The Valley Reporter reached out to the three candidates running for the two Washington-7 State House seats: Rebecca Baruzzi (I), incumbent Kari Dolan (D) and Dara Torre (D). The second set of questions and responses will be published next week. The primary is August 9.
VR: Describe your work style. How do you accomplish goals and work with others to do so?
Rebecca Baruzzi, Fayston:
When presented with a challenge, I work to define the problem with the stakeholders. Once we agree on how we are defining the problem, we determine solutions and widen the net to include any partners that may be helpful. We then determine how to implement the best strategy. Then we implement it. I used this formula while I was on the leadership teams with Free Wheelin’, Neck of the Woods, the Mad River Park acquisition, the Community Pantry’s response to COVID and the Summer FUNd program. I am constantly thinking about how to better connect individuals, social groups and organizations across The Valley. We have tremendous resources that can be better leveraged when this is done. Building and maintaining relationships is the key to success in this connectivity and I have been working hard to do that over the last eight years.
Kari Dolan, Waitsfield:
During my four years in the Legislature, I have established a reputation as a collaborator. I work with colleagues to identify practical solutions to tough issues, find common ground, and pass legislation that benefits our communities. For example, I continually seek consensus on issues that are in front of my committee. I team up with legislators across party lines through issue-based working groups called caucuses, enabling me to work on a variety of topics facing our communities such as rural economic development, vitality of the tourism industry, support for the needs of older Vermonters and ways to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. I am also a hard worker and detail-oriented. I invest the time it takes to understand issues. This work style – collaborating, working hard, and being detail-oriented -- helped me to present and pass three bills this year with substantial tri-partisan support and governor approval.
Dara Torre, Moretown:
I’m collaborative and enjoy a team approach that plays to the strengths that different members bring to a project. I bring an ability to be both big picture and detail-oriented in my contributions, as well as a “can do” attitude that helps energize and galvanize others. Training in facilitation and project management over the years helps with including more voices to identify and reach shared goals. Working as a volunteer can be challenging due to limited bandwidth, so I’ve learned the value of staying flexible and being willing to change course.
VR: Explain your legislative priorities vis a vis the issues facing the towns in your district.
As I have begun to canvass, I’ve been reassured that the priorities of people in my district are also my priorities, and it’s my job to make these the legislative priorities. People care about cost of living and how that’s impacted by housing, utilities, child care and health care. My goal is to be a direct link between what is needed locally and the state policies that regulate and support. We have a housing shortage and there are state level programs that can be better leveraged to assist. We have an early education shortage and there are state level complications that make it difficult to solve locally. We have health care costs rising at unsustainable levels and there are ways of promoting primary care and community health locally that can help keep costs down. I am committed to helping connect these systems so that we get the best, cost-effective results.
My priorities reflect our towns’ priorities -- housing, child care, broadband and the environment. I joined fellow legislators to invest $90 million in a variety of affordable housing projects and initiatives for communities like ours. We directed federal funds for water infrastructure -- essential for new housing and businesses in villages and downtown areas. We made child care a priority, supporting programs that offer scholarships and loan repayments and adding $4.9 million to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program to help our working families, but we need to do more. We invested $95 million of federal funding in broadband, building on last year’s federal funding of $150 million, which helps all of us. As clerk and budget liaison on the Natural Resources Committee and chair of the Climate Resilience Working Group, I am focused on achieving a healthy environment that is important for tourism, our outdoor-based economy and our way of life.
Pursuing climate solutions, addressing the growing affordability crisis and building up our capacity to provide quality care for our young and elders are some urgent issues we’re facing in our towns. Fortunately, state innovation on affordable health care, workforce development and workforce housing could help advance progress on all these fronts. We’ll need many more climate and caretaking workers to meet the realities of our changing climate and demographics, and we must ensure these essential jobs are good jobs. As well as additional housing, we need to improve the quality and performance of existing buildings through energy efficiency and cleaner heating and cooling equipment. I’d like to explore options that enable the adaptive reuse of existing buildings over new construction where possible to limit environmental impacts and make the best use of our village centers. We’ll need a high level of policy and funding innovation, integrated planning and meaningful community involvement.
VR: What about your professional background makes you the right fit at this time?
I have worked through federal, state, local and nonprofit organizations to influence community connectivity and resilience. I have owned my own small business, been a police officer, community social worker and I am a veteran. I also have a lot of experience as a collaborator and as an implementer. Also, I’m all in. I believe we need housing and my husband and I built an accessory dwelling and we now have a tenant. I believe law enforcement isn’t one-size-fits-all and I have been on the Montpelier restorative justice panel for the last five years working on helping victims get whole and offenders connect back to the community. I believe that solutions to help families should be based in the community where the families live and my family is registered shelter parents for Washington County Youth Bureau to be a part of our local safety net.
My professional background demonstrates my commitment to public service, level of experience and collaborative spirit. I serve as a state representative for the district’s five towns. Over the past four years, I have been successful in presenting and getting passed numerous bills with strong legislative support and governor approval. At the outbreak of the pandemic, I volunteered with the Department of Labor and assisted 150 businesses, independent contractors and employees in navigating the various federal pandemic assistance programs. I have garnered a local perspective from serving on the Waitsfield Select Board, the Mad River Valley Planning District, the Waitsfield Planning Commission, and Friends of the Mad River. I also have 30 years of work experience in Vermont’s public sector, focusing on water resources, civil rights, and energy management. These experiences have shaped my approach to problem-solving which involves listening to residents’ concerns, seeking common ground and promoting common sense solutions.
With the passage of Vermont’s climate action plan, we have a balancing act ahead to ensure we make timely progress in lowering emissions from our heating and transportation sectors in an equitable way. My work in clean energy policy has given me insight into a range of cost-effective and equitable actions policymakers could take, and the important questions that need to be asked. My experience in local and regional planning over the years has revealed the increasing importance of access to professional staff and expertise as we navigate complex energy and natural resource issues locally. Working and living in this district for almost 20 years has made me appreciate how much our committed volunteers, donors, schools, businesses and nonprofits bring to our quality of life. With continued community empowerment and more strategic support from the state, we can make it easier for our community and environment to thrive.