Four candidates are running for the two Washington-2 House seats (redistricted from Washington-7) that represent the Mad River Valley: Rebecca Baruzzi (I) of Fayston, Gene Bifano (I) of Warren, incumbent Kari Dolan (D) of Waitsfield and Dara Torre (D) of Moretown.
On September 19, The Valley Reporter and Mad River Valley Television (MRVTV) hosted a 90-minute candidate forum on Zoom. Community members were invited to attend and submit their questions for the candidates. Below is a summary of the discussion, which may be viewed in full on mrvtv.com.
HOUSING AND AFFORDABILITY
When asked how they would make Vermont -- and The Valley -- a more affordable place to live, the topic of housing came up repeatedly.
“I see a lot of potential for us to make strides on housing, by revisiting our land use planning and our zoning,” Torre said. “I think that there are a lot of solutions with accessory dwelling units that can happen easily,” Baruzzi added.
“We need new units, we need smaller lot sizes,” Dolan added. “Planning and zoning is part of the mix in terms of our opportunities to make land and development more affordable. We need to look at where we can rehab existing units or existing buildings.”
Bifano said developments could be costly and stressed the need for the community to work together to get things done.
“Climate action is one of the reasons that I'm running for office,” Torre said. “It is so important that we act. We do have a plan and we need to follow it. That means really going deep into our heating and our transportation sectors.”
“The state has some great mechanisms to follow through on,” Baruzzi said. “Friends of the Mad River has been leading a climate change conversation in plain English, which I think is really fantastic.”
“If we invest more in weatherization, or upgrades in our efficient furnaces and heating systems, we are going to make people more comfortable in their homes [and] have healthier outcomes,” Dolan said.
“What I would recommend is that we look at sound and safe ways to do what we can in Vermont without destroying our economy and affecting the standard of living for Vermonters,” Bifano said.
“Vermonters are paying more of their income on child care than any other state,” Dolan said. “Our goal is to get it to 10% of their income but we're at something like above 25%. That is unacceptable.”
Baruzzi noted that she was a member of the leadership team for the early child care center Neck of the Woods in Waitsfield, which created 45 new infant/toddler spots at the facility.
Bifano said that his mother stayed at home with the kids while his father worked, which he noted was more typical in the era in which he grew up than today. “I think we need to figure out ways of helping parents raise their children in a safe manner,” he added. “I think child care is important,” though he did not offer specific solutions.
Regarding the new student weighting guidelines for Vermont’s education funding, Baruzzi said, “I think that the new weighting system is good. It takes into account English language learners, poverty and learning disabilities. I do recognize that we spend more than our share here, but we also have high resources in this community.”
“I'm glad that they've revisited the funding formula and that equity is being centered in that work,” Torre added.
“We were capped at only an increase of 5% over the next five years. Our task now is to keep those costs in check,” Dolan said.
Bifano said he had not heard of the change in funding but criticized Acts 60/68 which control education spending, saying, “We need to fix the education system.”
REPRODUCTIVE LIBERTY AMENDMENT
Asked how they each would vote in November on the Reproductive Liberty Amendment (RLA), or Article 22, Bifano said he’d be voting ‘no.’ “I think we can't ban abortions. On the other hand, we can't allow all abortions … We don't need an amendment. We need common sense.” The other three candidates said they support the RLA.
When the candidates were asked whether they would support a single payer or Medicare for All system, Bifano said, “No, and no. In every one of these countries that have these wackadoodle systems, private insurance is in place. The people that can afford the insurance get it and the rest of the people are stuck with whatever there is. That is not the solution. The solution is to open up the insurance market in the state and outcompete competition.”
“[Medicare for All] is a great model for a universal health care and I can only imagine what it could do for the U.S. economy when employers don't have to wrangle with health care,” Torre said.
Baruzzi added, “I do like the idea of Medicare for All.”
ATTRACTING NEW RESIDENTS
Regarding attracting new residents and young families to the area, Dolan said, “We need affordable housing, access to quality child care, workforce development, support for our businesses and expanding our broadband networks.”
“We have to examine the whole business and cultural environment we have here. It's hard to get a business to grow here and succeed because of taxes and regulation,” Bifano said.
“We really need to strengthen our labor unions and worker protections so that we have better wages,” Torre said. She also said having good child care options is one way to attract more families to the area.
“Another way to recruit folks would be to look at veterans,” Baruzzi, a veteran herself, chimed in. “Veterans come with the GI Bill. They come with health care and pensions, so that's a great group of people to try to recruit.”
WHY THIS POSITION
Kathy Pickens from Fayston asked the candidates why they want the position of Washington-2 representative.
“I've seen lots of places where systems that were created to help people either don't quite reach us here, or the programs don't quite reach the people in need,” Baruzzi said. “I would love to be in a position to fix those things.”
“Over the last six years, I've been working for a clean energy policy group. So, I feel like I have some insights into a very complex energy system. I want to help make it work on the local level,” Torre said.
“I want to bring that voice, compassion, energy to really make a difference and to be accessible to people to hear what their issues are and to address those issues and problem solve together,” Dolan said.
Bifano began by saying he doesn’t want the job. “But I don't like what's happening in the state … I know I have the skills hopefully to fix [it].”
This is only a small excerpt of the discussion. Watch the full video on mrvtv.com.