By Lisa Loomis
The Valley Reporter asked a variety of local community leaders to provide questions for the four candidates running for two state representative seats for the Washington 7 district which includes Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston, Moretown and Duxbury.
Richard Czaplinski, Warren, Will Miller, Green Mountain Veterans for Peace #57
Based on the state and local police response, which many regard as excessive and dangerous, to a man threatening himself harm in Duxbury on August 19, where 30 vehicles, including an armored vehicle and police in full combat gear with assault rifles, came to the scene, would you introduce a bill in the Legislature to ban state and local police from accepting surplus military equipment?
Grad: I acknowledge that the family is grieving and convey my sympathies. I'm sorry for the family that this recent tragedy is an election issue. The issue of police response is critical and requires legislative oversight. These situations are complex and require us to look at police protocols and training, our mental health system, suicide prevention and violence. We did this with Tasers. If military vehicles should be used is one factor. My years in the Legislature have taught me that reactive public policy isn't always effective. Certainly such a bill could start the conversation. Legislative oversight of law enforcement is key. Facilitating a meeting with the community and state police, legislative examination of events leading up to the tragedy, dialogue with family, community members and law enforcement can lead to understanding how the system failed and what changes are needed. Our best policing laws have been passed after such dialogue.
Greshin: I would consider introducing this bill, but only if a distinction could be made between lethal and non-lethal equipment. The distinction is not easy to make, particularly as equipment and needs evolve. We wouldn't want to prohibit, for example, military boots or socks, even pistols, from finding a home with local law enforcement. The key would be defining "surplus military equipment," a term that already exists in federal statute. Federal law also requires the governor to certify the equipment is "necessary and suitable." The best option would be to write a bill that directs the Department of Public Safety to define "surplus military equipment" by rule (i.e., determine what's included and what's not) and then present it to the Legislature for approval. There's no need to escalate the arms race on our streets, but let's make sure to include our law enforcement agencies in the solution.
Read: First, let's neutralize the obvious bias in this question by adding an important fact about the August 19 incident. The eventual victim shot at the responding officer while he was leaving and fired more shots later on – before the armored vehicle and SWAT team were on site. This is an emotional issue, which incorporates the topics of mental health, public safety and civil rights. The most balanced way to deal with a non-empirical question like this is to solicit the opinions of the affected parties: Vermont State Police, ACLU and Vermont National Guard come to mind. Sometimes the best leadership is to acknowledge that you don't have all the answers and to listen and learn from those who are more versed on the subject. No, I wouldn't introduce a "ban" bill in the Legislature. Frankly, there are more pressing issues that the state needs to focus on right now.
Spear: I do not believe a comprehensive ban is the right solution, but I do think surplus military goods should not be distributed on the basis of availability. While it is unacceptable for law enforcement to be significantly outgunned and vulnerable to gunfire in gear and vehicles that offer too little protection, we aren't in a war zone. The militarization of our police forces promotes excessive use of force in the form of intimidation and actual violence. We need our police force to have the right gear to do their jobs, not less and not more. Supplying police with vehicles, armor and weapons should have everything to do with legitimate need, not surplus supplies. When a particular need is identified and surplus is available to fill it, we should leverage that resource. That is not what is happening today. Excess supply is utterly transforming police forces to the detriment of civil society.
Russ Bennett, Waitsfield, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
Why are you running for office? What are the top three issues you would like to work on, and if you had the magic wand, what solutions would you implement?
Greshin: I am running for office to bring a combination of experience, expertise and advocacy to the State House to try and solve problems and seize opportunities. Affordability is my top concern: The gap between median family income and the cost of living in our community widens every year. Three major issues are at the heart of this gap. Rising property taxes serve as a barrier to home ownership as well as a drag on our ability to invest in the infrastructure of our communities. The more we spend financing primary and secondary education, the less we have to build and run our towns. I would determine what it costs to educate a child in Vermont, adjust that amount for special needs and unique circumstances in each community and use the property tax mechanism to ensure that level of funding per student. Excess spending would be the responsibility of local school boards and local voters. The second component of the affordability challenge is the rising cost of health care. Full health care coverage is unaffordable for many middle income families and an increasing expense for local businesses. With or without subsidies, Vermonters face higher premiums and fewer choices than residents in other states. I would close Vermont Health Connect, adopt the federal exchange and introduce a low cost option for Vermonters who want catastrophic coverage but are willing to pay for routine care. The third challenge of affordability is the rising cost of basic necessities such as food, fuel and power. While no magic wand will counteract broad, macro trends that affect the price of these items, we can ensure we don't add to the pressure by, for example, increasing the energy efficiency charge attached to our power bill or boosting the gross receipts tax applied to the price of heating fuel.
Read: I'm running because I care about my family, my community, my friends and neighbors and my employees, all of whom deserve representation from someone who's determined to be a leader for affordability, prosperity and a more responsible state government. I'd like to work on wholesale, systemic improvements to the overall state economy and tax code; the delivery and cost of education; and the economic development of the Mad River Valley. These three areas are, of course, inextricably linked. It drives me nuts when politicians talk about "growing jobs." You don't grow jobs. You grow a workforce and create a business climate that encourages and supports entrepreneurs. This doesn't mean instituting incentive programs to try to attract businesses and workers to locate here. It means making the day-to-day living affordable. Vermont is a beautiful and safe state that can be extremely appealing – until you open your property tax bill.
I have no doubt that there are enough tax loopholes to close and government efficiencies to be found that would more than offset a decrease in the property tax rate. A commitment to zero-based budgeting could accomplish this. As a longtime business owner, community leader and selectman, I've seen several ups and downs in our local economy. It always boils down to critical mass. That is, the more people, the merrier. Simpler in theory than in execution. I would foresee our state representative acting as the primary unifier and collaborator with local leaders to spur economic development. This could entail consolidating and strengthening existing boards and organizations in order to maximize their ideas and initiatives. If visitors have more reasons to come here, if second-home owners have more reasons to stay here and if locals have more cash in their pockets, then we'll all be better off for it.
Spear: I am running for office because something must be done about rising property taxes and I have the knowledge, commitment and skills to take this issue on, while far too few of our Vermont legislators have lifted a finger to do so. This is the primary reason I am running, but my other top priorities are increasing accountability and transparency more broadly.
The impact of too little accountability and transparency are playing out in perpetuating the astonishingly wasteful and incompetent Vermont Health Connect implementation, setting us on a path to single payer with no financing consideration or cost-containment plan, embarking on more massive IT projects assuming high risks and costs that aren't in the best interest of taxpayers and kicking education funding reform down the road again and again, despite the affordability crisis playing out across our state.
If I had a magic wand, I would give Vermont the balanced Legislature it needs. A Legislature that stands independent from the governor, that welcomes debate and due consideration of public policy, that balances ideals with the practical reality that we must pay for our principles. This past legislative session, as I provided testimony and sat in on committee meetings, I was disturbed by the evident intolerance for independent thought. We need critical thinking and engaged dialogue to develop common-sense legislation that reflects the values and the means of Vermonters. The solution is new legislators.
I have given these issues significant thought. I've described my platform and priorities on my website, www.heidispear.org, but have written on these subjects in greater depth in op-eds published in newspapers across the state. They are all accessible via the commentaries page on my website. Absent that trusty magic wand, feedback and support to bring about constructive reform is greatly appreciated.
Grad: I am running for re-election because I want to continue my work making a difference in people's lives. For me, public service is human service. My work, mostly as vice chair of House Judiciary, has focused on laws that save lives, enhances community health and safety, protects crime victims and improves the quality of life for families, service members and veterans. Behind every law is a human experience. Hearing these stories and creating laws to address them bring inspiration and meaning to my work. Getting a thank you from a first responder after a life was saved due to the new laws my committee crafted addressing opiate overdoses, learning that my leadership on the Military Parental Rights Act gave my constituent, a single mom, peace of mind about her child upon her deployment, and passing laws upon request of a community crime victim to help prevent further violence are examples of my effectiveness. I am passionate about my work and grateful for the opportunity to help my constituents and contribute to Vermont's history on social reforms like Medical Marijuana, Death with Dignity and Marriage Equality. I want to continue to listen to my constituents and make Vermont the best place to raise families, work, retire and recreate.
Three issues: I will work on Judiciary Committee issues (i.e., criminal justice reform, offender re-entry, community protection and juvenile issues), education/property taxes and building our local and state economy. My solutions would address our infrastructure and demographic challenges. They would grow our state and local economy by supporting businesses, agriculture, water quality, resiliency, delivering sustainable-business friendly health care, reforming income tax and education tax policy, promoting working families, businesses, addressing poverty, public transportation needs and a state IT system where all agencies interface resulting in efficiency and cost savings for businesses and individuals.