridgelines, overall. “I support a moratorium on them,” he said.

Spinosa was one of the members of the Waitsfield Select Board that drafted a provision prohibiting commercial wind installations on ridgelines, and he thinks that every town should do the same.

Grad thinks that town provisions are important but that we really need to consider the effectiveness of the energy source on not only a state but a national level. Grad thinks that commercial wind installations “need to be part of the equation,” she said, but because of their many limitations the state may end up with a “de facto moratorium” on their construction.

Question: What would you do to protect and improve the water quality in Vermont’s rivers and lakes?

The state oversees the implementation of the Clean Water Act, Greshin explained, and the problem is, it doesn’t currently have the resources to adequately address all problems.

Spinosa thinks the state needs to do further research before it can begin to fix water quality programs.

Grad thinks that the decline in water quality is a problem, and to fix it she thinks the state needs to look into managing stormwater and agricultural runoff.

Question: What are your thoughts on the education funding system outlined by Act 60/68? What measures would you support to simplify the current system and contain school costs?

While it is progressive, the state’s education funding system “is not the most cost-effective,” Spinosa said. “Maybe we need to start looking at another model.”

Grad is not sure how cost-effective the model is, “but I’m not ready to scrap it yet,” she said. In reforming the model, she will “make sure to preserve the fund and its income sensitivity,” she said.

Greshin supports reforming the education funding system, explaining that the problem with Act 60 is that “decisions don’t necessarily have tax consequences.”

Question: In providing towns with equal education funding, Act 60 is supposed to create more parity in terms of education quality. Do you think, according to standardized test results, that this plan is working?

Standardized tests “should really be just one part of the equation,” Grad said, explaining the problem with a “one size fits all” approach to education.

“It’s hard to say how funding affects a school’s quality,” Greshin said, stressing that the state needs to focus on improving the quality of education instead of just increasing school funding.

“No one can say whether progress is because of Act 60 or in spite of it,” Spinosa said.

Question: What has been your most interesting or unusual campaign experience?

While going door to door, both Greshin and Grad were bitten by wild turkeys.

Fowl politics? The voters will decide when they vote for Washington District 7 representatives to the state Legislature on Tuesday, November 6.

The forum was filmed by Mad River Valley TV and will be aired on the local public access station by the end of this week. Check the MRVTV website for details mrvtv.com.

 

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